Wayyiqtol - comparative Semitic, morphology, phonology

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Fri Aug 18 09:59:56 EDT 2000

Sorry I took so long to reply to this.  I just found it buried in my 

> Regarding the Masoretes, we have about the same view. They were extremely
> faithful copyists who would not dream of changing the text in any way. They
> faithfully copied what they heard in the synagogue. When I speak of a
> possible  invention in connection with them, I just point out that we, in
> the Masoretic text, for the first time see the difference in vocalization
> between WAYYIQTOL  and WEYIQTOL*.This difference is the basis for the
> modern view that there are four conjugations. So the Masoretes invented
> *the points* which later were used to justify a four-component model, but I
> don't thing they had semantic motives. So I ask: This difference, ist it
> phonological, is it pragmatic, or is it semantic? What really surprises me,
> is that people who have strong convictions regarding the Hebrew
> conjugations never have asked this questions. And not only that, it has
> never occurred to them that such questions should to be asked. They are
> just parroting their teachers and their grammars!

The answer is none of the above, Rolf.  The difference is syntactic.  
That's the one BIG factor that is lacking in what you're doing.  You 
talk about semantic properties, pragmatic, phonological, but you 
don't mention anything about syntax.  The difference in the four 
conjugations is a syntactic one, and I don't see you dealing with 

> I am willing to accept any good scientific evidence. But so far, I am not
> aware of any written evidence before the Masoretes started their work in
> the 6th century CE, which shows a semantic difference between WAYYIQTOL and
> WEYIQTOL. In order to  use the LXX, the Peshitta, the Targums and the
> Vulgate as indirect witnesses, one first needs to work out the meaning of
> each verbal system, and then compare them. While past, present, and future
> reference in these versions generally correspond with the Hebrew text, this
> does not prove that past,present, and future is *grammaticalized* in
> Hebrew. 

I don't say it is grammar based on tense, as you hopefully know.  
However, the fact that the conjugations are not grammaticalized for 
either tense or aspect doesn't logically lead to throwing out the four-
component model.  That's like saying "because the sun rose 
today, my foot hurts."  It's a non-sequitur.

My point is that we cannot just compare the time references, we
> must make a quality analysis as well. A good place to start, is the
> Samaritan Pentateuch, where a Hebrew YIQTOL often is rendered by a
> Samaritan QATAL, and where the Samaritan Targum often returns to the
> YIQTOL. Why not try to find a difference between WAYYIQTOL  and WAYYIQTOL
> in the Samaritan versions?

I assume there's a typo in this last sentence?  I don't know that 
much about the SP, but my understanding is that it's a different 
dialect.  Hence, I'm not sure how much it's going to tell us about 
biblical Hebrew, especially syntactically.  Why resort to a version 
with a variant dialect when we have sufficient evidence before us?  
The problem is not a lack of evidence, but a lack of a good theory.  

> Back to Masoretic pointing and *evidence*. What is your answer the
> folloving question: When the Masoretes heard the text recited in the
> synagogue, did they hear a difference in pronunciation when the
> interrogative H and the article H were read? 

I have no doubt they did.

Why did the point the article
> with patah (with following gemination, but the interrogative particle with
> hateph patah (without gemination). 

Because that was how they heard it.  The point represent sounds, 
they do not produce sounds.  

> Was the reason phonological, pragmatic,
> or semantic? 

Again you leave out syntax.  In this case, I suspect the reason was 
syntactic as realized phonologically.

And why did they point the interrogative MH with patah (and
> following gemination)?

Again you're reinventing the wheel.  This has all been done already.

> I would also like to hear your answer to the questions I asked Randall
> yesterday:
> "On which basis do you conclude that there are four semantic groups (four
> different conjugations)? 

This begins in the wrong arena IMO.  You equate conjugations with 
"semantic groups," once again overlooking syntax.  There are four 
*syntactic* conjugations that perform different *syntactic* functions.

> 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? 

Indeed my basis is function.  Qatal represents real mode with 
syntactic connection to the preceding; yiqtol is irreal mode with 
syntactic connection; weqatal is irreal mode with syntactic break 
and wayyiqtol is real mode with syntactic break.  Aspect fails to 
account for all the evidence, so does tense.  In both cases one has 
to suggest a plethora of "exceptions" or "irregular" uses.  The 
model I have developed accounts for these.  Once again, the fact 
that tense or aspect doesn't adequately deal with the evidence 
cannot be adduced as evidence that the four-component model 
must be thrown out.  It is evidence that we need a better way of 
explaining what we see happening in the four conjugations' usage.

If your basis is just the difference in pointing, why don't you
> conclude there are five conjugations because there are five groups?"

What's the fifth one?

> It seems to me that many hebraists have never systematically analyzed the
> basis of their own view that there are four conjugations, but the view is
> rather haphazardly woven together by taking a little here and a little
> there. Others may refrain from such an analysis because of convenience. If
> one gives a clear analysis of one's basis, one has to defend it as well,
> and this may prove difficult in view of all the different meanings of the
> verbs.

Exactly!  That's where tense and aspect fail.  However, taking a 
view that combines Galia Hatav's observations of modality with the 
question "does this have a syntactic connection with what 
precedes or not?" produces a workable model that does indeed 
account for all the apparently-divergent uses that we find in the HB. 
I'd like to suggest that you take this model - I'll be glad to supply 
you with the details of what constitutes a "syntactic connection" - 
and try applying it to some of that mountain of evidence that you 
have amassed - an impressive feat in itself! - and see if it works as 
well as I think it does.

Dave Washburn
"Éist le glór Dé."

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