BH, Jouon on syntax?

peter_kirk at SIL.ORG peter_kirk at SIL.ORG
Wed May 12 00:24:47 EDT 1999

DW: ...Nope.  That wasn't the criterion.

PK: Well then, what was it? You did write earlier "Syntactically, it 
only makes sense to begin with the most basic form of the verb, which 
is the qatal.  All other forms, including those with W-, are made by 
adding something to it..." I do not accept that yiqtol is derived from 
qatal plus an affix, see the following answer.

DW: ...Then what would you say is the foundational form of the verb?

PK: The only foundational form I would recognise is the triconsonantal 
root. All surface forms are derived by adding various affixes 
(including infixes) to that.

DW: ...Rare in all possible types of ancient Hebrew, or just in the 
specialized type of literature that we work with?  The nature of the 
corpus has to be considered as well.

PK: Our corpus is not all that narrow, it does consist of a wide range 
of different genres. (Out of interest, what size and variety of corpus 
would usually be considered sufficient for a linguistic study 
determining the basic word order of a modern language?) To say 
anything beyond this corpus is pure speculation. I would accept that 
any conclusion has to be somewhat tentative because of the limited 
corpus. In any case the size of the corpus is irrelevant to this 
particular question as I am simply suggesting that clauses with an 
initial we- prefix should be considered alongside those without, 
simply because the alternative of looking only at clauses with no 
initial we- would give us a far more limited set of examples.

PK: Concerning qatal and weqatal: I am not sure that I have a theory 
in any technical sense. But my thinking, which is unchanged as far as 
I know, is something like this: On a morphological or syntactic basis 
(the distinction I suppose is based on whether we- is taken as a 
prefix or a separate word, which is I think a rather arbitrary choice) 
the form weqatal is made up from two morphemes we- and qatal (and 
qatal is further made up from the root q-t-l and one or more infix 
morphemes giving the vowels). This is NOT the same as I have been 
arguing concerning wayyiqtol, which I view as more than we- plus 
yiqtol. On the other hand, from a semantic viewpoint I do see the 
meaning of weqatal as being different from the sum of the two parts 
we- and qatal. This is hard to account for; on the other hand, such 
situations are common in language e.g. in the English present perfect 
"I have gone" the word "have" does not have its normal meaning 
"possess" (any attempt to explain as "I possess the attribute of 
gone-ness" would be rather far-fetched except perhaps as a theory of 
how this form arose in the distant past) but its meaning has been 
modified within this construction. If we keep syntax and semantics 
strictly separate, as I think Dave prefers to do, this semantic shift 
should not affect the arguments for basic word order; but perhaps we 
do need to take care that there is not some confusing interaction.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator 
Subject: Re[5]: BH, Jouon on syntax?
Author:  dwashbur at at internet
Date:    11/05/1999 10:29

Hi Doug,
> Dave,
> Doug here.  Just a few comments to keep the ball rolling. 
> On Tue, 11 May 1999 06:41:41 -0700 "Dave Washburn" <dwashbur at> 
> writes:
> > Peter wrote:
> > > I agree here with Doug, and want to add some further points 
> > addressed
> > > to Dave:
> > >
> > > 1) If you define the most basic verb form as the one with fewest
> > > affixes, well, in very many languages (arguably including Hebrew), 
> >
> > > that is the imperative. But imperatives generally also have
> > > non-standard word order, subject deletion and all sorts of special 
> >
> > > features which make them unsuitable for judging basic word order. 
> > So I
> > > think your methodology needs to be reexamined. 
> >
> > That's not how I defined the most basic verb form.
> It may not be how you defined the most basic form but was it not the 
> criterion by which you judged qatal the most basic form?  That's
> certainly my impression based on what you had written previously.

Nope.  That wasn't the criterion.

> > > 2) I am also far from convinced that the qatal form is 
> > fundamentally
> > > the most basic form; perhaps it only appears so because of the
> > > accidental null form of the 3rd person singular masculine suffix. 
> > In
> > > Arabic there is a final short a in the equivalent qatala form, 
> > which
> > > is deleted in Hebrew by a purely phonological process, if I am not 
> >
> > > mistaken.
> >
> > Then what would you say is the foundational form of the verb?
> I don't want to sound like a schoolkid in a fight here, so forgive the 
> wording here, but "you started it".  Peter is simply saying here that 
> he's not convinced qatal is the fundamentally the most basic form.  It
> was your assertion that it is; to play the skeptic about your assertion 
> does not require me or anyone else to have a positive assertion for the 
> 'most basic form'.

I find simply saying "I disagree" to be quite unsatisfying; offering an 
alternative advances discussion much more effectively, at least

> > > 3) For the sake of argument, let us look at clauses in which the 
> > verb
> > > form is qatal. A typical Hebrew clause consists of a conjunction 
> > > (asyndeton is rare, and by far the most common conjunction is
> > we-), a
> >
> > Rare in all possible types of ancient Hebrew, or just in the
> > specialized type of literature that we work with?  The nature of the 
> >
> > corpus has to be considered as well.
> Do you know what other types of ancient Hebrew we have to work with?!  We 
> have what we have; it seems speculation beyond this doesn't really
> advance things.  Am I overlooking something?

The question is, are we right in building a syntax of Hebrew based 
on material that is predominantly either narrative or poetry and 
saying "Since this is the most prevalent form in what we have, it 
must be the most fundamental" or do we need to do some 
extrapolation and try to determine, using principles of linguistic 
science (in this case, syntax, and in my case, syntax from a 
transformational approach) which forms are base-generated and 
which are derived?  The former amounts to counting, little more. 
As a grammarian, I find that less than satisfactory.

> I passed on the last round since I'm not 'up' on Peter's qatal-weqatal 
> theory anyway.

Apparently I'm not either! :-)

Dave Washburn
A Bible that's falling apart means a life that isn't.

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