Questions for Rolf

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Wed Apr 25 06:57:29 EDT 2001

Dear Greg,

See my comments below:

>Dear Rolf,
>Thank you very much for the comments back. I have been
>thinking some more about your original post and have some
>further questions.
>(1) Forgive this most basic, basic question: but what is your
>basis for saying that prefix-conjugations have imperfect aspect
>and suffix-conjugations have perfect aspect? i.e. you assume
>that difference in form will equal difference in meaning, then
>say that meaning is an aspect system. (And I have tried carefully
>to understand your definition of Hebrew aspect with its
>differences from English aspect.)

The basic distinctions in the languages of the world is expressed as TAM
(tense-mood-aspect). As to YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL,WEYIQTOL, QATAL, WEQATAL they
all can have past, present, and future reference and can express both
indicative and subjunctive mood. Therefore, tense and mood is not
grammaticalized in Hebrew (except mood perhaps in the cohortative). This
does not mean that the conjugations *must* be aspects. Michel, McFall, and
Kustar has proposed solutions which do not include any memeber of TAM.

Because we have no informants, the task to define the Hebrew conjugations
is a real challange. The greatest problem is that to substantiate a model,
we need clearcut examples which must fulfill many requirements, and because
of the strict requirements, the examples *must* be few. For instance, when
I shall show that WAYYIQTOL is not a form where termination is included, I
need one or more examples where this is perfectly clear on the basis of the
context. The two examples below drive home the point.

(1) Gen. 37:21 "When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue 	(WAYYIQTOL)
him from their hands.

(2) 1Kings 6:1 "In the four hundred and eightieth year after the Israelites
had come out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon's reign over Israel,
in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build (WAYYIQTOL) the
temple of the LORD".

The reason why we can say that the action is not terminated in either (1)
or (2) is our knowledge of the world (context). In most cases the context
is not so clear, and therefore it is tempting to interpret the WAYYIQTOLs
in a past context as indicating terminated events.

Then back to aspect. The reason why the three mentioned scholars in the 50s
and 60s could not subsume the Hebrew conjugations under the term aspect,
was that they (and all others) had a primitive view of the nature of aspect
(which many still have). Today we have more linguistic tools at our
disposition, and I venture to say that the method I use for the analysis of
Hebrew verbs is the most detailed an promising that ever has been developed.

Aspect is concerned with the internal time of events, that is, the
relationship between event time and reference time. The reason why I think
that the Hebrew conjugations are aspects, is that it makes sense to analyze
them by the help of the two kinds of non-deictic time and the three
parameters which regulate the relationship between the two kinds of time.
Not only does an analysis make sense, but two distinct patterns are seen.
This is not the case with any other analysis, and in addition, because PAM
is quite universal, and the P and M can be eliminated, everything points in
the direction that the conjugations represent aspects.

As to patterns, conative situations are only expressed by YIQTOL/WAYYIQTOL,
and in situations like "When Peter entered (simple past), Roy was reading
(imperfective), the first is expressed by QATAL and the second by WAYYIQTOL.

>But when I look at the following examples from 4QpNah,
>I cannot see that aspect plays any--I mean any--role in
>the choice of form used.
>3-4 iii 4.
>'Many will discern (yqtl) their sin, will hate them (w-qatal), and
>will loathe them (w-qatal) on account of their guilty insolence...'
>These look like three aspectually identical verbs to me,
>saying (essentially) the same thing three different ways for
>emphasis. The notion of closeup focus with a part of the
>progressive action visible, versus far-away snapshot of the
>whole event without any action being visible ... I just can't
>see it here.
>3-4 iii 5.
>'the simple ones of Ephraim will flee (yqtl) from the midst
>of their assembly and they will abandon (w-qatal) the
>ones leading them astray and will join (w-qatal) the
>God of Israel.'
>Again, these read to me as two (effectively) identical
>statements of the same thing followed by a subsequent
>third predicted happening. I cannot see any difference
>in aspect that would provoke the choices of verb
>There is a naive rule that does seem to have high
>predictive value for verb forms in Qumran texts such
>as this (which as a general impression seem to have
>less 'complex', though not different, Hebrew than
>future--starts out yqtl and then (if not interrupted)
>continues with wqatal ... wqatal...
>and in these, wqatal seem to substitute, 1 for 1
>(absolutely indistinguishable in meaning) from yqtl.
>It looks like word-order and sequencing conventions
>are controlling which form gets used (after the inital verb,
>which in the pesharim seems almost to function as
>a two-tense system, past/present and present/future).
>(In the present both qatal and yqtl get used.)
>3-4 iii 7
>'Its interpretation concerns the Seekers-after-Smooth-Things
>whose counsel will be destroyed (yqtl), and whose
>government will be disbanded (w-qatal).'
>These seem to read as two equivalent statements
>in sense, much like classic biblical Hebrew parallelism.
>There is no reason I can see for a difference in aspect
>being understood by a reader from this--unless it is so
>by definition as established on other grounds. (But what
>are your other grounds?)
>3-4 iii 7-8
>'They will no longer keep on (yqtl)
>leading astray (infinitive) the assembly, and the simple
>ones will no longer strengthen (yqtl) their counsel.'
>Here there is sort of another parallelism, but this one
>has the negatives which interrupt, and therefore as
>expected, two yqtls.  But without the negatives one
>would expect yqtl ... w-qatal.  What about the

>negative changes the aspect meaning?

I perfectly see your problem, and I basically agree with all the
conclusions you draw above. In order to give some comments, I will use two
verses which are "problematic" in your sense, because the verbs seem to
have the same meaning, and problematic for traditional grammar as well:

Psa. 2:1 "Why do the nations conspire (QATAL) and the peoples plot (YIQTOL)
in vain?
Psa. 2:2 The kings of the earth take their stand (YIQTOL) and the rulers
gather together (QATAL) against the LORD and against his Anointed One."

I see absolutely no reason to say that the meaning communicated by the two
YIQTOLs and the two QATALs is different in any sense except in the lexical
one, yet they represent two different aspects! What is the clue?

The factor which create most confusion and misunderstanding in Hebrew
verbal studies, is that the aspects are ascribed a role in communication
that is exaggerated. I will go so far as to say that in most (more than
half) of the passages the aspects conmtribute very little to the
communicated meaning; so they could have been dropped altogether. And there
is no wonder that sentences with different aspects seem to have the same
meaning, provided that my claim is true. This is illustrated by the 470
doublettes in the Tanach (a few triplets). There are at least 69
differences in the use of verbs, and these can hardly indicate a difference
in meaning, because the verses are similar. The list below show which forms


What basically communicate, are lexical meaning and Aktionsart, singularity
and plurality, definiteness and indefiniteness of nouns, whether a noun is
countable or non-countable, the syntactic role of adverbials, whether the
verb phrases are durative, dynamic, and telic or not, etc. These and others
are objective factors in the clauses which together create mental pictures
of events and states. And these objective factors are there without the
aspects! The role of the aspects is simply to make visible for the hearer
or reader a side of the objective reality which the other factors express,
that is, to illuminate finer nuances. And in those situations where the
more subtle nuances are not needed, both aspects can be used without any
clearly visible difference in the communicated meaning. I will hasten to
add that in a limited number of passages the aspects are very important to
convey meaning, in order to avoid ambiguity. So of course they are
important. But they are usually ascribed a role that they do not deserve.

Let me illustrate the case with some English examples.

(3) This morning Peter was singing in the bathrom.

(4) This morning Peter sang in the bathrom.

Is the meaning different in (3) and (4)? Hardly! The same singing event is
described, and we do not get more information from any of them. Example (3)
has the imperfective aspect while (4) is simple past. If we combine simple
past with the perfective aspect, as in (5), new meaning is added. It shows
that the event was terminated "this morning".

(5) This morning Peter had sung in the bathroom.

What if we use a stative verb? Look at (6) and (7).

(6) I love her.

(7) I am loving her.

Clauses like (7) is seldom used because any part of a state is like any
other part or the state as a whole. Therefore the participle is
unnecessary, and present reference, as in (7) is what is necessary.

Applied to Hebrew, we can say that in stative situations, exactly the same
information is conveyed if we make visible a small part of the state with
"details" /there are no details in states/ visible (the imperfective
aspect) or a greater part or the whole state (the perfective aspect). In
stative situations we may want to stress the entrance into the state, and
this is done by the use of the perfective aspect; or we may want to stress
the termination of the state, and this is done by the use of the perfective
aspect combined with contextual fators. Or we may want to stress that the
verb whose default is stative is fientive, and this is done by using the
imperfective aspect. However, in most cases of a stative verb there is no
difference between the information conveyed by the imperfective or the
perfective aspect, so both can be used. In the special situations which are
mentioned, however, the choice of aspect is important.

In (9) there are three participles and one WAYYIQTOL with exactly the same
meaning, They show what God does. This shows that also participles, when
they function as finite verbs, can be used with the same meaning.

(9) 1Sam. 2:6  "The LORD brings death (PARTICIPLE) and makes alive
(PARTICIPLE); he brings down to the grave (PARTICIPLE) and raises up

The importance of the aspects as conveying nuances can be seen in the 109
examples with the adverbial "until this day". The deictic point must be the
same in all cases, and either actions or states must last "until this day".
Here we find a systematic different use of imperfective (WAYYIQTOL)  and
perfective (QATAL) verbs. Look at (10), (11), (12), and (13). In the
perfective clauses (10) and (11) we find the anchoring points "".
The subjects were alive all the time and no part of event time is stressed.
In the imperfective (12) and (13) the event was terminated a long time
before "this day", but the resulting state lasted "until this day". In
several of the imperfective clauses the subject did not live "to this day".

(10) 1 Samuel 12:2 "I have walked (QATAL) before you from my youth until
this day"

(11) 1 Samuel 8:8 "In accord with all  they have done (QATAL)from the day
of my bringing them up out of Egypt until this day"

(12) Joshua 8:28 "Then Joshua burned Ai  and reduced it to an eternal
lasting mound (WAYYIQTOL) , as a desolation down to this day. "

(13) Joshua 8:29 "and raised (WAYYIQTOL) a great heap of stones over him,
down to this day. "

Resultativily is widespread in Hebrew, not only in Piel, but also in the
other stems when the imperfective aspect is used. To convey this notion the
imperfective aspect is important. Look at (14). I claim that the verb NAFAL
only has the meaning "to fall" and not "to lie". When the last meaning
seems to be implied, this is the resultative effect of the imperfective
aspect. Most translations use two verbs in this verse, Hebrew has one (+the
imperfective aspect)

(14) Josh. 7:6 "Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell on his face to the
ground before the ark of YHWH until the evening." (literal translation)

>(2) The second question is: while intuitively it is very appealing
>that the waw-conjunctive/ waw-conversive distinction is
>possibly a scholarly construct that is overlaid on the data, is
>it not the case that this is reflected in the MT vowel pointing?
>If so, this means there was such a distinction understood at
>least by the Middle Ages. In your theory did such a distinction
>enter post-Qumran era? Any ideas on when and how such
>a distinction arose secondarily, post-BH and post-QH?
>(It is of course not necessary to have an answer to this question
>for your theory to be valid, if it is well-grounded in other ways.
>This is just a question of interest.)

Origen in his Hexapla does not distinguish between WE- and WA(Y) as
prefixes to YIQTOL; both are transcribed as OU-. Several manuscripts with
Palestinian pointing differ from the Masoretic text as to pointing;
WEYIQTOLs are pointed as WAYYIQTOLs vice versa. I think there is good
reason to believe that while the Masoretes were extremely faithful to what
they heard in the synagogue, and would not dream of inventing anything new,
the difference between the "consecutive" forms is graphically their
invention. There is evidence that the default pronunciation of shewa in
Masoretic times was an "a"-sound, and I think that the Masoretes
"semantically" would use shewa and patah indiscrimately but their phonetic
rules distinguished between them. My suggestion, therfore, is that the
difference between WAYIQTOL and WEYIQTOL  was invented by the Masoretes,
not on semantic grounds (they were not grmmarians and did not even know
about the triradical nature of roots, and their Massora is not
grammatical), but partly because of their phonetic rules, and partly
because they saw little or no "semantic" difference between patah and
shewa. However, from the tenth century onward, in the infancy of hebrew
grammar, the graphic and phonetic differences in the text were interpreted
as *semantic* differences, and the four-component model of Hebrew
conjugations was born. This model have survived to the present.

If there is an important semantic difference between WEYIQTOL  and
WAYYIQTOL, why did not the scribes at Qumran mark this,in order to avoid
ambiguity, when they else used so many plene vowels? In some Aramaic
inscriptions, shewa is written as YOD. Are you aware of any examples from
Qumran where patah is written plene?

>I'm asking these in the hope that you really are onto the Holy
>Grail of a Unified Field Hebrew Verbal Theory that has
>proven so elusive.
>So what is the one-paragraph (or more) explanation on
>why (a) qatal/w-qatal and (b) yqtl/w-yqtl represent any intrinsic
>or consistent (uncancellable?--is that the term you use?)
>difference in aspect, as you see and define it?
>Greg Doudna



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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