Tidbits from Ruth (Paul)

Paul Zellmer zellmer at cag.pworld.net.ph
Fri May 7 19:26:43 EDT 1999

Rolf Furuli wrote:

> It seems to me that you do not see the real issue in the study of Hebrew
> verbs.  To use your boat illustration, what you are doing (and what you are
> asking me to do in the last paragraph) is this: You sail down a river in a
> boat, but you don't know whether it is a boat of rubber filled with air or
> whether it is made of tree or of metal with several water-tight
> compartments. When you get in the rapids your strokes changes drastically,
> but this does not help if the rubber punctures and the boat sinks. Strokes
> cannot help against shipwreck.

Dear Rolf,

If you wanted to claim that I may not be seeing *your* real issue in the study of
Hebrew verbs, you might have a case.  I would take issue with that, having read your
submissions over the past years and understanding them enough to see even the shifts
of position that you have made.  You, on the other hand, obviously do not understand
my boat illustration, which is most likely my fault for not identifying the elements.
The *boat* is not the verb forms; the *strokes* are.

Let's expand on this illustration a bit:  We must realize that we are not the actual
participants in the navigation of the boat.  We are mere observers, analysts, and
commentators, seeing what the writers used, trying to figure out why they chose to use
that, and opining the significance of it.  The boat (the message) moved, and I dare
say there is little disagreement on where it went in most cases.  But we are trying to
figure out what caused it to get there.

> There is nothing wrong with discourse analysis (your strokes), but it alone
> cannot explain the "semantic meaning" of verb forms, it can only explain
> the pragmatic meaning (function). Semantic meaning has to be assumed by all
> those using the method.

Rolf, the scientific method has as its basis assumptions and then experimentations (or
further observations) to check out validity.  Your method is nothing short of assuming
semantic meaning as well.  Your assumptions based on prefix or suffix form simply lead
you to observe test cases in a different way.  You are being unjust by stating that
discourse analysis "can only explain pragmatic meaning."

> In order to have a sound foundation for your
> interpretation of Hebrew verbs you have to inspect the very structure of
> your boat, even its smallest parts.

[re boat illustration, see above.  Your boat's much too small!]

> Alviero has made the most out of
> discourse analysis, starting with the obvious meaning (I would say "use")
> of each form in narrative, and has made his assumptions of the meaning of
> verb forms on the basis of the use of hundreds of narrative verbs. A very
> fine piece of work!  However, the model does not work for the whole corpus
> of Classical Hebrew texts and there is no mechanism to differentiate
> between semantic and pragmatic meaning.

I have just re-read a paper by Fanning where he reminded he reader that focussing on
difficult cases make for bad laws.  I see no problem with Alviero's stated position
that he wanted to start with the unambiguous before moving to the ambiguous.  It seems
like good practice that covers many fields of endeavors.

> If discourse analysis is going to help us at all in our study of the Hebrew
> Bible, we *have to* answer the following questions  in our own mind BEFORE
> we start with it:

Rolf, where are these requirements written down?  Has there been a collegiate
consensus on this that I missed?

> (1) Are YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, and WEQATAL four different conjugations
> with different semantic meanings, or is there just one prefix-conjugation
> (YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL) and one suffix conjugation (QATAL AND WEQATAL)?

Did you even look at the reference in Rocine's grammar that I made mention of?   It
speaks of general similarities of yiqtols and wayyiqtols, and of qatals and weqatals.
It also speaks of general similarities of yiqtols and qatal, and of wayyiqtols and

> (2) Is tense grammaticalized in Hebrew, i.e. does any conjugation code for
> tense?

Why do we need to know (and, pray tell, how would we know) this and the following two
questions *before* analysis.  Of course, if you wish to keep one tool of analysis,
(i.e., discourse level), that is your decision.  But why fault others for using it?

> (3) Is aspect grammaticalized in Hebrew, i.e. does any conjugation code for
> aspect?
> (4) The conjugations we idenfify, do they code for either tense or aspect,
> or can they be a blend of both?
> (5) What is the real semantic meaning of the conjugations we identify?

And, to extend this question, is that semantic meaning so simple as to have only one
characteristic, or complex enough to have many characteristics?  And does the more
figurative literary genres frequently emphasize the characteristics that the more
literal genres keep only in the background?  *That*, friend, is what I suggested you
help us uncover--that which is the breadth of the different forms.

> These are some of the fundamental parts of our boat, and even if we are not
> consciously aware of these questions, we have without realizing it, taken
> our stand if we engange in discourse analysis. I do not say that my
> approach is the only way, but I would say that an approach which do not
> have a mechanism to differentiate between semantic and pragmatic factors is
> very weak indeed, at least alone.  Doing discourse analysis without such a
> mechanism is in my view RE:(UT RUA:X. Answering your last words above
> illustrate the need for this difference: I claim that WAYYIQTOL is never
> preterite (this is a tense designation, thus being semantic), but it is in
> narrative texts for the most part sequential (this is pragmatic).

Based on this, then, I would assume that there must *always* be a non-verb-al (that
is, not a part of the verb structure) indicator of time of actions in narrative
texts.  I haven't really studied this out, but I doubt that it's the case.  In fact, I
can pick up a text in the middle of the narrative and quickly identify it as
historical narrative based solely on the WAYYIQTOL verb forms.  Can't you do the same

Sorry I went on so long.


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