vav conversive

Dave Washburn dwashbur at
Thu Sep 2 10:25:20 EDT 1999

> Dear Dave,
> I don't appreciate the tone of this answer, or failure to answer, a 
> good question about "vav conversive". But I have a more specific point 
> about the question about the meaning of "word".

I have no idea what "tone" you're talking about.  But on to the 
meaty issues.

> I have concluded that a word is no more than the sequence of letters 
> which are conventionally separated by a space or a punctuation mark in 
> a particular language. My evidence: Look at the following:
> Turkish: "alabilir" means "he can take", one word.
> Azerbaijani: "ala bilir" means "he can take", two words.
> Exactly the same sequence of letters, the same pronunication, the same 
> meaning, in two closely related languages. The only difference is the 
> writing convention. Incidentally "bilir", which alone means "he 
> knows", is here being used as an auxiliary. Does an auxiliary verb 
> have a "meaning in the lexical sense"? So is it a separate word, or 
> not?

A point well taken; the problem I see is, do we define "word" 
according to the *written* language or the *spoken* language?  All 
the linguistic theories I'm familiar with are built on the latter.  
Without knowing how the spoken language is treated, I can't really 
answer your question.  As for auxiliary verbs, as often as not they 
also have contexts where they are used on their own, e.g. "have" 
and "be" in English or HYH and YKL in Hebrew.  I don't know if this 
is the case for the languages above or not, since I don't know those 

> If this looks too far from Hebrew, take this example:
> Turkish: "ve salam" = "and greetings"
> Hebrew: "veshalom" = "and peace/greetings"
> This shows that it is merely a writing convention that the "ve-" or 
> "we-" conjunction in Hebrew is joined to the following noun or verb.

Agreed!  A speaker would/will understand it as a separate lexical 
entity having meaning of its own, "and," whether the written 
language joins it to the following word (Hebrew) or not (Turkish).  
Thus, I don't see how the written language can serve as the 
deciding factor in determining what constitutes a word, since 
written language is based on "writing convention" as you so 
correctly point out.  It's certainly the case that with ancient Hebrew 
the written language is all we have, but I don't think we can or 
should make decisions on what is a word and what is not based on 
how letters are joined together (or not joined, as the case may be).  
We have to infer from other linguistic factors what constituted a 
lexical item in the speaker's/writer's mind and go from there.

Dave Washburn
"Ich veranlassenarbeitenworken mein Mojo."

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