Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect

Matthew Anstey manstey at
Thu Dec 16 10:47:24 EST 1999

Gday all,

But the wayyiqtol form apparently contains the conjunction (wa-/w at -
"and, but") as part of its morphology.  That is, despite various
doubts and alternative hypotheses that have been raised over the past
century and more, the most likely historical origin of the Biblical
Hebrew wayyiqtol is still conjunction wa- + assimilating consonant +
yaqtul preterite tense.  (This pretty much remains the default
theory --
despite certain long-standing unanswered question connected with it --
so that someone proposing a different account of the historical
origins of the Hebrew wayyiqtol would have to support it with highly
specific evidence to gain very widespread acceptance.)

Historically this is uncontroversial, but as W&O point out, in actual
BH they probably merged by 1100 BCE. So do you think users of BH would
not have realised this, and they thought of the waw as acting on the
yiqtol form? Particularly with so much eveidence of grammatical

[Randy & Dave]
i was signally additional implicit information.
as for ki-clauses, they can occur independently, though maybe not
prototypically. =

as for asher clauses, they are dependent. =

both are important to generative linguistics and qatal and yiqtol.
because ki- and asher-  allow for pre-verb 'fronting' =

yet more frequently do not use fronting,

A clear distinction needs to be made between subordinated and embedded
clauses. In many cases ki and asher are marking obligatory predicate
arguments and so embed one predication as an argument of another.
Other times they mark subordinate clauses that are non-obligatory. We
should expect (and i think we indeed find) different syntactic and
semantic behaviour of verbs in these two types of constructions.

I have to disagree.  While it's true that the modal forms aren't as
rich as they are in Greek, it's pretty clear that yiqtol and weqatal
are modal, which is to say non-realis, as opposed to qatal and
wayyiqtol which clearly encode some sort of real mode (i.e.
actualities, not just possibles or potentialities).  Perhaps
subjunctive, optative etc. aren't the primary modal forms; rather,
there is one primary modal form [-realis] and the others are
derivatives of it.

I see the problem here - we are using modal in different senses. But
for a moment, even adopting your position, doesn't your own argument
against sequentiality apply analagously against +/-realis as a verb
feature? ie Since wayyiqtol and qatal are mostly in the past by
implicature they will be realis, but there are exceptions for qatal.
And won't future events have an inherent irrealis? So how do you
demonstrate an uncancellable feature? Why don't we find, like most
languages that grammaticise modality on the verb, past irrealis,
future realis, etc. that is, your feature does not seem *independently
motivated* as a linguistic criterion, since it does not occur paired
as binary opposites against another invariant verbal feature. What is
doing the work is the implicature from the temporal preferences for
the verb forms. So I still think, modality is not *grammaticised* in
the verb, it is just a common use (and even more common if we expand
the definition along Hatav's lines). Also, explaining secondary realis
uses from an irealis form is difficult, but explaining irrealis uses
from a realis form is a cross-linguistic piece of cake. So my second
reason against it is it lacks explanatory power.

Matthew Anstey

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