WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics: a question and a doubt

Peter Kirk Peter_Kirk at sil.org
Mon Aug 28 07:58:49 EDT 2000

Dear Rolf,

Over the last few weeks I have been following with interest, but not always
in great detail, your exchanges with Henry. As you invite me to, I have
reached my own conclusions, that there is a clear distinction in temporal
usage between QATAL and WEQATAL. I think you now agree. If list members
disagree about whether this distinction is one of meaning or semantics, they
are now differing more over the meaning or semantics of the terms "meaning"
and "semantics" within their presupposed theoretical models.

I have a question. You state that this set of data "means that neither tense
nor aspect is grammaticalized in Hebrew." Please can you explain? Henry's
analysis shows that your data is consistent, to a 90% level or better and
with a very high level of statistical confidence, with the hypothesis that
QATAL is a past tense and WEQATAL is a non-past tense, at least if modality
is included as "non-past". On what basis do you reject this hypothesis? Is
it that the fit is not 100% or 99%? We would of course not expect a 100% fit
because of the way in which you have chosen the time category for each verb
form (see below), and because of the possibility of textual corruption. Of
course, if there are 10% of cases which do not fit, these need to be
explained, perhaps by some kind of refinement of the hypothesis. Or is there
some deeper theoretical reason why you understand these data as disproving
the grammaticalisation of tense in Hebrew?

Also, I have a doubt about your methodology. On what basis did you conclude
that particular examples of QATAL or WEQATAL were past, present or future
etc? If I remember rightly you were basing this largely on established
translations. Did you follow one particular translation consistently, or did
you use your own judgment in certain cases? If the latter, was your judgment
independent of your own theoretical model of the Hebrew verb system? I ask
because some circularity could have crept in here. Translators, of course,
translate according to the verb forms they see. If they translate from the
Masoretic text, and they have learned that QATAL is mostly past and WEQATAL
is mostly future, of course they will translate most QATALs as past and most
WEQATALs as future, except where the context demands something different.

So can I suggest a further test. A main plank of your argument, Rolf, seems
to be that the verb forms of the Masoretic text are not an accurate
reflection of the Hebrew verb system as it was in ancient times e.g. the
final centuries BCE. So I would suggest that you look at the verb forms not
in a modern translation into a Western language but in an ancient
translation into a language whose verb system is well known. I would suggest
the LXX, though the Vulgate or the Syriac might be interesting alternatives.
I think it would be very instructive to make a table of correspondences
between verb forms in MT and in LXX, and then put them into the type of
statistical grid which Henry has used. This may seem an arduous task, but it
could be made easy by a clever computer program working with the existing
Westminster etc morphological analyses of MT and LXX. Note that such a
program would work with morphological forms only (though I accept that there
are ambiguous cases where the verb form has been decided from the context)
and so would not depend on any semantic or syntactic theory.

You could then test such hypotheses as that THE LXX TRANSLATORS UNDERSTOOD
(from their unpointed Vorlage and their knowledge of traditional
vocalisation) QATAL and WAYYIQTOL as (mostly) past and YIQTOL and WEQATAL as
(mostly) non-past. If these hypotheses were confirmed, at the 90% level or
even perhaps at a much lower level, it would disprove any suggestions that
these distinctions were introduced by the Masoretes, or by the chanting
tradition in the centuries following the fall of Jerusalem. On the other
hand, if these latter suggestions were true, I would expect to see a pattern
of LXX to MT verb form correspondences very different from the hypotheses I
have put forward.

Peter Kirk

----- Original Message -----
From: "Rolf Furuli" <furuli at online.no>
To: "Biblical Hebrew" <b-hebrew at franklin.oit.unc.edu>
Sent: Sunday, August 27, 2000 11:19 PM
Subject: Re: WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics (non-circularity)

> Dear Henry,
> Thank you very much for all your work with this thread. Even though we
> disagree as to the ralationship between WEQATAL and QATAL, I will use your
> arguments in connection with my thesis, in order to see where I need to be
> more explicit in my arguments. Our standpoints have been clearly stated,
> and now it is up to the list-members to make their own decision.
> Allow me just a small note. My data which you used for your calculations,
> primarily described temporal references and to a certain extent modality.
> The temporal references were important for me, because I used the data to
> show that neither of the groups YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL,QATAL, and WEQATAL has a
> uniform temporal or aspectual distribution. And this means that neither
> tense nor aspect is grammaticalized in Hebrew.
> So far I have only pointed to what I see as assumptions behind your
> statistics, and have argued that the conclusions as to the meaning
> difference between QATAL and WEQATAL are not better than the assumptions.
> have said enough about this, but for the benefit of those who will work
> further with the material, I would like to mention another set of
> parameters which are important when similarity/dissimilarity between QATAL
> and WEQATAL are discussed. These are the parameters of syntax and of
> linguistic convention.
> I will not discuss these  parameters in this post, just point to
> Waltke/O'Connor 519-526. Their arguments regarding the meaning of WEQATAL
> are primarily syntactic, and that is also the case with several of the
> authors they quote. They say: "In sum WEQATALTI has the values of the
> prefix-conjugation and represent a situation relative (that is
> to the leading verb (or equivalent)." The principal error of
> Waltke/O'Connor, in my view, when they discuss the conjugations, is that
> they use Comrie's *objective* definition of aspect without first testing
> the definition against the Hebrew verbal system. The consequence of this
> error is that they interpret characteristics of WEQATAL forms as
> imperfective, when these characteristics can be viewed as perfective,
> that the Hebrew aspects are *subjective*. (I also think that their
> definition holds in many cases but very far from all cases)
> However, their principle of syntactic explanation is sound, but I believe
> that Bo Johnson, whom they qoute, is more correct when he argues that
> and WEQATAL have the same meaning, but the uses (particularly the
> one) are different. While the numbers I have published definitely show
> tense and aspect (in Comrie's sense) are not grammaticalized in Hebrew,
> only syntax and linguistic convention can explain the the differences in
> the temporal and modal distribution of QATAL and WEQATAL. This is a main
> point in my thesis.
> So apart from a discussion of assumptions leading to circularity, a
> comparison of the environments in which QATAL and WEQATAL occur, is very
> important when a decision is to be made regarding the forms, whether or
> they have the same meaning.
> Regards
> Rolf
> Rolf Furuli
> University of Oslo
> ---
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