YIQTOL with past meaning

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sun Jan 30 07:08:36 EST 2000

Dear Bryan

See my comments below

>Hi Rolf,  You wrote:
>> Dear list-members,
>> We will discuss Deuteronomium chapter 2 in class this
>week. Verse 12 is
>> quite thought-provoking.
>> Deut. 2:12 The Horites also lived (QATAL) in Seir
>formerly, but the sons of
>> Esau dispossessed them (YIQTOL), and destroyed them
>(WAYYIQTOL) from before
>> them, and settled (WAYYIQTOL) in their stead; as Israel
>did (QATAL) to the
>> land of their possession, which the LORD gave (QATAL) to
>> The problem here is the past meaning of the YIQTOL YR$. To
>explain such
>> creatures two procedures are followed: (1) To claim that
>formerly two
>> YIQTOLs existed, a short preterit/modal form and a long
>form; and YIQTOLs
>> with past meaning go back to the preterit. (2) The action
>expressed by the
>> YIQTOL  is durative,iterative, habitual, frequentative
>> Explanation (1) is for the most part used regarding Psalms
>which are viewed
>> as old, and there is no indication in Deut 2:12 that the
>YIQTOL can be
>> traced back to a short preterit.
>You seem to dismiss explanation 1 out of hand.  It's not a
>remnant of the old yiqtol just because it's not in Psalms?
>How about Deu 4:41?  Your post does more to argue *for*
>explanation 1 than against it.  BTW, I prefer to label the
>old, short story-telling yiqtol as perfective rather than

The word "preterit" means "grammaticalized past tense", and nobody has
shown that the short prefix-form in the cognate languages (.e.g. Ugaritic
and Accadian) represents "grammaticalized past tense". To the contrary, it
is easy to show that they are not preterits because they are used for
present and future as well. There are two problems with this hypothesis (1)
Nobody has ever made a quality check on it, i.e. the difference between
past time and past tense has never been a part of any study of the short
forms. (2) The short prefix-form is connected with modality (clearly in
Hebrew, Aramaic, Accadian, and Ge´ez), and no scheme showing how to
differentiate between the two, has been constructed. In my view, this is a
hypothesis without foundation, and further, it is often used ad hoc to
explain YIQTOLs which speak against the traditional four-component model.
BTW, how many sources that have studied the primary data regarding the
short forms and concluding that they are preterits do you know?

>In my mind, you still have this insurmountable problem with
>your model.  It's primarily a matter of your labelling, if
>you ask me.  You want to label all prefixed forms
>imperfective by giving a very unorthodox definition of
>imperfective.  Why not call the prefixed forms the Tom-forms
>or the Dick-forms or the Harry-forms instead?  That because
>you see the prefixed forms as expressing a particular
>subjective viewpoint that is rather divergent from a more
>orthodox understanding of aspect.  Otherwise you will
>continue to have the insurmountable problem that most if not
>all wayyiqtols as well as a few yiqtols (as Deu 2:12) are
>*perfective* by a more orthodox understanding of aspect.
>Why do you insist on playing a sort of semantic
>slight-of-hand with the commonly accepted terminology of TAM
>study?  (I feel I can even predict your answer:  BH must be
>understood in its own right, and the BH understanding of
>aspect may be different from that of English, Greek, Russian
>or any other language.  Am I right?  My reply is that if
>your explanation of BH aspect ranges *too far* from the
>nature of aspect in other languages, then maybe you are no
>longer talking about aspect or aspect alone and would
>benefit by coining some new terminology.)

It is very important for me to have reference points, that is, I need a
clearly defined frame for my research by which I myself and others can
check my results. Thus my method comes close to those being used by the
natural sciences, and I strive to fulfill Karl Popper's demand of
falsifiability. Therefore I am very sceptical to models that exclusively
are based on induction, as a means to pinpoint the *meaning* of Hebrew
verbs. That is the reason why I find discourse analysis to be an excellent
tool to describe the linguistic convention of Hebrew (how forms are used),
but to be completely impotent as regards explaining whether Hebrew has two,
four, or five conjugations and the *meaning* of each form.

As a basis for my study I use two assumptions: (1) Hebrew is a language
that can be studied by help of the same methods as other languages, and (2)
Semantic meaning is connected with morphology and is uncancelable (a
property of a particular form that is *semantic* can never be lost or
changed, but will allways be a part of that form).

As you correctly observe, my opinion is that Hebrew must be studied in its
own right, and we cannot take for granted that its verbal system is similar
to Germanic verbal systems. However, a fine way to study Hebrew is to use
the verbal system (TAM) of one familiar language as a frame of reference,
in order to see *if* Hebrew has the same characteristics. This is my
approach, and I use the semantic properties of the English tenses (past,
present, and future), the semantic "Aktionsart" properties durativity,
dynamicity, and telicity, and the semantic properties of the imperfective
and perfective aspects (imperfective:nucleus view, perfective: coda view).
I view this method as based on sound linguistic principles, and at the same
I, by using it, am able to draw conclusions that are falsifyable. Do you
agree with that?

Having applied this method to Hebrew, I have found that no particular form
has one of the semantic properties of tense, i.e, no form have a uniform
expression of the relationship between reference time and the deictic
point. Conclusion: tense is not grammaticalized in Hebrew. Looking at the
three "Aktionsart" properties, I find them in Hebrew just as in other
languages, something that corroborates with the view that they are
universal. If a comparison between English and Hebrew verbs in the areas of
tense and Aktionsart is good science, would not a comparison in the area of
aspect be sound as well? What is your opinion regarding this?

There is no universal definition of aspect (See L:J: Brinton,1988, "The
Development of English Aspectual Systems", pp 4-20), but a common
denominator can be found. The following general characteristics are found
in the literature:

(1) Aspect is connected with form, not with function (though a few dispute
(2) The aspects represent the subjective viewpoint of the reporter, how
s/he wants to describe different events. However, depending on the
particular language in question, there are several truth-cinditional
restraints that must be taken into consideration when the aspect is chosen.
(3) The two aspects represent different ways to describe or view the event
time (which is non-deictic).
(4) The imperfective aspect is a viewpoint where a small part of the event,
after the beginning and before the end, is focused upon. The perfective
aspect is a viewpoint where the whole event, beginning and end included, is
focused upon.

All characteristics above can be applied to the English aspects, and (3)
can be further specified by saying that the perfective aspect (English
perfect tense) is a coda view, thus it shows objectively that the event is
terminated. The imperfective aspect (present participle) is a nucleus view,
thus it shows that the event was not terminated.

The semantic properties of the English aspects are the coda view
(terminated) and the nucleus view (not terminated). My first task,then, is
to see whether this semantic distinction is found in Hebrew (I have already
found that all forms can express past, present, and future time and
indicative and subjunctive  moods, so at this point,the research is only
directed towards the A of the TAM).
I started with the simplest forms YIQTOL and QATAL, and there is
overwheling evidence that both forms express both terminated and
non-terminated events (the same is true for Aramaic, which I earlier have
shown). Conclusion: The Hebrew aspects (represented by YIQTOL  and QATAL)
do not have the same semantic properties (coda view - nucleus view) as the
English aspects. Thus they do not represent a uniform depiction of event

This conclusion, however, does not necessarily mean that (1), (2), (3), and
(4) above have to be rejected, and that QATAL should now be viewed as Dick
and YIQTOL as Harry, to use your words. To the contrary, QATAL  and YIQTOL
do have the general characteristics of the perfective and imperfective
aspect respectively. So we need not introduce any allegorical or spirital
dimensions that would change the nature of QATAL and YIQTOL from being
aspects to being Dick and Harry. The normal linguistic procedure when one
property of a form must be rejected, is to try to find the most narrow
generalization that can account for all the characteristics of that form,
and this is exactly what I have done with the definition:


This definition is an aspect definition not a Dick- or Harry-definition.
The basic difference between this definition and most other definitions (if
such are found; text-books tend not to give definitions or to give
confusing definitions) is that the termination of an event is not given any
importance. However, my definition is compatible with the fact that most
imperfective forms in Hebrew focus on a part of the event *before* the end
and most perfective forms include the end. But it also accounts for the
situations where imperfective forms include the ends and perfective forms
does not include it.

>You must understand that I *agree* with you that all the
>prefixed forms, including long, short, clause-initial,
>clause-medial, and wayyiqtol share a common signification.
>However, I prefer not to label that meaning as either
>perfective, imperfective, or even aspectual (in and of
>itself).  I prefer to call it *writer's subjective
>viewpoint*, something that is applied in the corpus with
>great TAM flexibility.  I prefer to call the prefixed forms
>fientive, as expressing emerging action (as opposed to the
>suffixed forms that express attributions or "the state the
>subject is in at the time being talked about").  I believe
>my explanation is, in fact, very close to yours, but it is
>quite friendly to discourse analysis, more friendly to
>comparative Semitics, and more respectful of the orthodox
>terminolgy of TAM studies.

Your explanation may be quite close to mine. However, there seems to be at
least one important difference, namely, the view of how aspect is
expressed. The strength of my model, I believe, is that its parts are
clearly defined, and therefore it is falsifyable. The basis for its
falsifyability is that aspect is connected with *form*, not with
*function*, but if I understand you correctly, this is not the case in your
model. Are you not saying that a YIQTOL has no intrinsic meaning, but can
represent *the writer's subjective viewpoint* (roughly comparable to the
imperfective aspect) in one context and *the writer's opposite subjective
viewpoint" (roughly comparable to the perfective aspect) in another
context? If this is your opinion, I cannot see how your model can be tested.

To put it differently, I would ask:
(a) Are there two different *subjective viewpoints*, and if so, are they
privative (having each a positive value) or equipollent (being perfect
(b) On which basis is your model built, and on which basis can we know
which subjective viewpoint a form represents?
(c) What is the relation between your *subjective viewpoints* and clauses
where the verb alone or together with its arguments (subject/object) is
telic. If the end of an event plays an important differentiating role
between the *subjective viewpoints*, how can we differentiate between this
function and the objective function of the end inside a telic construction?

>Explanation (2) is also problematic.
>> Durativity is an Aktionsart term which often wrongly is
>applied to aspect,
>> and the verb YR$ is durative by "birth". In addition the
>verb got the two
>> other semantic Aktionsart-properties at "birth", namely
>dynamicity (change
>> is implied) and telicity (the end is implied), The
>following verb $MD is
>> durative, dynamic, and telic as well. Both verbs express
>the same thought,
>> though seen from different angles, and they must refer to
>one completed
>> event (this is stressed by the following Y$B), the
>extermination of the
>> Horites. This event evidently took some time, but there is
>no indication of
>> iterativity, habituality or frequency in either of the
>> In view of the failure of the traditional explanations,
>how can we
>> understand the YIQTOL YR$? In my view the explanation is
>simple. To
>> dispossess and destroy are not two events in consecution,
>but one event.
>> Both verbs are simply YIQTOLs, and they are connected with
>the conjunction
>> WAW. Both the meaning of the verbs and the conjunction
>signal one event
>> seen from two different angles. The reason for the use of
>a YIQTOL instead
>> of a WAYYIQTOL is simple as well: the subject comes before
>the verb and a
>> conjunction is impossible. (There are quite a lot of other
>examples where a
>> YIQTOL is used when we would expect a WAYYIQTOL, because
>an element
>> precedes the YIQTOL.) To test my interpretation, look at
>verse 21. It is
>> quite similar, but it has three WAYYIQTOLs because no
>element precedes any
>> of them.
>> Thus Deut. 2:12 is an example of a YIQTOL that is used to
>express an event
>> in the past which was terminated at the time of writing. I
>am not aware of
>> *any* grammar that accounts for this *strange* situation,
>but a
>> two-component aspectual view of Hebrew verbs easily
>accounts for it.
>B. M. Rocine
>Associate Pastor
>Living Word Church
>6101 Court St. Rd.
>Syracuse, NY 13206
>(office) 315.437.6744
>(home) 315.479.8267

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