"functional/communicative approach" (was re: vav conversive)

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Thu Sep 9 15:35:00 EDT 1999

Randal Buth wrote:

>maybe the time could be profitably spent by labelling and outlining
>different basic positions on the vav ha-hippux.
>then persons could refer to positions by name/number, saving time, bytes,
>smoke and hopefully contributing to clarity.

Dear list-members,

My view of the Hebrew verbs can be called S/P (because of its strict
differentiation between semantic and pragmatic factors):

The system has only two conjugations: 1) the prefix-conjugation (YIQTOL,
WEYIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL), and the suffix-conjugation (QATAL, WEQATAL, and
WE+QATAL). In addition do we find the participle used as predicate.

1) The conjugations do not code for tense (=grammaticalized expression of
location in time); past, present, and future can be expressed by both.
2) They do not code for mode (except the short and long YIQTOLs); both can
express indicative and subjunctive/optative mood.
3) The difference is one af aspect (=a subjective viewpoint expressed by
the speaker/writer connected with focus and distance); the
prefix-conjugation expresses the imperfective aspect and the
suffix-conjugation expresses the perfective aspect (NB: the term "aspect"
is not used as in English).
4) The participle does not code for tense; past, present, and future can be
expressed by it. It does not code for mood; both indicative and
subjunctive/optative can be expressed. It does not code for aspect because
it simply functions as a verbal noun that "objectively" shows that the
subject *is* in the event or state signaled by the corresponding finite
verb. A particular distance or focus, or a relation to the beginning and
end is not expressed by the participle.

This model is based on two fundamental observations:

(1) There is no orthographic difference between WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL,  and
YIQTOL  in unpointed texts, except that the first two have an enclitic waw
(probably the conjunction). And there is no graphic difference between
(non-consecutive) WEQATAL, (consequtive WEQATAL), and QATAL, except that
the first two have an enclitic waw (probably the conjunction). From an
orthographic point of view, therefore, there are just two conjugations, a
prefix-conjugation and a suffix-conjugation. We cannot know whether the
purpose of the masoretic pointing was to identify four different
conjugations, or whether there were other reasons for their pointing.

(2) To find meaning in a dead language, three fundamental factors must be
considered: a) semantic meaning, b) conversational pragmatic implicature,
and c) linguistic convention. My basic objection to most verbal models
(including Randall´s model) is that all three factors ( including discourse
factors) are fused instead of separated, thus there are no controls that
can be used to test the claims. There is, as a result, very difficult to
know what fundamental properties a particular model ascribes to each *verb
form* and which properties it ascribes to pragmatics and linguistic
convention. Particularly am I confused regarding the role of *tense*
(=grammaticalized expression of location in time) in each model. Does any
of the conjugations code for tense or not?

Most ot the characteristics that Randall connects with his four
conjugations, do I connect with pragmatics and linguistic convention and
not with verb forms. These characteristics are a function of the
combination of:
a) the lexical meaning of a verb (its Aktionsart),
b) the verbal arguments (=subject and object), and whether these are
singular/plural, and indefinite/definite (and other syntactical factors),
c) the particular conjugation used,
d) the particular discourse unit used, and
e) linguistic convention (particular forms tend to be used in particular
By a combination of all these factors could nuances of meaning be conveyed
by writing the Hebrew text of the Bible.

 An advice to those who are confused by all the different models and who
wants to work with the matter on their own: Find one easily definable
property (such as past tense) and test one particular verb form to find
outh whether this property ALLWAYS is connected with this particular form.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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