QATAL C/RT [Statistics]

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Tue Aug 1 16:55:20 EDT 2000

Randall Buth wrote:

>I hope that Hebrew learners on this list will be able to learn to read
>their parashot ha-shavuz` vexu' (weekly tora readings etc) and enjoy the
>texts without worrying if BHebrew exists or is understood. The language has
>never stopped being understood for three thousand years and counting.
>How strongly can this be stated to make it clear? Equating vayyiqtol with
>yiqtol/veyiqtol and qatal with veqatal is not Biblical Hebrew but a fictive
>language. Stated practically, if a student makes such equations they don't
>know Biblical Hebrew will find it difficult to learn BH. I wish that all on
>this list can learn BH to the highest levels and with all the evidence
>presented have only themselves to blame if they spend too much time on
>Of course describing a language is a different and open matter altogether
>and changes with linguistic frameworks. Students need to be encouraged to
>learn enough of the vocabulary and basic associations to comfortably work
>within the texts and hopefully to contribute to Hebrew linguistics in the

Dear Randall,

I agree that Hebrew learners should not worry about about the problems that
they see in our exchanges. Such problems need not be taken into
consideration in introductory courses, but the standard grammars can be
used without special problems. However, the students should be aware of the
fact that there are problems that they may review later. I have never heard
any modern scholar claim that the Hebrew verbal system is fully understood,
so we should not give our students the impression that everything is easy

One important point that both beginners and advanced students should be
aware of regarding our discussions, is that we have completely different
philosophical viewpoints. I stress that when I say this, I in no way want
to attack you personally. I have little experience in introductory Hebrew
courses; I teach intermediate and upwards, though I teach beginning courses
in Syriac, Accadian and Ethiopic. So I would have loved to atend your
courses a couple of weeks to see how you teach Hebrew "the way of nature"
and learn from that. What you have described regarding this is very
exciting, and I view you as a very good teacher for beginners.

But philosophically we stand miles apart, and this can be seen in our use
of statistics. I subscribe to Karl Popper's system with the followng two

1) A good scientific hypothesis is one that can be falsified.
2) By help of induction or deduction we can hope to falsify a theory but we
can never verify (prove) it.

First of all these principles require that we study the smallest possible
parts of our material. Secondly, if applied to the statistics of YIQTOL,
WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, QATAL, and WEQATAL that we have been discussing, these
principles mean
that we by help of the statistics only can hope to show what is *not* the
case and not what *is* the case. This is what I have tried to do. I have
given a clearcut and unambiguous definition of tense and aspect (in the
English system). Then I have applied the statistics of QATAL and WEQATAL
against this definition, and I have concluded that QATAL  and WEQATAL are
neither tenses nor aspects (in the English sense). I think that this is a
piece of scientific work that should be handled seriously. I do not claim
that I always draw the right conclusions, but the conclusions are at least
part of a logical, clearly defined system which is based on an equally
clear philosophical foundation. So I hope that someone will test and
comment on these conclusions on the basis of the same principles and not
just engage in R(WT RWX (Ecc 1:14).

Those who formed the four-component model - from the middle ages and up to
the present - did not follow Popper's principles. In fact, they did the
very opposite, that is, the gave positive meanings to verbal forms on the
basis of statistics! And this statistics was not even a good one, because
nobody bothered to study *all* the verbs of the Tanach, so the statistics
was only partial. The resoning in the Middle Ages (on the basis of the
tenses of Mishna-Hebrew) was that because WAYYIQTOLs tend to have past
reference and WEQATAL to have future reference, they represent past and
future tense respectively. Later the past and future tenses were
substituted by the perfective and the imperfective aspect although there is
no one-to-one correspondence between tense and aspect. Popper would have
shuddered because of such reasoning. (And please do not claim that the waw
conversive view of Kimhi and others was handed over from generation to
generation back to the first temple. The most you can claim is that the
view of WAYYIQTOL  and QATAL which were based on the erroneous waw
conversive view *by accident happened* to be the same as the original one.)

I am not sure which kind of philosophy you subscribe to, but in all your
postings to the list that I have read, I cannot recall a single instance
where you have committed yourself and clearly have stated how you define
each of the Hebrew conjugations. Recently I asked you the questions below
(marked with quotation marks), but you have not answered them. You have for
instance not told whether you view WAYYIQTOL as a tense, an aspect, a mood.
You speak of TAM so generally that I associate it with HEBEL. So it seems
to me that your philosophy is that the individual parts of the verbal
system should not be defined but everything should float. And a model so
slippery can of course not be tested by Popper's methods. Please correct me
if I have misunderstood you.

"On which basis do you conclude that there are four semantic groups (four
different conjugations)? If your basis is function, in which sense do the
three prefix-groups and the two suffix-groups differ in function? If your
basis is tense, does each of the four groups represent one particular
tense? If your basis is aspect, does each group represent one particular
aspect? If your basis is just the difference in pointing, why don't you
conclude there are five conjugations because there are five groups?"

To build on a philosophy is a choice, and I will not argue that my
philosophy is better than yours. I leave it to the readers to decide.
However, it is extremely important that the readers know that we build our
research on philosophies that are  as different as it is possible to be.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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