WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics

Henry Churchyard churchh at usa.net
Wed Aug 16 00:31:39 EDT 2000

> Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2000 22:39:02 +0200
> From: Rolf Furuli <furuli at online.no>

>> Henry Churchyard wrote:

>> When you ask "Can the waw in the WEQATALs be explained as a simple
>> conjunction?", what you're suggesting is that WEQATAL should be
>> purely "compositional" in meaning, in which case the meaning of
>> WEQATAL should be a combination of the meaning of WE- (an ordinary
>> conjunction without inherent tense/mood/aspect meaning) together with
>> the meaning of plain QATAL.  This can be formulated as a hypothesis
>> of the formal statistical "independence" of a QATAL vs. WEQATAL
>> variable with respect to a semantic meaning variable.  It is this
>> hypothesis (of the posited identical relative semantic frequency
>> distributions of QATAL and WEQATAL) that I have shown above to be
>> rejected five hundred times more conclusively than is usually
>> considered necessary statistically.  >> So all in all, I'd say
>>>> that your own data has shown the existence of a significant and
>>>> significantly large meaning difference between QATAL and WEQATAL.

> I am not disputing your two-dimensional tables or the technical
> conclusions you draw from them.  What I am disputing, is that you,
> from this statistics can draw *any* positive conclusions regarding the
> *meaning* of QATAL and WEQATAL and whether they constitute one or two
> conjugations.

>> if you provide data on the occurrences of two or more different
>> morphological categories, cross-classified with respect to the same
>> list of different meanings, then the resulting two-column or
>> multi-column table is a two-dimensional table,

> Your words show that to get your two-dimensional table, you assume
> that QATAL and WEQATAL *are* two different morphological categories.
> As a basis for your statistical analysis regarding the *use* of QATAL
> and WEQATAL, this assumption is not problematic.  But as far as
> *semantics* is concerned, this assumption makes the situation
> completely circular, because what shall be proved is assumed.  My
> fundamental question was: "Do QATAL and WEQATAL constitute one or two
> semantic groups?  We cannot answer this semantic question by pointing
> to a graphic difference, namely, prefixed waw.  To classify Hebrew
> verbs according to the differences: RT>C (past reference), RT=C
> (present reference, perfect reference), and C>RT (future reference)
> and call these "semantic categories", builds on the aasumption that
> past,present, perfect, and future reference are semantically
> distinctive.  However, such an assumption is only valid in a
> tense-language (where tense is grammaticalized).  in a tense-less
> language, we have to change the names to "APPLE", "APPLE", "APPLE",
> and "APPLE".  This is so because in a language where tense is not
> grammaticalized we cannot ascribe a different *semantic* meaning to
> verbs with past, present, perfect, and future reference.  True, the
> function or use of the verbs is different, and this is described by
> your analysis.  But this is pragmatics and not semantics.  In such
> tenseless languages, particular forms are often used with a certain
> time reference (due to linguistic convention), but these forms do not
> represent tense because they can also be used for other time
> referenses.  Thus their time reference is pragmatic and not semantic.
> An example from Hebrew which illustrate my point that a particular
> category may be used often with a certain reference or in a certain
> sense, but still not represent semantic meaning, is stativity.  Some
> verbs are viewed as typical examples of stativity, but they can have a
> fientic interpretation as well.  This means that stativity is not a
> semantic property in Hebrew, yet particular verbs may have a stative
> interpretation in 90 % of their occurrences.

Well, ---

  1) When you're trying to explore whether two things share the same
properties or each have different properties, then you must treat the
two separately, as a provisional research assumption, or you can't even
begin to get to grips with the question.  If a social scientist were to
try to examine whether or not Protestants and Catholics have different
incomes, he would have to collect income data separately for the two
groups; if he instead collected income data without recording religion
(lumping Protestants and Catholics together, on the assumption that they
did not in fact have significantly different incomes), then there's no
way he could even try to answer the question using his data.  So there's
nothing logically circular about my little two-dimensional tables; their
existence arises from the very basic fact that it's impossible to test
whether or not two entities are different by assuming beforehand that
they're the same (as I wrote in the previous posting, "the basic
question is whether or not there are meaning differences between
different morphological form categories, which is a two-dimensional

  2) If you're saying that the categories "Past", "Present", "Future",
"Perfect", and "Modal" have absolutely nothing whatever to do with
_semantics_ as you define it in this case, then I wonder what the real
"semantic" categories actually are here (and whether such deep and
abstract semantics would really have much direct relevance, to questions
of morphology at least).  In my statistical calculations, I was working
with the categories that you provided, and which looked pretty semantic
to me; if you claim that these categories do not represent "real"
semantics, then it seems to me that it would now be your responsibility
to carefully define new categories which do represent "real" semantics,
and to show that according to the categories of such "real" semantics,
QATAL and WEQATAL do not have significantly-contrasting semantic
distributions.  But you haven't done that so far, that I know of, and
until you do, I think that most somewhat statistically-literate
linguists would find that the statistical interaction strength of 0.7794
(where the minimum value 0 would represent identical relative
distributions of QATAL and WEQATAL with respect to Past, Present,
Future, Perfect, and Modal; while the maximum value 1 would represent
maximally distinct distributions of QATAL and WEQATAL forms with respect
to Past, Present, Future, Perfect, and Modal), and the rejection of the
hypothesis of non-interaction between morphology and Past-Present-
Future-Perfect-Modal at the p <.0001 level, are indications that there
is a significant typical meaning difference between QATAL and WEQATAL.

Anyway, the claim that correlations between morphology and the
categories of "Past", "Present", "Future", "Perfect", and "Modal" must
be absolutely and exceptionlessly 100.00% to be considered part of
"real" semantics, and that any such correlation which falls short of
absolute 100.00% exceptionlessness (however slightly) must have nothing
whatever to do with semantics, doesn't necessarily strike me as being a
very helpful theory -- since most of the time this theory seems to
require you to just throw up your hands and sweep whatever can't be
fully explained within a few very basic and simple parameters under the
carpet into the ill-defined catch-all region of "pragmatics".

>> lack of clarity as to whether or not WAYYIQTOL is a morphologically
>> distinct conjugation; 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.  (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.)

> the term "conjugation" in my use includes both morphology and
> semantics.  I expect that a difference in morphology signals a
> difference in meaning.  I connect "morphology" with the form of single
> words, so a prefixed preposition or conjunction will make the
> particular word graphically different from the same word without the
> prefix but will not necessarily make it morphologically different,
> because we are dealing with two words.  As to WAYYIQTOL I note that
> the form is graphically different from YIQTOL and WEYIQTOL, but it is
> an open question whether it is morphologically different.  The short
> forms are of course morphologically different from the long ones.  I
> do not hold the view that WAYYIQTOL is a morphologically distinct
> conjugation,so far I view it as a graphically different group.  My
> starting-point is that in unpointed texts there are only two clearly
> different groups of finite verbs, the prefix-forms and the
> suffix-forms.  A great number of both groups have a prefixed waw, and
> a number of the verbs of the prefix-group are shorter than others.  So
> I need not start with more than two different groups.  When I go to
> pointed texts, it is possible to classify the finite verbs in five
> graphically different groups.  Because most students of Hebrew believe
> that four of the five groups are independent conjugations with
> different semantic meanings, it is natural to study each of these
> groups and their statistics.

It's true that semantic considerations can enter into establishing the
existence of morphological entities, but basically only to the same
degree that semantics enters into distinguishing allophones and
phonemes -- that is, only overall sameness or difference of meaning is
really relevant (and not the exact nature of the specific meanings
themselves); and a difference in the predominant patterns of "temporal
reference usage" would generally be considered quite sufficient to
establish a morphological contrast.  By the way, the conjunction in
wayyiqtol is not really a "word" according to any commonly-accepted
definition, but rather is a "clitic" -- and when clitics are tightly
bound to the words they are attached to (as is the case here), then
morphologists are generally quite willing to consider them as part of
morphology (even though clitics may also be syntactically-relevant).

Once the morphological entities are established, you can debate at
length whether these differences in the predominant patterns of temporal
reference usage are properly "semantic" or "pragmatic" in your
particular theory, but it would be reversing the normal procedure (and
proposing a theoretical innovation which should be explicitly recognized
as a departure from the usual practice), to say that ultra-subtle
refinements of abstract "deep" semantic theory can come back around and
rewrite the basic morphology-based definition of what is and what is not
a morphological conjugation.

As for the contrast between pointed and unpointed orthography, I stand
by what I wrote a while ago:

| Subject: Re: Diachronic Hebrew wayyiqtol (WAW the conjunction)
| From: "Henry Churchyard" <churchh at usa.net>
| Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2000 14:28:41 -0600 (CST)

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

| > we have to start with the data from the unpointed manuscripts.
| > Everybody can see that the orthography just distinguishes between
| > two groups of verbs.  But are there more than two?  on the basis
| > of orthography I see just two conjugations.

| Unfortunately, some important morphological distinctions are simply
| not encoded in the consonantal orthography, due to the nature of the
| consonant-only orthographic system (one semi-random example is the
| contrast between the prepositions k-, l-, and b- followed by a
| definite article vs. k-, l-, and b- followed by a noun not prefixed
| with a definite article).  In such cases, it is fair to assume that
| the Masoretes may have mispointed the contrast incorrectly in some
| few individual forms (since the earlier consonant-only written text
| did not give them any guidance).  However, this does _not_ create
| any particular reasonable presumption that there was originally an
| undifferentiated single form (i.e. a morphological unity) that was
| later artificially differentiated by the Masoretes.  (This might
| perhaps be the case, but if so, it would have to be specifically
| proved in detail, and not vaguely presumed.)

The Tiberian difference between wayyiqtol and w at yiqtol is highly
morphologically significant, just counting the systematic phonological
difference between _pathah._ + geminate consonant vs. _sh at wa_ +
non-geminate consonant (in no other context does the conjunction cause
gemination of the following consonant, and there is no plausible
purely phonological explanation for the presence of the gemination) --
without even mentioning the segmental differences between yaqUm and
wayyaqOm, the stress shifts, usual shortening of lamedh-he forms, etc.

It seems to me the only position that would really be logically
consistent for you is to say that the Masoretes artificially innovated
the wayyiqtol vs. w at yiqtol distinction in Tiberian; otherwise, if
subtle considerations of abstract deep semantics can override the basic
morphological wayyiqtol vs. w at yiqtol distinction, then I don't see why
they couldn't also override the English unsuffixed vs. "-ed" suffixed
morphological distinction.  Unfortunately for the idea of wayyiqtol as
an artificial Tiberian innovation, it turns out that unusual stress
patterns in Tiberian are highly correlated with a word's original
historical consonant-final vs. vowel-final status before the late
2nd. millennium B.C.E. loss of word-final short vowels.  (This is
another corroboration of the general refutation in recent decades of
Kahlean accusations of conscious artificial linguistic inventions in
the Tiberian transcriptions.)

I fully admit that the definitive explanation for Hebrew verbal
semantics has probably not been arrived at (and the idea that a
conjunctive clitic prefixed to a finite-inflected verbal form
"reverses the meaning" was already recognized as something of an
oversimplification a long time ago), and I admire your willingness to
start completely fresh, abandoning all pre-conceived notions; but I
have doubts as to whether the "must-be-100%-or-must-be-non-semantic"
version of semantic theory is really helping you very much here -- and
with the ignoring of vowel points, the use of semantics to determine
morphology (instead of allowing morphology to determine morphology, as
is usually done), in addition to not really making productive use of
the available diachronic and comparative Semitic information, I think
you're in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater in
collapsing morphological distinctions.

P.S. I haven't gotten around to answering to the postings of July 28th
and following days that replied to my posting of July 17th -- I got
distracted with SAS computations etc...  ;-)

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

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