WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics

Henry Churchyard churchh at usa.net
Sun Aug 13 16:30:12 EDT 2000

> From: Rolf Furuli <furuli at online.no>

> philosophically I subscribe to Karl Popper's system with the
> followng two maxims:
>  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.

> 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).  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.
> The basic error in many studies of Hebrew verbs, is that it is
> completely rejected that the same verb form can be used both for
> past, present, and future.  Therefore, when so many WEQATALs have
> future reference and so many QATALs have past reference, they MUST
> belong to two different semantic groups! But this is very bad
> semantics indeed!

Actually, given the lack of any really adequate semantic theory at
that time, applying an inductive generalization based on the observed
predominant meaning of these verb forms _was_ in fact a scientific
procedure (as you yourself admit, "the natural thought we get, is that
there most likely is some connection between WAYYIQTOL and QATAL on
the one hand and YIQTOL and WEQATAL on the other, because the temporal
references of each of the two are similar").  In situations where
there is no available theory that can explain a small residue of
problematic cases, but where a theory is available that does cover the
great majority of cases, then it's actually quite scientific to
provisionally adopt such a mostly-adequate theory, and to leave the
small problematic residue aside to be explained later.  To try to
force an explanation of the problematic residue where no satisfactory
explanation is in fact possible, would be to engage in ad-hoc
scholasticism; while just throwing up one's hands and refusing to
adopt any theory at all (even provisionally) because of the small
problematic residue would be obscurantist, and would leave no room for
future refinement and development by building on what is known
already.  So for example, if linguists had refused to adopt any
provisional theory at all about the correspondence between Germanic
and Indo-European consonants (i.e. just thrown up their hands and said
everything was random and unexplainable) because Grimm's
generalization had a residue of problematic exceptions, then it would
not have been possible to discover Verner's law by examining the
exceptions to Grimm's law.  It was in fact the scientific thing to do
in the mid 19th century to provisionally adopt Grimm's law, but to
admit there were exceptions -- since prior to 1876 there was no
available theory that could explain the exceptions to Grimm's law
(that after 1876 were explained by Verner's law), and also no
alternative theory that could explain what Grimm's law did explain as
well as Grimm's law did.  Similarly, when 19th-century astronomers
discovered the precession in Mercury's orbit, they didn't suddenly
suddenly abandon Newton's laws of gravitation, and throw up their
hands and say that the motion of the planets was random; instead they
kept on using Newton's laws as their provisional theory, but carefully
observed certain phenomena which did not seem to be fully explainable
by Newton's laws, while waiting for a theory to arise which would
explain these phenomena by revising and extending Newton's laws (as
the later theory of Relativity in fact did).

Anyway, I think it rather ill becomes you to get on an exalted
philosophical/methodological high horse, since:

1) For you the C/RT/E theory seems to be an unquestionable starting
point, such that there do not seem to be any observable Biblical
Hebrew verbal phenomena that could cause you to doubt the C/RT/E
theory; so for you, the C/RT/E theory seems to be in fact

2) You seem to display a strong persisting lack of clarity as to
phonological, morphological, diachronic, and comparative Semitic
concepts which apply to these verb forms (i.e. whether or not
WAYYIQTOL is a morphologically distinct conjugation -- you seem to
hold both points of view on this simultaneously -- ; whether it is
phonologically plausible that the stress shifts could somehow
originate by pure "pragmatics" thrusting its way onto the phonological
plane; whether the difference between _pathah._ + geminate vs.
_sh at wa_ + non-geminate seen in WAYYIQTOL vs. W at YIQTOL could be a
non-phonologically significant difference, etc. etc.): --

> Can the waw in the WEQATALs be explained as a simple conjunction?
> Can we explain why a conjunction is needed where the WEQATALs occur?
> And we must of course not forget the penultimate stress.  Although
> this stress is not consistently used, it is done so often that there
> can be no doubt that either those who wrote the text or some of
> those who at some point copied it, wanted to use this stress as a
> distinction.  But is this distinction just phonetic, or is it
> pragmatic, or is it semantic?  In addition we should ask whether we
> can account for the fact that so many WAYYIQTOLs and QATALs have
> past reference and so many YIQTOLs and WEQATALs have future
> reference, by help of the context in which they occur without taking
> them as four different conjugation.  Then we get the following point
> of departure: 1) QATAL and WEQATAL can be parts of one conjugation
> or be two defferent conjugations, and 2) each Hebrew conjugation can
> have past, present, future, and perfect reference and signal
> modality.

Etc etc.  (By the way, the term "conjugation" is a morphological term,
and what is or is not a conjugation should be determined according to
morphological criteria.)

> And instead of getting the four conjugations as an end product after
> a longer study of the verbs, the four conjugations are the starting
> point, it is simply assumed that there *are* four conjugations with
> different meanings.

Actually, morphological conjugations must be the starting point for
semantic investigations, since without establishing morphological
conjugations, you don't even know what it is that you're investigating
the semantics of.  You're implicitly following this principle when you
collect data separately on WAYYIQTOL vs. YIQTOL, etc.  Otherwise,
you're not using the word "conjugation" in the sense in which it is
usually defined.

> If you don't see that the premise for Henry's feeding my data of
> QATAL and WEQATAL into his SAS statistical program, was that QATAL
> and WEQATAL are two distinct groups which cannot have both past,
> present, and future reference, then I cannot see how we can continue
> an intelligent discussion.

Actually, the formal statistical procedure of calculating the
chi-squared for the "null hypothesis" that there is no-interaction
between the QATAL vs. WEQATAL variable and the semantic categories
variable makes no such assumption as to whether a form "cannot have
both past, present, and future reference" (and similarly with the
Cramer's V measure of "effect size" or association, which is a
proportionally scaled version of chi-squared).

For my first postings, I collapsed the semantic categories into a
dichotomy of "PAST & PERFECT" vs. "All Other" because I had to do some
collapsing to get your data in the form of a proper two-dimensional
table; because I wanted to show that your numbers didn't refute a
"traditional" view quite as soundly as you thought; and because of
certain convenient statistical properties of 2x2 tables.  However,
nothing in the statistical demonstration that the hypothesis of
non-interaction between morphology and semantics must be rejected
actually depends on this grouping of semantic categories, as seen in
my second SAS results posting, where minimal collapsing of semantic
categories results in a stronger semantic distinction between QATAL
and WEQATAL (0.7794, where 1 is the maximum) than was observed with a
collapsing into two semantic groupings (only 0.6030).

> Because we take a neutral standpoint and keep open the possibility
> that each conjugation can have any reference, the percentages of
> past, present, future, and perfect reference tell us absolutely
> nothing as to the *meaning* of QATAL and WEQATAL or whether the two
> constitute one conjugation or two.
Then why the heck did you gather statistics on the distribution of
20009 such forms?  For my dissertation, I gathered data by examining
9309 Hebrew words with disjunctive accents, taken from the books with
"non-poetic" accentuation, and classifying them according to whether
they showed pausal stress-shift blocking or non-pausal stress shift;
however, you can be sure that I would not have gone to such effort if
I had thought that these statistics had no relevance to the
phonological questions I was looking at...

Henry Churchyard   churchh at usa.net   http://www.crossmyt.com/hc/

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