Wayyiqtol origins/phonology (was: die Flucht ins Prasens, Peter)

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Jun 5 06:24:06 EDT 1999

Henry Churchyard wrote:
>> The first question we have to ask when we start to investigate the
>> possibilities you mention is: Those who "found" this old apocopated
>> preterite in Ugaritic, Accadian and elsewhere, did they
>> systematically differentiate between preterite (grammaticalized past
>> tense) and past meaning?
>Actually, the term "apocopated" is not very relevant, except to those
>languages which actually show disappearance of a root consonant in
>some forms (Hebrew and Moabite, according to pp. 137-139 of Randall
>Garr's _Dialect Geography of Syria-Palestine_).  However in the older
>languages, the "non-volitive yaqtul tense" does show definite
>morphological distinctness from any other verb paradigm -- except
>sometimes the jussive (which is "volitive").  It is only with the late
>2nd. millennium B.C. loss of word-final short-vowels in Hebrew that
>the original "yaqtul" and "yaqtulu" forms began to be phonologically
>homophonous in many (but by no means all) cases.  Furthermore, the
>"non-volitive yaqtul tense" is found in languages which simply don't
>have a yaqtulu (which is apparently not an old common Semitic form,
>while yaqtul is).  (I use the neutral term "non-volitive yaqtul tense"
>to allow you to call it whatever you want to call it, if you don't
>like the term "preterite"; Rainey would prefer "non-injunctive" or
>"indicative" instead of "non-volitive".)
>In any case, various phonological phenomena in attested Tiberian
>Hebrew (stress differences, apocopation in lamedh-he, the difference
>between the final syllables of Hiph`il wayyaqtel vs. yaqtil, etc.) are
>strong phonological indications that Hebrew wayyiqtol goes back to an
>original *yaqtul form with shorter endings than the *yaqtulu which is
>the source of Hebrew non-consecutive yiqtol, as discussed in my
>dissertation (compressed PDF of chapter 4 is included in the file to
>be downloaded at http://ccwf.cc.utexas.edu/~churchyh/c1-4xcpt.zip ).

Dear Henry,

I appreciate that you made your thesis available on the net. Thank you! I
have read your chapter 4 with great interest, and I will take several of
your conclusions as points of departure for further research. I also read
Hetzron and Goerwitz and I am familiar with Blau.

I am not negative to the term "preterite", but I insist on differentiating
between "preterite" (which means a grammaticalized past tense) and "past
meaning" (which may include preterites and forms which are
time-indifferent).  As far as I can see, you have done a great job with
your thesis, which seems to be consistent with your theoretical model and
to handle the BH material in an intelligent and consistent way.

My concern regarding WAYYIQTOL  and WEQATAL is primarily semantical and
only secondarily phonological. At this point I do not want to try to
dispute any of your conclusions, but I want to focus on one of your
assumptions, namely that there in the older Semitic languages existed a
preterite to which WAYYIQTOL goes back.  Every thesis must be built on
several assumptions, and there is nothing wrong in making the assumption
about a preterite as you do. However, I notice that Blau, Hetzron, Goerwitz
and several other workers make the same assumption. And to the best of my
knowledge, nobody has ever made a systematic study of whether the
widespread past use of the short prefix-forms in different Semitic
languages is pragmatic or semantic. This of course is a great weakness for
this assumption. Are you aware of any such studies?

Granted that the conclusions in your last paragraph above are correct,
would it make any difference if the short YAQTUL form to which WAYYIQTOL
goes back was not a tense but a mood? To state it differently: if we assume
that tense is not grammaticalized in any of the old Semitic verbal systems,
but the long/short forms represent modal differences, and these are
manifest in the long YIQTOL versus the short YIQTOL/WAYYIQTOL in Hebrew,
would that be harmonious with the phonological conclusions of your thesis?

Another question: In the verb MWT the WAYYIQTOL form is normally WAYYFMOT
with penultimate stress. In 1 kings 21:10 and Judges 6:30 we find WEYIQTOL
forms of the same verb as WEYFMOT with ultimate stress. Is it not the WA/WE
difference in the first syllable that influences the stress rather than the
nature of the final syllable(s) in these cases? However, in Ezra 1:3 we
find the WEYIQTOLS  of BNH and (LH with penultimate stress as in the case
with the WAYYIQTOLS  of the same verbs. Are these forms strange in your

One last question: Could shewa and patax be pronounced similarly by the


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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