<wayyiqtol> again

peter_kirk at sil.org peter_kirk at sil.org
Tue Jan 4 21:27:46 EST 2000

Dear Rolf,

Thank you. We are clearly making good progress. See my further 
comments below.

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[5]: <wayyiqtol> again
Author:  <furuli at online.no> at Internet
Date:    04/01/2000 11:48

Dear Peter,

It is fine that you work hard to grasp the fundamentals of the model. See 
my comments below,

>Dear Rolf,
>I wonder if I am confusing myself, and no doubt anyone else who is 
>reading, by making examples too complex on this issue. I certainly 
>don't want to get into complex matters like the Psalms until I have 
>understood simple narrative according to your theory. So let's look at 
>something very simple:

To make it easier we could drop the whole "letter-soup" as Ian would have 
said and just use common sense (the ET,RT and C are used in order to tie 
our common sense to a scientific system). Regarding Psalm 105 we can just 
ask: Do the QATALs move the account forward, describing one event after the 
other, just as does WAYYIQTOL in the historical books? And I think that any 
person on the list by using his or her commen sense will answer "yes". So 
common sense continues and asks: If a QATAL can do the same as a WAYYIQTOL, 
how can anyone claim that the WAYY-element has a semantic meaning apart 
from its force as a conjunction?

PK: Well, that was not my claim. But first we have to rule out the 
issue of language change etc, see below.

RF: The following is not ad hominem in any sense, I think it is more the 
system of Hebrew scholarship that is to blame than particular persons 
(including yourself). But the reluctance to discuss parts of Biblical 
Hebrew which are not narrative accounts reminds med of Galia's comments 
regarding the Relative-Tense-Theory from the 18th and 19th century: "This 
line of analysis provides acircular explanation, since it allows the writer 
to change his point-of-view at will, from one verse to another." The reason 
for changing C (the deictic point) at will, was to let the text fit their 

The parallel that comes to my mind, is that one starts with narrative 
(which can be methodologically sound), but when one looks at other texts, 
it is aparent that one's theory does not fit. The system then offers two 
tools for our rescue:
(1) "That your theory does not fit is no problem, because there *can* be 
something strange with these non-narrative texts; nobody has so far found 
these strange uses of verbs, but just leave the texts alone."
(My comment: Which other language, dead or alive, is studied from the point 
of view that the *semantic meaning* of verbs is different in prose than in 
(2) "That your theory does not fit is no problem, because there *can* be 
another verbal system in these texts, because language change over time.") 
(My comment: This tool *may* have some substance. However, hitherto nobody 
has been able to *demonstrate* a difference in verbal meaning /see my post 
yesterday/, it is hardly natural to refuse to work with this material until 
someone has demonstrated a difference in verbal meaning. A critical mind 
could, on this background, start to think: "Perhaps it is the theory that 
is wrong because it does not fit the whole corpus of Classical Hebrew?)

PK: The logical problem here is that you seem to be insisting on 
presupposing the linguistic unity of the Hebrew corpus. Now this unity 
is something which most serious scholars doubt. On this list in the 
last few days there have been named several scholars who have looked 
at this matter and concluded that the verbal system of late Biblical 
Hebrew is different from that of the pre-exilic form of the language. 
If your critical mind is starting to doubt this theory, then you need 
to work on demonstrating that it is wrong rather thansimply  assuming 

>(1) This morning I got up.
>(2) After I got up I washed myself.
>(3) After I washed myself I got dressed. 
>How would you analyse these sentences? (And Galia, how would you 
>analyse them?) The following is how I would expect you, Rolf, to 
>analyse them, am I right?
>(1) C is speech time, RT is "this morning", ET is "I got up". 
>(2) C is speech time, RT is "I got up", ET is "I washed myself"
>(3) C is speech time, RT is "I washed myself", ET is "I got dressed" 
>But on this analysis, in (2) and (3) RT is BEFORE ET and does not seem 
>to intersect with it at all. So how would this fit into Broman Olsen's 

>Or perhaps in (2) RT is the unspecified time after "I got up" when I 
>washed myself (or completed doing so), i.e. the same as ET - and 
>similarly in (3). Which do you think is correct? On this latter 
>analysis, as RT in (2) and (3) is only specified as after a particular 
>time, we can say nothing about its relationship with ET. So we cannot 
>determine whether the verbs are "perfective" or "imperfective" 
>according to Broman Olsen's definition.

Your reasoning is logical and you seem to have grasped the basics of Broman 
Olsen's system. I will add one new information that you need: Some forms 
are aspectually unmarked! This is so because the perfective aspect is 
expressed by perfect and not by the preterit. This is my analysis:

(1) C is speech time, RT is "this morning", ET is "I got up".
(2) C is speech time, RT is "After I got up", ET is "I washed myself"
(3) C is speech time, RT is "after I washed myself", ET is "I got dressed"

PK: And you have added something else, that RT may be an open-ended 
period (all times after I got up, or perhaps C closes the time period 
in this case but not always) rather than a point in time. This reminds 
me of my earlier failure to understand how a road intersects with a 
pencil laid crosswise in it. In cases like this, RT is a long period, 
ET is a point in time or short period in the middle of RT, and there 
is no focus on ending. So I would agree on "aspectually unmarked". 
Despite what you say below, Russian (at least almost always) uses 
perfective verb forms in such cases, and an action viewed as a small 
point with no internal structure within a longer time period is 
usually viewed as perfective. But the aspect is not in focus, I agree.

>But I guess that Broman Olsen would say that in (1) RT intersects ET 
>at the nucleus, and so the verb is "imperfective". Well, actually RT 
>not only "intersects" ET but engulfs it - as if one would ask where a 
>road intersects with a pencil lying in it in a crosswise direction. Or 
>is RT an unspecified point of time during this morning? Note that in 
>Russian the verbs in all three sentences would have to be perfective. 
>I am very suspicious of definitions of "perfective" and "imperfective" 
>which contradict Russian usage as (if I understand it correctly) these 
>terms are borrowed from Russian grammar; if Broman Olsen means 
>something significantly different from the meaning in Russian (even in 
>a simple case like this one), she would have done better to use 
>different terminology.

Russian perfective and imperfective come closer to  Aktionsart than to 
aspects (in the English sense) and is even farther from Hebrew aspect, 
as was also pointed out by one list-member from Russia two years 

PK: I repeat my point that whoever is defining aspects to mean 
something quite different from the meaning in Russian is just causing 
confusion. For surely Russian aspects are the prototypical aspects for 
other studies of aspect. It's a bit starting to define "bird" from a 
prototypical sparrow, and then including similar birds like robins, 
blackbirds etc, then eventually not so similar, flightless birds like 
hens and ostriches. But if someone then tries to redefine "bird" to 
exclude the original sparrow and include only flightless birds, then I 
think I would have the right to object that their definition is 
misleading and should be abandoned. As for Hebrew aspect, I never 
mentioned it, and I am not convinced that the category of aspect as I 
know it is relevant to Hebrew.

RF:... In Russian we can even have a "neutral" interpretation of the 
imperfective aspect, as in (4)

(4) Vojnu i mir pisal Lev Tolstoj (Lev Tolstoj wrote "War and Peace".)

The verb in (4) is imperfective and the normal interpretation according to 
pragmatic convention is not that Tolstoj did not complete the work (that it 
was in progress), but the focus is on the fact that the event took place. A 
perfective verb would focus on the completion of the event...

PK: This Russian sentence is unusual, and not just in the imperfective 
verb. The object has been fronted, and the subject pushed to the end. 
The verb is left in the least marked position, so we can definitely 
say that the focus is not at all on the action. Of course it is 
difficult to analyse this sentence without its context. But according 
to the general rules for Russian, it is likely that what has been 
pushed to the end of the sentence is the new information, whereas the 
given information is fronted. This sentence might answer "Who wrote 
'War and Peace'", but never "What did Lev Tolstoy write?". A better 
English rendering would be "'War and Peace' was written by Lev 
Tolstoy." See sections 477, 478 of Wade's "A Comprehensive Russian 
Grammar". Given this understanding, how can we understand the 
imperfetive here? We know that the writing was completed, and was not 
repeated. But the imperfective can be used in Russian to denote a 
successful attempt, according to Wade section 257. I would expect to 
find in the context an indication of completion, e.g. something like 
"'War and Peace' was written by Lev Tolstoy. It was published in 
18--." Or else, more obviously, a point in time during the nucleus 
e.g. "In 18-- great works of literature were in the making. 'Crime and 
Punishment' was being written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. 'War and Peace' 
was being written by Lev Tolstoy."

RF: ... As to Hebrew, this use of the imperfective aspect can illustrate 
that the idea that WAYYIQTOL is imperfective, and still is used in 
narrative, can have similarities with imperefective use in other languages.

PK: Not in Russian which never has chains of imperfective verbs for 
successive actions, not in English (how is WAYYIQTOL similar to the 
English progressive tenses?), so in which languages and in what way?

>Either of my analyses above ties in with Galia's idea of building a 
>new reference time, if I am now right in trying to identify the 
>concepts of reference time in the two theories (as apparently Broman 
>Olsen herself wanted to). But is Galia's new reference time in (2) the 
>time when I got up, or the time after that when I washed myself?

Letter soup away, common sense tells that (2) and (3) erxpress two events 
in succession.

>Now let's replace (1-3) by:
>(1)  This morning I got up.
>(2a) Then I washed myself.
>(3a) Then I got dressed.
>Same analysis? I assume so. Then let's translate into BH. We could 
>come up with something like:
>(4) hayyom babboqer qamti wa'erxac wa'elba$ 'et-bigdi 
>Would you agree? My point is that the structure is the same as 2 Kings 
>17:6 and countless other verses in the HB. Now we cannot assume that 
>the analysis of this Hebrew is the same as the analysis of the English 
>from which I have translated it, but in this case I can see no good 
>reason for a different analysis - though I could argue for "hayyom 
>babboqer" being C for these sentences. Can you see any reason for a 
>different analysis?

To use a little soup again:  (1) RT/E>C, (2a) RT/E>C, (3a) RT/E>C. We have 
a sequence of simple unmarked events, each with a new RT. Common sense 
tells us the same. This is what we find in 2 Kings 17:6...

PK: OK, I'm glad that we agree here. But I do think that the verbs in (1) 
and (2a) must be perfective; the action must have been finished because 
another event took place after them.

RF:... However, if we proceed to vv 7 and 8, we find the two WAYYIQTOLs 
YR) and HLK, and this is not necessarily the same situation. If we claim 
that a *semantic* property of WAYYIQTOL is that it (allways) builds a new 
RT, then the people first feared other gods and then, after the fearing 
was over, they walked according to the custom of the nations. But this is 
against common sense and our knowledge of the world. Each event represents 
one side of the same situation, nemaely the one that is expressed by  the 
QATAL X+) in v 7. We have scores of similar examples.

Take for instance Deut 1:14,41. Did the people first answer and then say?. 
And in 1:34. Did YHWH first become angry and after his anger ceased, he 
swore? And in 1:43, did they first rebel, then act proudly, and then they 
went up? It is my impression that most examples of WAYYIQTOL are 
consecutive, each building a new RT, but hundreds of examples are either 
coordinated with each other, as above, or are subordinated.

PK: You attacking a straw man here, I never claimed "that a *semantic* 
property of WAYYIQTOL is that it (allways) builds a new RT", and if 
Galia did so she made it clear that the new RT was not necessarily at 
a later time. Anyway, "answer and say" is a well-known hendiadys 
idiom. Some of these other cases can best be explained by the 
well-known phenomenon that the perfective of a stative or 
pseudo-stative verb has an ingressive force. So 2 Kings 17:7,8 and 
Deuteronomy 1:43 are perhaps examples of successive steps down a 
slippery slope: "first they started to sin, then they started to fear, 
then they started to walk", "first you became rebellious (in heart), 
then you started to act proudly, then you went up".

>I would like to be able to sort out this simple case before going on 
>to anything more complicated.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo


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