Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Tue Apr 3 16:19:06 EDT 2001

Dear Serge,

I have a few comments to your post. See below:

>  David, Peter, and Trevor,
>  1. Since qtl (ìthe new perfectî) is a shared West-Semitic innovation,
>distinguishing Akkadian/Eblaitic from all other Semitic languages, it must
>have arisen (according to standard Stammbau view) before the separation of
>West-Semitic into Central and South groups. Canaanite elements in Amarna
>correspondence (~XV BC) suggest a fully developed Canaanate language,
>distinct from Aramaic.  This brings West-Semitic linguistic unity early into
>the second millennium or so. I assume that as soon as the qtl developed out
>of stative, the question of distribution qtl vs. old preterite arose, - and
>eventually it led to the disappearance of preterite yqtl. This was the
>reasoning behind my question. ñ Hebrew and Moabite epigraphic show
>coexistence of qtl and waw-yqtl in the same narration, so it is natural to
>infer that waw-yqtl was becoming obsolete in the literary language, as
>R.Garr correctly stated in his Dialect Geography.

When we theorize about the older stages of a language, we may be closer to
metaphysics than to linguistics. I am not aware of any compelling evidence
showing the existence of a preterite YIQTOL (a form YIQTOL which was a
grammaticalized past tense), and I doubt that YIQTOL ever had such a
meaning. And similarly with Accadian stative: I am not aware of any
evidence which should make me believe that Hebrew QATAL developed from this
form. I think that a semantic comparison between Hebrew QATAL  and Accadian
perfect is more natural than a morphologic comparison between Hebrew QATAL
and Accadian stative. But even if we make a morphologic comparison, there
are several problems. If we compare Ge'ez with Accadian, we find two
prefix-forms in each language (in Addition to the prefix-infixform perfect
in Accadian). The long prefix-form in both languages is believed to have
present/future meaning, but the short prefix-form in Accadian is believed
to be a preterite while in Ge'ez it is subjunctive. According to
traditional thinking,therefore, either there was a morphologic or a
semantic shift. We should also add that Accadian has both a stative
conjugation and a perfect. If the stative developed into the Ge'ez perfect
(and Hebrew QATAL) what about the Accadian perfect?

My guess, which is just as metaphysical as yours, is that the short
prefix-forms of Accadian, Ge'ez, and Hebrew (YIQTOL  and WAYYIQTOL) have a
similar meaning - they are connected with modality (jussive/subjunctive)
rather than with tense. The long prefix-forms in the three languages are
connected with the imperfective aspect, and Ge'ez and Accadian perfect and
Hebrew QATAL are connected with the perfective aspect. Accadian stative
contains both verbs, adjectives and substantives, and is something which is
peculiar for that language. It is more like the D-forms (Dopplungstamm) in
meaning in the other languages than the conjugations.

>  This brings us to the next issue.
>  Sure, Ju 1:21b might seem a Gegenbeispiel: wayyeZeb goes (contradictorily)
>with ëad hayyom hazzeh. But: 1. the author is free not to use the
>autocommentary format if it is optional, i.e. if ìspeech etiquetteî does not
>make it obligatory. 2. This kind of phrase ìthey somethinged (closed list of
>possible contents) ëad hayyom hazzehî always (as it seems) goes with waw. I
>noticed it and thought it might be an intentional combination of two
>pragmatic tasks ñ becoming a cliche. ñ At least, I know of no contexts like
>ìyaZab/yeZeb bGN ëad hayyom hazzehî.

I am not sure what you mean by  ' ëad hayyom hazzehî always (as it seems)
goes with waw.' But the following statistics can be given:  Of the 109
examples in the Tanach of this phrase or a very similar one, there are 7
nominal clauses, one clause with infinitive, one with a compound of QATAL
and participle, 38 clauses with WAYYIQTOLs, seven with YIQTOLs, and 38 with
QATALs. If we study all these clauses from the point of view of where
reference time intersects event time, a strong case can be made for the
view that WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL represent the imperfective aspect while
QATAL represents the perfective aspect. In other words, the WAWs of the
WAYYIQTOLs and the WEQATALs are just conjunctions and signal no particular
semantic meaning, and Hebrew has just two conjugations -YIQTOL and
WAYYIQTOL  on the one hand and QATAL and WEQATAL on the other.

>  Serge



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list