Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Tue Apr 10 17:03:27 EDT 2001

>> From: Henry Churchyard <churchh at>
>> Sent: Friday, April 06, 2001 12:21 AM
>> To: Biblical Hebrew
>> Subject: Re: Biblical Hebrew Syntax

>> 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.)

> Subject: RE: Biblical Hebrew Syntax
> From: "Trevor & Julie Peterson" <speederson at>
> Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 05:45:41 -0400

> Thanks for the clarification.  The way I've actually heard the
> explanation of the two forms in Hebrew is with reference to the
> relative/subjunctive ending -u exhibited in Akkadian.  Would that fit
> better morphologically?

It's certainly a reasonable-sounding hypothesis that cognates in other
early Semitic languages to the Akkadian subjunctive morpheme _-u_ might
have played a role in the early development of the "Central Semitic"
_yaqtulu_ imperfect conjugation (whether "Central Semitic" is even a
valid cladistic language subgrouping is yet another question).
However, the Akkadian subjunctive is not a separate "conjugation" in
the sense we have been using the term here, and I don't know that its
semantics are very directly comparable with the "Central Semitic"
_yaqtulu_; therefore the Akkadian contrast of past IPRUS
vs. subjunctive past IPRUS-U is not particularly parallel to the
"Central Semitic" contrast of preterite _yaqtul_ vs. imperfect
_yaqtulu_.  And while the stem of the Akkadian past IPRUS is the
phonologically "shortest" of the indicative stems, thus very roughly
and approximately paralleling the probable original situation in
"Central Semitic", where the stem of preterite _yaqtul_ had the
shortest set of indicative endings, this does not mean that an
opposition of "long and short" can be hypostasized into some grand
sweeping abstract schematic generalization which putatively holds true
in exactly the same way in every Semitic language.  On the contrary,
it's the individual morphological forms which should be compared in
detail between languages, while the function of each conjugation within
each language depends on how it fits in to the overall system of the
language (which can be different for each separate language).  "Long
vs. short" may ultimately turn out to be a useful ad-hoc rule of thumb
way of classifying some particular verbal forms in some cases, but this
doesn't mean that we should always start out by assuming _a priori_
that such a category must be an important part of the analysis of all
forms in all languages.

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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