Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Tue Apr 10 17:07:09 EDT 2001

> Subject: Re: Biblical Hebrew Syntax
> From: Rolf Furuli <furuli at>
> Date: Fri, 6 Apr 2001 17:42:45 +0200

> the point that I stressed in my first post in this thread, was that
> we know nothing definite regarding the period, say, before 1000
> B.C.E.  So when someone takes for granted that a particular
> relationship is *true* (e.g. Hebrew QATAL stems from Accadian
> stative), it is fine that someone corrects this.  We do not know
> whether the linguistic roots of Classical Hebrew or Aramaic are older
> than the roots of Accadian, and therefore we can know nothing about
> the relationship between the languages.  To put the case upside down:
> Which data can be pointed to to counter a view that Accadian stative
> is rooted in an early Hebrew or Canaanite QATAL? I am not saying that
> this is the case, but which data excludes it?

Rolf, ever since Sir William Jones said " have sprung from some
common source _WHICH PERHAPS NO LONGER EXISTS_" in the famous passage
from his lecture of February 2nd. 1786, people started to realize that
if languages A and B share some feature (and the resemblance is not
merely typological), then it's not necessarily the case that A "comes
from" B, or B "comes from" A; but rather it may be that A and B have
developed from some chronologically earlier and no-longer-attested
stage C, which perhaps was not exactly the same as either A or B.  So
obviously the Akkadian stative does not "come from" the Hebrew perfect,
nor does the Hebrew perfect "come from" the Akkadian stative.  The real
question is "Was the early or proto-Semitic situation with respect to
this morphological conjugation closer to the later attested Hebrew
situation or closer to the later attested Akkadian situation?"  I'm not
really an expert in this particular area, but I know that the
prevailing consensus among those who are experts seems to be for the
second option; and there are some facts about attested Hebrew (such as
the broader range of vowel patterns attested in stative _qatal_ forms
than in non-stative _qatal_ forms) which tend to point in the same

I'm afraid I do find it a little annoying when you basically ignore the
long-known fundamentals of the comparative-historical method (doing
things like comparing Akkadian IPTARAS with Hebrew QATAL, despite the
total incompatibility in phonology and morphology between these two
forms), and then prepare to draw sweeping historical generalizations
from this, pretty much returning to the pre-neogrammarian methodology
of etymology being "the science where consonants count for very little
and the vowels for nothing" (as Voltaire phrased it).  Frankly, valid
historical reconstruction is just not "metaphysical" (as you have
described your own method as being).  If you want to compare languages
strictly typologically (i.e. without regard to historical-comparative
relationships), then you can compare any number of languages in the
world in this way (there's no need to confine yourself to the Semitic
group), but you will not be able to draw historical conclusions by this
method.  On the other hand, if you want to do valid historical
reconstruction, then you'll need to do it in the right
(un-"metaphysical") way, maybe brush up on the Junggrammatiker, and
inscribe on your banner as your watchword and motto the stirring slogan
AUSNAHMLOSIGKEIT!  (Sorry I couldn't render "Ausnahmlosigkeit in a
large bold Gothic Fraktur font, as befitting its importance ;-).

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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