Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Fri Apr 6 00:21:00 EDT 2001

> From: Rolf Furuli <furuli at>
> Date: Tue, 3 Apr 2001 22:19:06 +0200

>> From: "Serge Lyosov" <lyosovs at>

>> 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.

> When we theorize about the older stages of a language, we may be
> closer to metaphysics than to linguistics.

Actually, I find historical/comparative phonology to be quite
unmetaphysical.  ;-)

> Accadian stative: I am not aware of any evidence which should make
> me believe that Hebrew QATAL developed from this form.

What about fairly strong cognate parallels in morphology and
phonology, combined with the fact that stative _qatal_s in attested
Biblical Hebrew show a more diverse range of vowel patterns than
non-stative _qatal_s?

> 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.

This might seem "natural" if you just look at synchronic semantics
alone -- but once all the relevant facts are considered, such a
comparison is quickly seen to be basically useless and irrelevant in
diachronic/comparative terms (morphologically, the Akkadian perfect is
a so-called "prefix" conjugation, and has a different phonological
stem shape with a "t" infix).  Of course, you could compare the
Akkadian perfect and the Hebrew _qatal_ in strictly non-comparative
terms, i.e. purely typologically -- but any two languages whatever can
also be compared in this way (regardless of whether or not they belong
to the same language group), and such a comparison does not directly
throw any light on historical relationships.

> 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

Actually Akkadian has at least four different conjugations with
non-stative-suffix type morphology: in the Grund/Qal binyan
(exemplifying with root P-R-S), there is present _iparras_, perfect
_iptaras_, past _iprus_, and modal _liprus_ etc.  Here _iparras_ and
_iptaras_ are not relevant for direct comparison with Hebrew verbal
forms -- and positing some kind of abstract schematic parallelism of
the distinction between "long" Akkadian IPARRAS and "short" Akkadian
IPRUS with the distinction between "long" Northwest Semitic YAQTULU
and "short" Northwest Semitic YAQTUL is just not valid in comparative
Semitic terms.  (Akkadian IPARRAS is simply not cognate to Northwest
Semitic YAQTULU, and Northwest Semitic "long" forms are long because
they have long endings, while if one chooses to call any ordinary
non-ventive Akkadian forms "long", it will be because of stem-shape,
not different verb endings -- so there is no real general
cross-linguistic "long" vs. "short" distinction shared between
Akkadian and Northwest Semitic which is valid in any diachronic or
comparative-Semitic way.)

> I am not aware of any compelling evidence showing the existence of a
> preterite YIQTOL (a form YIQTOL which was a grammaticalized past
> tense

Well, "YIQTOL" specifically is a form with an attested-Hebrew
vocalization, and is ambiguous as between earlier Semitic "yaqtulu"
and earlier Semitic "yaqtul", so that the way you've phrased your
statement is not entirely clear.

However, there certainly are morphologically distinct "yaqtul" forms
in Semitic languages which have predominantly past denotations
(whether or not these forms are "true" preterites on the exalted plane
of abstract philosophical "true" semantics is something I will leave
up to your own metaphysical determination).  The very specific
historical phonological factors by which penultimate stresses in
WAYYIQTOL trace this form back to consonant-final earlier Semitic
*yaqtul, while general final-syllable stress in YIQTOL traces that
form back to vowel-final earlier Semitic *yaqtulu are to me much more
important than vague purely-typological semantic (or "metaphysical")
comparisons which do not follow the rules and methods of comparative
linguistics and historical reconstruction.  My detailed reasoning is
in Chapt. 4 of my dissertation, which is still at URL: (compressed
PDF file, 350k).

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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