die Flucht ins Prasens (minimal semantic value)

Rodney K. Duke dukerk at appstate.edu
Tue Jun 1 09:30:46 EDT 1999

Dear Colleagues,

Picking up on the recent contributions of Rocine (see below), Furuli, and Kirk, please permit me one more
time to pose the issue as a question or challenge to be explored by the list members.

[Comment: I do not have a theory that I claim I can ‘prove’ while your job is to shoot holes in it or
while you respond with defenses of your favorite theory.  That is one method of scholarship, but not the
only one.  As has been mentioned by Kirk and others: we have a verbal system that we are all trying to
comprehend.  I am searching for the explanation that works the best.  The thesis below might be
‘dead-end,’ but I have not yet seen/heard of many list members who have tried to work with it.  I am
seeking to find out what the results are when you, the scholarly community, try out a new thesis to see
if it works better or worse than older theses (i.e. another model of scholarship).]

I am simply proposing to the list members: (1) What if we put aside whatever theory we were taught or
have come to accept about the Hebrew verbal system; and (2) what if we first just ask, “Is there an
*irreducible semantic minimum* to the prefixed conjugation that differs from that of the suffixed
conjugation? (Furuli’s question); and (3) that we try out the following model from our various
perspectives and see if it seems to work or not.

Given a time line: A___B___C___D:

a) A speaker uses yiqtols to express the verbal idea of ACTION.  (The speaker might have in mind that
which took/takes/will take place between points B and C on the time line, but has a ‘narrow’ or focus on
segment B-C, generally viewing B-C as belonging to a larger EVENT which could be A-C, B-D, A-D).  Because
of this narrow focus on action, the yiqtol also has a kind of modal nuance of “not-yet-ness”.

b) A speaker uses qatals to express the verbal idea of EVENT.  (The speaker might still have in mind what
took/takes/will take place between points B and C, but be viewing the unit as a whole with more of an
attributive or stative quality to it.)  Because of this more attributive or nominalizing perspective, the
qatal has a non-modal nuance of actuality.

The above model, I admit, is my attempt to synthesis an inadequate understanding of what appears to be
possibly overlapping contributions, particularly of Rocine, Furuli, and Hatav, but also of some ideas of
DeCaen and Niccacci—although all of the above might rightly deny having anything to do with the above

My question to Professor Buth and those who hold to the cognate-preterit model is this: Might there still
be such an *irreducible semantic minimum*, even in the cognate languages?  Even though the long prefixed
form is used in past time--putting that usage aside from this question--might the prefixed conjugations
still have a common semantic value that is different from that of the suffixed conjugations?  Has anyone
gone back to these cognates with this question and/or with this model in mind?

My question to the discourse grammarians is this:  Does such a basic, minimum semantic difference help to
explain the kind of verb sequence patterns you find in different kinds of discourse?   (For instance, in
narrative, one can see how an x-qatal sometime completes an event introduced by a wayyiqtol, or how an
x-qatal introduces an event that took place before an action reported by a wayyiqtol.)

[Comment: A few weeks ago I posted an attempt to try to integrate this model with discourse analysis.
For instance, I speculated on why one might use the semantic value of the prefixed verb form, as
suggested in ‘a’ above, and use the form wayyiqtol in past-time narration: 1) the narrator uses a
prefixed form to make more vivid the ACTION of the story being told, and 2) because the narrator sees a
sequence of actions as comprising a larger event.  And, because the wa+doubling seems generally to move
the reference time forward, the particular form of wayyiqtol becomes the form of choice for mainline past
narration.  (The question of whether or not wayyiqtol intrinsically indicates tense or has temporal dexis
is a separate question.)]

The main problem I face is with the subjectivity involved.  I can creatively imagine ways in which I
might make the above model work.  To get some control over this subjectivity, I have asked you much more
qualified linguists and grammarians to see if you think it can ‘work’ and if so, whether or not it works
better than other theses.  Perhaps there has been something about my requests that appear too naive for
people to be interested in exploring the model.  If so, please explain to me why.


> Subject: Re: Re[2]: die Flucht ins Prasens, Peter
> From: "Bryan Rocine" <brocine at earthlink.net>
> Date: Sun, 30 May 1999 15:21:17 -0400
> X-Message-Number: 6
> <snip - much deleted>
> Many experts on verbal semantics assert that the morphology
> of a language's verbs will exhibit a consistent meaning.
> That seems intuitively obvious.  In the terms of BH, it
> seems intuitively obvious that prefixed forms will share a
> meaning with prefixed forms and suffixed with
> suffixed...this rather than one prefixed form sharing a
> meaning with one suffixed, while the other prefixed shares a
> meaning with the other suffixed.
> I wonder, if we found the MT  for the first time this week,
> so that we would have no extant traditions or translations
> for the meanings of the forms, what assumptions we would
> begin with in our studies of the BH verb system and what
> assumptions would survive the rigors of our scrutiny.  I
> think the assumption, "same form, same meaning" would be a
> sensible start, and I also think it would survive.

<snip -  deleted material>

>    I can only guess at why the weqatal
> could become the mainline of +projection genres Predictive
> Narrative (story set in the future), Instructional Discourse
> (how to do it), and the modal genre Procedural Discourse
> (how it was done).  I would guess that these genres are
> naturally less vivid (more abstract, generic) in the mind
> than history.  Unfortunately, such guesses are quite hard to
> confirm and run the risk of being mere folklore.  In any
> case, in Predictive Narrative, for instance, a series of
> weqatals expresses a series of "states" that the subject
> will be in at a series of forward-moving points in time.
> (As you may gather, I associate, for both wayyiqtol and
> weqatal, the forward movement of time more to the cliticized
> vav than the verb form proper.)
> As for the fulfillment:  We might use the term *vivid* to
> refer to the fientive wayyiqtol.  The historical text, as
> much as history is vivid in the memory of the writer, and to
> make history vivid to the audience, prefers the prefixed
> form.  Again, possibly only a nice, psycho-linguistic
> etiological tale, but you might find it thought-provoking.
> I realize the picture of the BHVS is not now complete, but
> we're not in a hurry, right?  We can build more of the model
> as we go, a piece at a time.  I fear being long-winded.
> Hoping to help,
> Bryan
> B. M. Rocine

Rodney K. Duke
Dept. of Phil. & Rel., Appalachian State Univ., Boone, NC 28608
(O) 828-262-3091, (FAX) 828-262-6619, dukerk at appstate.edu

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