What ARE the clues for sequence in BH?

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Dec 16 01:52:20 EST 1999

> Dave Washburn wrote:
> >
> > Sequence is inherently semantic and pragmatic.  "He arose and
> > went" is sequential because we know that in the normal course of
> > things it's necessary to stand up before moving from one place to
> > another.  "The meeting was called to order.  The minutes were
> > read.  The minutes were approved."  These are sequential, but the
> > syntax of the clauses doesn't tell us that.  Our knowledge of the
> > normal course of a meeting is what tells us this.  "I went to the
> > grocery store.  I went to the post office.  I went to the park.  I
> went
> > to the library."  These may or may not be sequential, we can't tell
> > without more information.  The speaker may indeed be narrating
> > things in sequence, or s/he may be narrating things in order of
> > importance, or in no particular order at all.  We don't have enough
> > pragmatic information to be sure.  Each clause is a separate
> > thought, a simple declarative clause in realis mode.  This is how I
> > see the wayyiqtol.  Hence, I guess one could say that in my view,
> > sequence is encoded at the level of discourse.
> I guess what's interesting, Dave, is that 'way back in the Dark Ages
> when I was first starting Hebrew, your list of activities in town is
> very close to the case that my instructor at that time gave to
> differentiate between strings of wayyiqtols and series of qatals: the
> wayyiqtols indicated the report was given in sequence and the qatals
> would have been isolated clauses without necessary respect to sequence.
> Have I moved on from this explanation?  Sure.  But it still pokes up its
> head whenever I think about the subject.

Same thing happened to me, and still does. I know exactly what 
you mean.

> In English, I would have to agree with you about the lack of clues.  But
> my agreement in English (and other indo-european languages as well as
> the romantic languages) is very much flavored by the realization that
> sequences are normally marked by adverbials and sequential conjunctions.
> Even the austronesian languages that I am working among right now, which
> have many clauses which can be directly translated from the Hebrew
> without change of word order or additional words, have sequential
> markers.  But BHebrew seems to be notable by its *lack* of such markers
> if it is not encoded in the verb.

Actually, I don't think it's encoded in English as often as we might 
suspect.  If it was, then we wouldn't find all that much humor in 
things like the famous Cheech & Chong snippet from the sketch 
"Sister Mary Elephant" in which the student reads his essay as 
follows: "The first day of my summer vacation, I woke up.  Then, I 
went downtown to look for a job.  Then I hung out in front of the 
drug store.  The second day of my summer vacation, I woke up.  
Then, I went downtown to look for a job.  Then I hung out in front of 
the drug store."  The absurd repetition is part of the humor, to be 
sure, but I submit that the repeated "then" before every sentence 
lends a humorous tone in itself.  What happens if we take them 
out?  "I woke up.  I went downtown to look for a job.  I hung out in 
front of the drug store."  We know the first two clauses are 
sequential because it's doubtful the fellow was walking in his sleep. 
The third is more problematic: did he do this after he looked for a 
job, or instead of looking for a job?  Here is where a trigger of some 
sort would likely appear: "After that I hung out infront of the drug 
store" or "But I lost track of time because I hung out in front of the 
drug store."  Examples like this (admittedly silly) one suggest to 
me that these triggers are ordinarily used to alleviate ambiguity; 
where there is no ambiguity, as in the case of the series of meeting 
events, they are not needed.

> Ian Hutchesson wrote:
> > Does anyone know of a language that codes narrative discourse
> > information into the verb rather than coding some aspect which
> > incidentally is appropriate for the discourse? I know of none.
> Yet, Ian, in the languages that you are drawing from, is there not
> normally some clue that the appropriate aspect is being featured so that
> sequence is being indicated?  Yet, unless there is no clear case of
> sequencial narratives in the corpus of Biblical Hebrew, any encoding is
> almost required to lie in the verb form, because there simply are not
> other clues.  Have you run across any language that depends only on the
> knowledge of details of certain classes of events to indicate that a
> sequence is being described?  Unless I misunderstand him, that is what
> Dave is putting forth.  

In the absence of specific prepositional or temporal indicators, yes.

And this would mean that the intended audience
> must be very small and considered to be very expert in the matters being
> described.

Not necessarily.  It could simply mean they were native speakers 
who were used to such a language structure.

> I admit a lack of knowledge about other semitic languages.  How do these
> encode sequence?  (I'd research it myself, except that my library, which
> lacks this information, is already the most advanced in this area of
> study for some 400 kilometers, and the one that is that distance away is
> only on a par to mine.)  An answer to the handling in cognate languages
> might point me toward an answer to my question.

The only one I can speak about is Ugaritic, and as I recall (I'll 
double-check) it doesn't code for sequence either.  Of course, most 
of the texts of any extent that we have in that language are poetic, 
so that may skew the results a bit.

Dave Washburn
Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth;
give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name.
                                   Psalm 86:11

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