Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Trevor Peterson speederson at
Wed Apr 4 08:36:05 EDT 2001

Just a couple of thoughts. (See below.)

   > -----Original Message-----
   > From: Rolf Furuli [furuli at]
   > Sent: Tuesday, April 03, 2001 4:19 PM
   > To: Biblical Hebrew
   > Subject: Re: Biblical Hebrew Syntax
   > 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
   > showing the existence of a preterite YIQTOL (a form YIQTOL which was
   > grammaticalized past tense), and I doubt that YIQTOL ever had such a
   > meaning.

I suppose "compelling" is too subjective a category to address here. But I
would think that the existence in both Akkadian and Hebrew of a short
prefixal form and a long prefixal form, combined with the fairly
comparable distributions (that the short form is used to narrate past
events, while the long form is used to show non-past or modal action),
constitutes at least some sort of evidence. I'll freely admit that I'm not
all that familiar with the actual arguments for the connection. (It's
usually been presented to me as a more or less accepted conclusion.) But
it does seem to explain a good portion of the evidence.

   > 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
   > and Accadian stative.

Perhaps you could give some examples. I'm thinking particularly of what
seems to be a more technical nature in the Akkadian perfect. From my
limited experience, it seems like it is often used in conjunction with the
preterite to mark the main point in the discourse. Maybe it's just that I
haven't been looking for it, but I don't see the same force in the Hebrew


   > We should also add that Accadian has both a stative
   > conjugation and a perfect. If the stative developed into the Ge'ez
   > (and Hebrew QATAL) what about the Accadian perfect?

If the perfect is as specialized in Akkadian as I've thought, I wouldn't
see much of a problem here. Little would be lost in its absence, and
little would be gained with the extra complexity. You say that the stative
is unique to Akkadian; so why could it not be the other way around?
   > 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
   > rather than with tense.

But in a synchronic analysis, it's hard to find uses of the Hebrew long
form that don't carry some type of modal spin. So where is the distinction
with this definition? I don't see much of a uniquely modal connection in
Akkadian, either. It seems that the preterite is used pretty regularly for
simple past narration.

   > 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
   > 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.

I guess I'm going to need more information on this one. Akkadian has a D
stem, and it seems to overlap pretty well with the Hebrew D. Why would
they need another system for conveying the same thing? And in what sense
are they the same?

   > In other words, the WAWs of the
   > WAYYIQTOLs and the WEQATALs are just conjunctions and signal no
   > semantic meaning, and Hebrew has just two conjugations -YIQTOL and
   > WAYYIQTOL on the one hand and QATAL and WEQATAL on the other.

Then why the distinct form for WAYYIQTOL? Why does it always build from
the short prefixal form? And what happened to the distinction that you
outlined above between the short and long forms? Doesn't that amount to
more than two conjugations? And why would it be necessary to use the modal
form so consistently in past narrative?

Trevor Peterson

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