vav conversive

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Fri Sep 3 12:06:30 EDT 1999

Thank you, Dave, for your answer. Yes, maybe do need to look at a 
proper linguistic definition of "word" apart from the written 
language. The problem seems to be that practical linguists too often 
duck the issue and follow the white spaces in the orthography. I fear 
that if we look at theories we end up with phonological words, 
grammatical words and semantic words, each no doubt in various 
flavours, and they don't match up with one another. I remember hearing 
"clitic" defined as something like "something about which people can't 
decide if it's a separate word". We may have a lot of such clitics in 
Hebrew - even proper names, if we look at Genesis 7:13 W:$"M-W:XFM, 
two names joined together in one phonological word. Your semantic or 
lexical approach to defining "word" is helpful, but it is far from the 
only possibility.

Peter Kirk

PS in the Turkish and Azerbaijani example, the auxiliary "bilir" can 
be used as a stand-alone verb, "he/she knows".

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[3]: vav conversive
Author:  dwashbur at at internet
Date:    02/09/1999 09:25

> 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."

You are currently subscribed to b-hebrew as: Peter_Kirk at 
To unsubscribe, forward this message to 
To subscribe, send an email to join-b-hebrew at

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list