Questions for Rolf

Greg Doudna gdoudna at
Thu Apr 26 03:08:29 EDT 2001

Rolf, thanks for your answers. Comments below.

> 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
> of the strict requirements, the examples *must* be few. For instance, when

Yes, the issue is substantiating a model. I am still not understanding
could you spell out the kinds of structures that would falsify your model,
if they were to exist (but which you have checked and don't exist)?

> Then back to aspect. The reason why the three mentioned scholars in the
> 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
> (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
> Hebrew verbs is the most detailed an promising that ever has been
> 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
> 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
> the direction that the conjugations represent aspects.

Would you comment on a fourth alternative (not that I'm advocating it): it
on Speiser long ago who argued biblical Hebrew was an amalgamation of
two systems. I probably don't have Speiser understood right, but no matter:
the point is -- hypothetically -- it could be simple historical accident
there are two conjugation systems, and *nothing* is being marked by form,
i.e. its all pidgin with meaning understood from helping words (and some
conventions or patterns have evolved).

That is, the elimination of P and M I am not sure how much
of a positive argument that is for A.

Could you cite examples where the waw-consecutive expectation is
interrupted in such a way as to illustrate the intrusion of considerations
related to your aspect considerations--in those cases in which it does
matter for meaning?

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

I don't understand how the empirical observation of these two patterns
(no objection to that) provides a positive argument for your
proposition that forms are marking aspect, i.e. I don't see how the
conclusion follows from the fact cited. Could you maybe restate
or make this clearer?

> 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

Interesting. Then to prove that form is marking aspect will have to focus
on cases within the other half.

> 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
> in meaning, because the verses are similar. The list below show which
> alternate:

(First reaction to above is: sort of looks like they could have
drawn them out of a hat and gotten the same meaning, which
would be determined by contexts and helping words.)

> What basically communicate, are lexical meaning and Aktionsart,
> 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
> are objective factors in the clauses which together create mental pictures
> of events and states. And these objective factors are there without the

Good point. You almost make a good case that biblical Hebrew could be
a well-functioning language without any distinction between yqtl and qtl
beyond word-sequencing conventions. What in the data causes you to
stop short of this?

> 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

Yes, what is of interest is where these finer nuances can actually be
demonstrated in a way with strong claims that are potentially
falsifiable by counterexamples.

> 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.

This next paragraph comes closest to a strong claim that is
potentially falsifiable (by which a proposed model can be tested):

> 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
> same in all cases, and either actions or states must last "until this
> 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
> 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

Maybe I'm misunderstanding, but in all of the examples you cited the forms
seem to be predictable and explicable on the basis of routine word-order
sequencing. Therefore since the forms are well-accounted for in terms
of a pattern that we know is operable (which has no known demonstrated
relationship to aspect), where is the necessary invocation of some other
factor (aspect) to explain the data? That is, how does one know any
other factor is operating than word-order conventions?

> (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
> imperfective aspect is important.

(Could you explain how resultativity is related to imperfect, by your
definition, rather than perfect, by your definition? Focus on the event
as a whole, and focus on a part of the process in the event--don't
both give results?)

> 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
> 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?

This is very interesting and your last point seems to be a very good point.

In some Aramaic
> inscriptions, shewa is written as YOD. Are you aware of any examples from
> Qumran where patah is written plene?

Yes (though it seems very uncommon). MT xqt (with patah second syllable)
several times in 11QT(a) as xwqwt. At 4QpNah 3-4 ii 3 and 1QH 3.30  lhwb
corresponds (presumably) to MT lahab. (But the pN case is a variant produced
by scribal error from lhwb wbrq of the Nahum quotation.)
Compare a brief discussion of this very point at D. Schwartz, _Studies in
Jewish Background of Christianity_ (Tübingen: Mohr): 86-87n27.

Well thanks,

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