WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics, agreement

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sun Aug 20 14:06:46 EDT 2000

Dear Randall,

This is a fine post of yours, and I also appreciated the one where you
described the emic-concept. See my comments below

>The following should lead to agreement:
>>But most of all I doubt the semantic
>>conclusions that are drawn on the basis of the view that the Masoretes
>>followed a 3000 old system. Even though the Masoretes wanted to mark
>>WAYYIQTOL as in some way different from WEYIQTOL (as I think they wanted),
>>this needs not prove that they viewed WAYYIQTOL as past tense. There may
>>pragmatic explanations as well.
>First of all, the question at hand is NOT whether the Massoretes thought
>vayyiqtol was a past tense. Personally, I am certain that they were aware
>that its application was wider. They knew Hebrew. [[And they pedantically
>counted and compared all the forms of the whole tana"k and recorded a
>memorized vocalization of it! yirbu kemohem! ]]

I am not sure the Masoretets "knew Hebrew" in the grammatical sense of the
words. Robert Gordis, 1971, "The Biblical Text in the Making - A Study of
the Qethib-Qere.KTAV Publishing House, wrote, for instance (p XIV), that
"the view that the Hebrew roots were bi-literal (..) prevailed until the
tenth century and beyond". He used the fact that the Masoretes'
"vocalization is in harmony with a triliteral theory", without their
knowledge of triliteral roots as "conclusive evidence that the Masoretes
did not invent the vocalic system but preserved an ancient reliable
tradition regarding the pronunciation of the Biblical text." They
understood the text as children who have learned their mother tongue the
natural way, but have no idea of grammar.

>So, let's at least agree:
>1. that the Masoretes distinguished veyiqtol from vayyiqtol. Furthermore,


>2. this is the oldest CERTAIN vocalization of the forms that we have.


>3. that the forms have remarkable confirmation as morphological entities
>going back 3000 years and in diversified language communities, one of which
>continues to this day (Arabic with lam yaktub).

If your remark is just descriptive, and what you mean to say is that a
short and long prefix-form and a suffix-form are found in Semitic languages
back to 3000 years, I agree.

>4. that there is a significant correlation of the distinctive forms with
>2000-year-old texts translated by bi-lingual communities.

If you by "distinctive forms" mean that we can ascribe distinctive meanings
to the oldest forms, I disagree. The general picture is that modality (and
sometimes past reference) is connected with the short prefix-form, and
indicative with the long form. The suffix-form can express both moods. But
this is very general. As long as no researcher, as far as I know, has made
a  study of those old forms which usually have past reference by
systematically distinguishing between past tense and past meaning, any
claim that Accadian IPRUS and Early Semitic YAQTUL are preterites cannot be
take seriously.

>Are 1-4 agreed on?
>Please note, I am not asking whether you like what I do with the statements
>but whether they can be accepted as accurate.
>We do not need to agree on the meaning of the formal categories.
>In fact, I am highly suspicious of any claim to provide one measurable
>"meaning" because the forms are required to cover so much ground as to make
>them impossible to fit into any one, measurable parameter. That is why I am
>on record for calling the categories 'DEFINITE' and 'INDEFINITE', because
>it forces definitions outside the beaten path. (I mean, who ever heard of
>'definite' verbs, or 'indefinite' ones?) Unfortuantely, 'definite' cannot
>be defined by one traditional parameter. On its own it becomes 'subjective'
>and 'unfalsifiable', which is why I prefer to have it linked to
>default/more-probable situations of measurable parameters.

Your words above show that your view is much closer to mine  than I have
understood earlier. But there are still great differences.

>This could lead to recognizing where differences remain in certain
>theoretical definitions.
>The following quotation is a theoretical assumption and not a 'fact':
>>So in *this* language [Hebrew-RB]
>>and similar languages without tenses, "Past", "Present",
>>"Future","Perfect"; and "Modal" have absolutely nothing whatever to do
>"Absolutely nothing" is obviously misleading or wrong, as long as
>'semantics' means 'referential meaning' in the common linguistic sense. But
>it is equally true that the forms do not have absolute temporal reference.
>Against the quoted statement, the statistics brought forward by Rolf, the
>writer of the statement above, show an unmistakable, statistical,
>connection with time, though one that is not absolute.

With the definition of semantics as "referential meaning" my words are
wrong. However, they were expressed in the light of "semantic meaning"
which I define as uncancelable meaning. In a tenseless language no form has
a particular "semantic meaning". The uses of the forms (in such languages)
therefore have nothing to do with "semantics" in this sense of the word.

>We need to find ways to brings these things together.
>Now, - if someone wants to redefine a different linguistics and call such
>time reference 'pragmatic', fine. ['Aspect' and 'mood' may likewise be
>joined into the picture as 'pragmatic'. When the process is complete, one
>will have moved a complicated semantics over into 'pragmatics' and if done
>consistently and thoroughly, the Hebrew verb categories will be classified
>as having no 'semantics' but a complicated, semantic 'pragmatics'. I can
>live with that, communicate with that, though I would draw my lines and
>make my definitions differently.]

Three basic weaknesses strike me in Hebrew verbal studies: 1) Assumptions
are repeated  from professor to student and to the next student and so
forth, without ever being tested. 2) The smallest linguistic units of the
whole corpus of Classical Hebrew have never been studied in the light of
modern linguistic methods (e.g. semantics versus pragmatics). 3) Linguistic
models from Germanic languages have been forced upon Classical Hebrew (and
other Semitic languages) without ever asking if they fit (e.g. Comrie's
definition of aspect is almost universaly applied to Semitic languages).

Most studies in recent times have focused on bigger units of text without
any systematic distinction between semantics and pragmatics. Such studies
may give good results in describing the function of verbs and give other
valuable insights (e.g. Rocine, Niccacci, van der Merwe et. al., and Buth).
Such studies should continue, but my approach has certain advantages as
well. Just take YIQTOL and the participle as an example. There are several
similarities between the two as to function. A study of syntax by the
methods of discourse analysis will reveal particular functional
differences, and these can be described in a grammar. All this is very
fine, and the students need such studies. I for one focus on something
completely different by asking: Is it possible to isolate the "semantic
meaning" (not just function) of the participle and YIQTOL? In other words,
is there one or more characteristics with each form which is uncancelable,
which will be the same in any context and under any circumstances?
This is the quest for the semantic meaning of the fundamental linguistic
units of Hebrew. The advantage can be seen by the realization that
telicity, durativity, and dynamicity are *semantic* properties, while
stativity and punctuality are *pragmatic*. Particularly have many wrong
conclusions been drawn regarding aspect because of an erroneous view of

>In addition, when one factors in how a person learns any language, how
>networks of associations are always developed, one may easily come to a
>conclusion that the language users have 'default' understandings for
>certain forms. One may then define the varied functions as 'pragmatic'
>applications related to the defaults, though again, that is a different
>definition of pragmatics from Functional grammar and from Relevance theory,
>which would still include the network within a more complicated semantics.
>Are you guys tracking?

>Randall Buth



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

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