Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Trevor & Julie Peterson speederson at
Wed Apr 4 21:26:37 EDT 2001

Thanks for the reply.  See below.

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Rolf Furuli [mailto:furuli at]
> Sent: Wednesday, April 04, 2001 4:33 PM
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: Re: Biblical Hebrew Syntax

> To give an example: The same short prefix-form in Ugaritic is used both
> with past meaning and with modal meaning. So it is assumed that i
> represents two different conjugations, one modal and the other preterite.
> Why is it assumed? Not because anybody has tested it with modern
> linguistic
> techniques, but because the paradigm (model) demands it. And are the
> Ugaritic verbs with past meaning really preterites (grammaticalized past
> tense)? I am not even aware that anybody in a printed paper has asked the
> question, but it is taken for granted that past reference is the same as
> past tense (sic!).

I see your point, generally speaking.  (I haven't studied Ugaritic as yet,
so I have to speak in generalities.)  But isn't the situation with Hebrew a
bit different?  We're not (in most cases) talking about identical
conjugations being classified differently.  (I suppose the converted perfect
would be an exception, since it is viewed as a different conjugation from
the simple coordinated perfect.)  Where there is a distinction between short
and long prefixal forms, the narrative (WAYYIQTOL--I'm purposely using terms
which assume the paradigm, since that's what I'm describing here) tends to
follow the short, whereas the imperfect uses the long.  The narrative also
has a unique prefixed element.  The jussive also follows the short form, the
cohortative normally has the volitive suffix, and the imperative is a
distinct form altogether.  Even the negative volitive forms are generally
unique through the use of a different negative particle.  Even though the
converted perfect can be confused with the simple coordinated perfect, it is
theoretically distinguished from the perfect by the regular prefixed

All that's to say that, on numerous counts, the situation in Hebrew grammar
differs from what you present here in Ugaritic, in that there are distinct
forms to match the distinct functions.

> In a synchronic analysis we find the following: The Accadian IPRUS
> (socalled 'preterite') is often used in narration with past reference but
> it is also the stem used for the wish- and asservative forms (precative,
> cohortative and vetitive). So it can both be used with past reference and
> for expressing modality (and it can be used with present and
> future meaning
> as well).

Just because the volitive forms seem to build off of the IPRUS, does that
necessarily mean that we can include them in the range of meaning for IPRUS?
Clearly the forms are distinct.  They may share morphological elements, but
couldn't you say by the same token that the perfect is a form of the IPRUS
with an infixed t and different vowel patterning?  Couldn't you say that the
durrative is a form of the IPRUS with lengthening of the middle radical?  I
guess my concern is that, if we have morphological distinction and
corresponding functional distinction, we should probably be hesitant to
start lumping things together.

> In Ugaritic the short form YAQTUL can both be modal and can be
> used with past reference. In Hebrew the short YIQTOL often is
> modal, and it
> is often used as the stem in WAYYIQTOLs.

But on a synchronic analysis, couldn't you call the WAYYIQTOL and the short
YIQTOL (jussive) different tense forms?


> The long YIQTOL need not be modal. Look at the following statistics from
> Genesis and Exodus:
> 1314 studied YIQTOLs of which 47 are apocopated and 25 are combined with
> cohortative. (Many of the forms cannot be apocopated). Of these forms I
> found the following characteristics:
> 57 (4,3%) past
> 62 (4,7%) present
> 635 (48,3%) future
> 2 perfect
> 245 (18,6%) modal
> 313 (23,8%) imperative or command
But isn't this assuming what you've set out to demonstrate?  I'm not saying
the other model is necessarily any better--only looking for reasons that
yours is.  By analyzing according to this category, you're lumping together
what the other system would say are distinct functional forms, regardless of
diachronic development.  I assume that the statistic you really want to
prove (aspect) is the one that's missing, so presumably this table is not
intended to show a positive conclusion.  Why not, then, examine according to
the categories of the other system?  How would these statistics look if you
did?  It also seems a bit suspicious in that you have categorized modality,
imperative, and time mutually exclusive of one another.  Isn't volition part
of modality?  And can't a verb carry a modal spin together with a time
reference?  This was my point about modality in the YIQTOL as future.  It
seems like quite often YIQTOL shows modality, even when it is referring to
present or future action.  I don't know that the categories can be broken
apart so rigidly.

> When we use the word 'stative' or speak about a 'state' in connection with
> verbs, we speak of a characteristic which basically is *lexical* and not
> morphosyntactic, as is the case with aspect. However,statitivity is not a
> semantic property, because stative verbs can also have a fientic
> interpretation. Stativity is in linguistic studies given a slot together
> with 'procedural characteristics' such as 'accomplishment', 'achievement'
> etc. and not with the imperfective and perfective aspects. Therefore is
> statitivity in Classical Hebrew primarily connected with lexical form, and
> a special case of it is connected with the stem of the verb, namely, the
> D-stem. But I am aware of no reason to connect it with the *conjugations*
> (prefix-form/suffix-form) in any of the Semitic languages, because these
> conjugations operate on a completely different semantic plane. It can also
> be questioned whether the stative in Accadian is a conjugation on the same
> level as IPRUS, IPARRAS, and perfect, because adjectives and substantives
> can also be parsed together with verbs. So basically the stative is a bare
> form (verb, adjective or substantive) with an enclitic pronoun (or no
> pronoun in 3.p.s.).

So it is.  And I would tend to agree that it probably doesn't belong in a
category with the verb conjugations.  (It may fit best as a specialized
verbless clause.  You mention verbs as functioning in the construction--you
mean non-finite verbal forms, I presume?)  But does that mean that it
couldn't have evolved into a more formalized conjugation?
> Waltke/O'Connor has a very fine discussion of Hebrew Piel, showing that
> resultativity is a main characteristic of the verbs (just as is
> the case in
> the Accadian D-form). This means that the subject leads an object through
> the end of an action and into a resultant state, and the state is what is
> stressed.

But their discussion also builds from the notion that underlying the force
of the Akkadian D is the stative.  While they acknowledge that the Hebrew
lacks a comparable construction to the Akkadian stative (although I should
mention that O'Connor, at least, believes the QATAL descends from the
Akkadian stative), they relate the factitive force of the Piel to a separate
stative notion which the action in D produces.  Where I question a
correlation between the D and the Akkadian stative is first in that they
seem to be set in opposition to one another in Akkadian, and second in that
an action which brings about a state is not itself stative.  They have a
definable relationship to one another, but they are hardly the same thing,
and it still seems less than obvious to me that the Akkadian stative would
have any derivative relationship to the Hebrew Piel.

> My students often have problems to understand Accadian stative
> when fientive verbs occur as statives. How do we for instance
> ascertain the
> verb "run" in Accadian stative? The Accadian stative is more specialized
> than the D-form,but it is also very similar to this form. Therefore, my
> point was that Accadian stative resembles the D-form much more than
> Accadian or Hebrew perfect or any other conjugation. So if
> Accadian stative
> was the basis of anything in another Semitic language, I would expect that
> it was the basis for a stem-form rather than for a conjugation.

I'm still not following the logic (although I do see how a fientive verb can
appear in the stative construction).  If Akkadian has both D and stative
(and can even have a D stem in stative), then how can you say it's more
likely for a stem to be derived from the stative than a conjugation?
Whatever distinguishes the stative from the D in Akkadian would, it seems,
distinguish a corresponding form from the D in Hebrew.
> WAYYIQTOL does not allways build from the short prefix-form. Even when a
> short form is available, the long form is sometimes used.

Could you give some examples?

> In my view the
> WA(Y)- before YIQTOL and the WE- before QATAL are simple
> conjunctions; they
> have absolutely no semantic meaning, and their use is based on linguistic
> convention.

But if there is a clear distinction in form, doesn't such a conclusion have
to rest on conclusively showing a lack of distinction in function?

Trevor Peterson

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