b-hebrew digest: September 16, 1999

Matthew Anstey manstey at portal.ca
Fri Sep 17 12:15:16 EDT 1999

Gday Rolf,

You wrote,

>The real problem with Hebrew grammar today, as I see it, is that  the verb
>forms are given a too restrictive meaning, either as only signaling one
>particular tense or one particular kind of discourse.  [ snip]  If we take
the prefix-conjugation and the
>suffix-conjugation as expressing the imperfective and perfective aspect
>respectively and nothing else,

Is there a contradiction here Rolf? If the problem is "too restrictive a
meaning" why would those two conjugations each only represent "one" type of
aspect? Do you hold to the invariance hypothesis regarding verbal aspect?

>we are in a position where we can let the
>combination of Aktionsart, the Vendlerian traits (durativity, dynamicity
>and telicity) and the context play the role they deserve.

Are you distinguishing Aktionsart from "Vendlerian traits"? I thought they
were the same. More importantly, what do you mena by "combination"? How do
you prepose to formulate this relationship?

>It is my experience with Hebrew that an author uses both conjugations in
>the same context, just as we in English use synonyms instead of using the
>same word many times in the same context.

I think using different verb forms is not the same issue as synonyms (and
"absolute" synonyms are extremely rare in any language.) What of the dictum
"meaning implies choice"? (Porter, Bazell, Lyons, Dahl, Halliday, Dik,
Givon, etc). Are you saying that a Hebrew speaker had before him/her an
equal choice between two different verbs to express the "identical"
communication? I doubt this very much. Even with partial synonyms there are
subtle reasons giuding their use.

>The author need not have any
>particular difference in mind, it is just a matter of style. The
>combination of an aspect and other factors may in other contexts be
>semantically important. Seeking a difference in every use of different
>conjugations can be very misleading.

I doubt any one is seeking a difference in "every" use, rather, one tries to
identify either the single distinguishing feature of a verb form (invariance
hypothesis) or a set of distinguishing features (which may or may not be
nested, and may or may not be hierarchically related) of a verb form. One's
theoretical position on the relationship between grammar and lexicon will
also affect how one analyses the language, particularly when considering
"exceptions". In most languages for instance there are aspectually vague
verbs. If these are included in the description of the language then many
problem cases can disappear.

>Al illustration from English:
>(1) This morning John was singing in the bathroom?
>(2) This morning John sang in the bathroom?
>I see little difference in (1) and (2)

These differ asepctually, as the interruption test demonstrates:

(1) This morning John was singing in the bathroom when I interrupted him.
(2) *This morning John sang in the bathrrom when I interrupted him.

> so I would not ask about foreground
>and background or this or that nuance.

Foreground and background is (usually understood as) a pragmatic function,
but the question here is about the TAM system of Hebrew. Pragmatic functions
can be grammaticised naturally, but the difference in the two sentences
above is not a pragmatic one.

>I find the Hebrew verbal system to be flexible; in some contexts will the
>use of a particular conjugation signal important semantic nuances;

How do you reconclie this with your theory on verbal aspect?

With regards,
MAtthew Anstey

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