WEQATAL vs. QATAL statistics: a question and a doubt

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Sep 1 14:44:42 EDT 2000

Randall Buth wrote:

>>However, all the
>>time references and different functions of QATAL are found in WEQATAL, so
>>the difference is one of quantity (pragmatics) and not one of qauality
>Excuse me, but where does qatal MARK iteritivity?
>veqatal is almost always iterative (80-90%?) in narrative and appears to
>MARK it.
>Remember Genesis 29.1-3? You never answered it.

Dear Randall,

Here it is evident again that we live on two different worlds as far as
linguistics is concerned, although we may be close in a few viewpoints. For
me it is a dramatic claim that WEQATAL or any aspect MARK iterativity.
Iterativity is allways a function of the interplay of two or more factors,
and not of one alone. You can never by the clause WEQATAL + OBJECT alone
(or another simple clause) draw the conclusion that the action is
iterative. There are four basic ways to signal iterativity: 1) By a
combination of the imperfective aspect and a punctiliar verb phrase, 2) by
lexical expressions (often adverbials), 3) by the context, and 4)  by our
knowledge of the world. Please show me just one example where iterativity
is caused by the aspect *alone*, and I will repent in dust and ashes.

It appears that you use "iterativity" somewhat broader than I do (as shown
by your example) to include frequentativity and habituality as well. I
would only apply iterativity to events such as hickups where something is
repeated very quickly. But I have no objection to including the two other
concepts; the point is that we use the same definition.

Let me now illustrate my point: In 1 Samuel 1:3,7 the same event is
described by a YIQTOL and a WEQATAL, and the event is iterative (I would
say habitual). Elkanah's habit, in accordance with the law, was to go up to
Jerusalem every year. How do we know that the WEQATAL W(LH in v 3 is
iterative? Because of the adverbial MYMYM YMYMH. If this adverbial was
lacking and no other element in the context indicated it, the only possible
interpretation of the WEQATAL would be that the travel happened just once.
The adverbial clearly shows that the traveling was a habit, but the aspect
contributes absolutely nothing. This verse shows that iterative events can
also be expressed by the perfective aspect, but in that case, they must be
explicitly signaled by other elements.

But what about the YIQTOL Y($H in v 7? Here we also have an adverbial that
makes the habit explicit. However, even without the adverbial, iterativity
would be considered as a possible interpretation because we have a YIQTOL
with past meaning. However, most YIQTOLs with past reference evidently are
not iterative (although many will justify their view of aspect by claiming
this), so the YIQTOL alone is not enough to demonstrate iterativity. There
are several examples where a verb phrase with YIQTOL is punctiliar in a
past context, but where there is no iterativity. the reason is that
punctiliarity is not a semantic (uncancelable) property.

Now to your example Genesis 29:1-3. The YIQTOL Y$Q$W in v 2 probably is
habitual "they used to water the flocks". What is the reason for concluding
that? Basically our knowledge of the world together with the imperfective
aspect. Job and Jeremiah used the YIQTOL  of YLD with past reference, so
the clause "by the well I was born (YIQTOL)" would not be iterative.

Verse 3 contains four WEQATALs and the RSV translates it this way: "and
when all the flocks were gathered (WEQATAL) there, the shepherds would roll
(WEQATAL) the stone from the mouth of the well, and water (WEQATAL) the
sheep, and put (WEQATAL) the stone back in its place upon the mouth of the

I agree that we should interpret all the four actions as habitual. Why? Not
because of the aspect (of WEQATAL), but because of our knowledge of the
world. All we need to do to cancel the habitual interpretation of the four
to change "flocks" with "the army" (or something similar).

 "and when all the army was gathered (WEQATAL) there, the soldiers rolled
(WEQATAL) the stone from the mouth of the well, and the gave water
(WEQATAL) to the prisoners, and then they put (WEQATAL) the stone back in
its place upon the mouth of the well."

 We know that an army do not habitually come to a particular well to drink
water, and therefore we would interpret the WEQATALs as non-habitual.
Because iterativity is a function of the interplay of different parts of
the clauses,
I have never wanted to make a statistics of its occurrence, but clauses
with all  the conjugations can be interpreted this way. This post
illustrates the importance of studying which parts of a clause do what to
signal particular meanings. For the benefit of those who do not subscribe
to b-greek I take some points regarding this from a post I recently sent to
this list:

"The above comments touch the heart of the matter,namely, the nature of the
aspects and their interplay with other units of speech. When dealing with
lexical semantics, lingusits have learned to differentiate between "sign"
(letters or sounds of a word), "concept" (the meaning which is stored in
the mind of those with the same presupposition pool, and which each person
connects with the "sign"), and "reference" (the thing in the world referred
to). Imagine what word studies would be if these three were fused into one
unit and students did not distinguish between them! In my view, this is the
state of much of the aspectual studies of Greek and Hebrew. Few attempts
are made to study the individual parts  of clauses in order to find which
parts are doing what in connection with communication. As a matter of fact
the tendency is to ascribe particular meanings to the aspects, while these
meanings are contributed by other members of the clauses.

Let me use an example. The phrase REACH THE TOP has a clearcut
interpretation, and is therefore easy to work with. The focus is on the
particular "reach"-point. Let us now see how different parts of the clause
contribute to different meanings.

(1) He reached the top.

	Aktionsart: punctiliar
	Tense: past
	Action: completed
	Subject: singular, definite
	Object: singular, definite

(2) He has reached the top.

	Aktionsart: punctiliar
	Aspect: perfective
	Action: completed
	Subject: singular, definite
	Object: singular, definite

(3)	He was reaching the top.

	Aktionsart: punctiliar
	Tense: past
	Aspect: imperfective
	Action: not completed
	Subject: singular, definite
	Object: singular, definite

The difference between (2) and (3) is purely aspectual, and because the
imperfective aspect makes visible a part of an ongoing action, the
interpretation of (3) must be that he was on the point of reaching the top
but had not actually reached it. The only place to account for the ongoing
action in this clause, is *before* the "reach"-event. Let us now look at
(4) and (5) and see how other factors can influence our interpretation.

(4) They were reaching the top.

	Aktionsart: punctiliar
	Tense: past
	Aspect: imperfective
	Action: not completed
	Subject: plural, definite
	Object: singular, definite

(5) He was reaching the tops.

	Aktionsart: punctiliar
	Tense: past
	Aspect: imperfective
	Action: not completed
	Subject: singular, definite
	Object: plural, definite

In (4) and (5) we see that singularity/plurality of subject/object can
contribute to the meaning. Because of the plural subject in (4) and the
plural object in (5) it is not necessary the "force" the ongoing action on
the phrase with punctiliar actionsart. We can account for the ongoing
action by plurality, by viewing one after the other actually reach the top
(4) or "he" reaching reaching top after top. I do not think that native
speakers feel that "he was reaching the top." is a strange clause, yet it
may come close to the crooked but understandable clause "Both had a beard
except John."

We could proceed by showing how other factors of the clause also
contributes to particular interpretations. But these examples alone show
that "meaning" is the sum of the interplay of many parts of the clause, and
aspect plays a minor but still important role. Aspect has no tense-value,
no mood-value, no Aktionsart-value (e.g. punctiliar versus durative), no
syntax-value, no discourse-value, no time-value (English aspect has a
time-value because it makes visible either the nucleus or the coda of event
time, but contrary to Mari I claim that this is not the case in Greek or
Hebrew), or any other objective linguistic value. In this respect aspect
can be compared to the pauses in a musical composition - they are in fact
"nothing", yet they play an important role in the composition.

A better illustration is a camera and its lense opening. If it is held
close to an object, a part of it with details visible is in focus; this is
the imperfective aspect. If it is held at some distance, the whole object
or a much greater part of it is in focus; this is the perfective aspect. In
my view it is extremely important to realize that (Greek and Hebrew) aspect
is completely independent of the action or its nature, whether the action
continues or is completed or whichever characteristic of the action. The
only role of the aspects are to make visible what the reporter chooses to
make visible of an event. So we should not connect particular meanings or
discourse functions to the aspects *alone*, they ar just making these

By way of conclusion I would say that the enormeous stress that we see on
discourse analysis and the lack of interest in scrutinizing the language to
find the smallest linguistic units and study how these by their particular
interplay convey meaning, are the most important obstacles for the student
who wants to understand the Hebrew aspects.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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