Biblical Hebrew Syntax

Trevor Peterson speederson at
Tue Apr 10 20:51:43 EDT 2001

The approach I'm describing is more complex than what I've presented. 
(And I'm not saying I necessarily agree with it--just presenting it as a
plausible model.)  I'd have to check the details again, but it has
something to do with a shift in the distribution of subjunctive forms and
tense conjugations, to the point that one conjugation appeared almost
exclusively in the subjunctive and as such took on a new range of usage. 
Again, my understanding of the model is sketchy, but it does seem to me
like it holds more water than a bare comparison between the short and long

Trevor Peterson

> >> 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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