WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics

Rodney K. Duke dukerk at appstate.edu
Tue Aug 15 08:59:11 EDT 2000

Rolf wrote:

> What I tried to put across, and which you criticize above, is that it is a
> contradiction of terms to claim that a particular form is a tense in a
> tense-less language. The context of my words was the possibility of proving
> that WEQATAL and QATAL have a different semantic meaning by a statistics
> showing a significant difference in the time reference of the two. Because
> a verb can have *any* time reference in a tenseless language (and the time
> reference therefore is not distinctive), from a *semantic* point view (as a
> means do distinguish semantically between two forms which are graphically
> different), a past, present, perfect, and future referense represent
> "APPLES", "APPLES", "APPLES", and "APPLES". But from a pragmatic point of
> view (to find out why there is such a significant difference in time
> reference) they are "APPLE", "BANANA", "ORANGE", and "CUMQUAT". I wonder
> why it is so difficult for you folks to differentiate between  pragmatic
> and semantic arguments. Even if one does not like the model of Broman
> Olsen, such a distinction is elementary linguistics.

Dear Rolf,

    I am responding to the next to the last sentence in the above paragraph in which you seem to be
expressing some frustration with us "folk."  So, this is a personal response.  I have appreciated
your posts.  For the most part I do understand what you are saying, although I'm not sure if you
are correct--just because I don't believe that I have the expertise to thoroughly critique it.  I
think it particularly significant, as I believe you have pointed out, that the "traditional" view
has been defended in a circular manner in a couple of ways: 1) assumptions about tense and aspect
in Hebrew have been used to develop a system of the Hebrew verbal system which is accepted as
"proof" of those assumptions, while confusing pragmatics and semantics, as well as tense, time and
aspect; and 2) assumptions about the Hebrew verbal system were carried over to the development of
grammars of other Semitic languages, the systemization of which is now used to "prove" the Hebrew
system (e.g. the discussion of short and long prefixed conjugation).  (I wish that DeCaen, who has
done research on the historical development of Hebrew and Semitic grammars would enter the
discussion on this second point.)  I have not yet seen someone defend the "traditional" system by
starting "fresh" with clear distinctions between pragmatics and semantics and with clear
distinctions of what is meant by time, tense, and aspect as you have tried to do.
    I have also been most impressed with your personal quality of responding in a gracious and
scholarly manner to those whose posts to you have been patronizing and rude.  So, please be
encouraged.  There are those of us who are reading the exchanges that you are engaged in and are
appreciating them.
Rodney K. Duke
Dept. of Phil. & Rel., Appalachian State Univ., Boone, NC 28608
(O) 828-262-3091, (FAX) 828-262-6619, dukerk at appstate.edu

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