Questions for Rolf

Henry Churchyard churchh at
Sun Apr 29 18:07:17 EDT 2001

> Subject: Re: Questions for Rolf
> From: Rolf Furuli <furuli at>
> Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 12:57:29 +0200

>> From: Greg Doudna

>> (2) is it not the case that the waw-conjunctive/ waw-conversive
>> distinction 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?

> 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 sorry, Rolf, but this part is pretty much nonsense.  The Masoretes
were not abstract "metaphysical" theorists, and did not
self-consciously "invent" things to fit in with any grand preconceived
schemes (certainly none of Kahle's accusations of "artificial"
features in the Masoretic transcription -- as opposed to
"conservative" features -- have really stuck).  And yet _wayyiqtol_
and _w at yiqtol_ are not distributed randomly through the text in terms
of overall contextual positioning, so that if anybody "invented" the
distinction, it had to be the Masoretes, not the grammarians.  Also,
the Masoretes were rather careful about recording fine distinctions in
their pronunciation.  Though (as I discuss at length in my
dissertation) they did transcribe some non-phonemic features of their
pronunciation, while not transcribing one or two of the
(non-suprasegmental) phonemic distinctions in their pronunciation
(this precisely because they didn't really have any overarching
linguistic theories), they were very consistent and systematic in
transcribing those features of the pronunciation that they did choose
to make part of their orthography, so that it's somewhat ridiculous to
say that they somehow loosely sloppily erratically randomly confused
WAYYIQTOL and W at YIQTOL, forms which have a two-fold difference in
pronunciation (in non 1st. sg. forms) -- both the vowel following the
consonant of the conjunction and also the gemination of the verb
prefix consonant.  Reduced vowels (such as vocal _sh at wa_) and
unreduced vowels (such as _pathah._) are two quite different kinds of
entities in the Tiberian system, with different patterns of
occurrences, and are only very rarely violate the distributional and
other restrictions placed on each category (almost the only real case
is the _qamees._ vowel in the initial syllable of _qodhaashiim_ and a
few similar forms, where a _qames. vowel would be expected).
It's certainly true that vocalic _sh at wa_ tended to coarticulate with
neighboring sounds (rather than having a fixed definite mid-central
quality), and that in absence of strong coarticulation it often tended
to take on a lowish quality, at least in some pronunciations (as
evidenced in the sporadic transcription of vocal _sh at wa_ with
orthographic pathah._ when not following a guttural
consonant, seen in various manuscripts), but this did not necessarily
lead to any systematic confusion between vocalic _sh at wa_ and
pathah._ -- much less to any confusion between prosodically reduced
vocalic _sh at wa_ (which is never followed by a geminate consonant) and
prosodically unreduced _pathah._ followed by a geminate consonant!

So far you haven't presented any plausible scenario which explains in
adequate phonological/morphological detail how the geminate consonant in
WAYYIQTOL originated (much less the stress distinction between W at YIQTOL
and WAYYIQTOL), nor how the Masoretes were motivated to artificially
create a distinction which did not exist in previous stages of the
language.  This is not one of those things (like sound changes) that
simply arise out of the blue; it's a restructuring and reanalysis of the
whole system that requires a highly specific explanation.  You can see
my attempt to provide such an explanation for the origin of W at QATAL
coming to have a separate morphological and phonological status (to the
degree that it does) in section 4.4.2 of my dissertation; until you
provide a comparable explanation for your proposed differentiation
between W at YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL, then your theory is too incomplete to be
convincing to historical morphologists/phonologists.

As for Greek transcriptions of Hebrew, they're useful for pointing out
certain broad features (such as that the occurrence of segholate
epenthesis in unsuffixed forms of all CVCC- stem nouns regardless of
sonority is very late chronologically, cf. Bronno p.125ff), but it's
very difficult to try to systematically reconstruct the overall
phonological system of Hebrew coherently based on these transcriptions,
and also very difficult to correlate the Hebrew which is transcribed
there with Tiberian Hebrew (the type of Hebrew transcribed in Greek
transcriptions generally does not seem to be any kind of direct ancestor
of the Tiberian pronunciation tradition).  It's been a few years since I
looked at such transcriptions (since I ended up deciding that they were
basically irrelevant to the work of phonological reconstruction I was
doing in my dissertation), but going by my memories, and what I can
deduce from flipping through Bronno (which I've just now pulled down off
the library shelf), words that have vocal _sh at wa_ in Tiberian can have
the corresponding vowel transcribed as almost any short-vowel symbol in
Greek (or no vowel letter at all).  In situations where there is no
strong coarticulation, the default transcription tends to be alpha or
epsilon.  So it's not clear that the vowel of W at YIQTOL would be
transcribed differently from that of WAYYIQTOL (even if the original -a-
vowel of _*wayiqtol_ were reduced in quality by Origen's period, which
is not certain in itself) -- even leaving aside the fact that Hebrew
_w_ + any vowel often tends to be indiscriminately transcribed as
OMICRON-YPSILON in Greek.  (So for example, in OUAIALEZ for Masoretic
_wayya`aloz_ on p. 25 of Bronno, can we really say for sure that any of
Hebrew _wayya`aloz_, _waya`aloz_ with short unreduced vowel, or
_w at ya`aloz_ can be decisively excluded as a possible source for the Greek
transliteration?)  Therefore the only relevant distinction would be the
gemination of the transliterated consonants.  However, Hebrew geminated
_yy_ and possible geminated glottal stop are are certainly not
transcribed as geminated in Greek, so that pretty much the only available
evidence would be to examine tendencies in the transcriptions of t- and
n- prefix forms; I'm flipping through Bronno, and I can't find any such
forms (if anybody's done a specific study of this, I would appreciate it
if you would provide me with a specific reference).  And as for Qumran,
only long vowels and some short _o_ and _u_ vowels are generally
transcribed in _plene_ spellings (and geminate consonants are never
transcribed at all, as far as I'm aware), so that there's no spelling
device that could be used in its usual way to distinguish W at YIQTOL from
WAYYIQTOL orthographically -- Doudna's examples of Tiberian _pathah._ as
transcribed with Qumran _waw_ are "very uncommon", and partly could
reflect that certain forms had different phonological patterns than the
corresponding forms did in Tiberian; in any case it's clear that short
_a_ vowels generally weren't transcribed by any written symbol at all in
the Qumran orthography.  (Again, it's not clear that W at YIQTOL would have
a vowel reduced in quality in its first syllable during the Qumran period
anyway.)  If you're implying that the pressure of homophony was so
debilitatingly ambiguous that the Qumran scribes should be expected to
have invented some kind of orthographic distinction, then that's not
really the way that early Semitic orthographies worked, and in any case
W at YIQTOL was rather more minor than WAYYIQTOL, and the two are partly
positionally distinguished, so that the orthographic ambiguity was not
necessarily that pernicious in practical terms.

I have what I think is a fair question for you Rolf: since no clear
systematic distinction is made in Hexplaric transcriptions between
prepositions l- b- k- with definite article and without definite article
(Bronno, p. 204 and p. 387) -- i.e. in Masoretic terms the difference
between _b at bhayith_ "in a house" vs. _babbayith_ "in the house" etc. --
and I'm pretty willing to bet that no such distinction was made in
Qumran orthography either, therefore do you think that the Masoretes or
post-Masoretic grammarians artificially "invented" this distinction?
And if not, why not?  (Phonologically, the difference between
_b at bhayith_ and _babbayit_ is quite parallel to that between _w at yiqtol_
and _wayyiqtol_.)

When all these factors are combined with the very specific historical
phonological reconstructions which strongly tie Tiberian WAYYIQTOL to
earlier consonant-final _*yaqtul_, and Tiberian YIQTOL to earlier
vowel-final _*yaqtulu_ (where the final vowel in _*yaqtulu_ was lost
around the end of the second millennium B.C.) -- as discussed in my
dissertation at URL at end -- then your theory of a very late artificial
differentiation between WAYYIQTOL and W at YIQTOL becomes even more

P.S. When discussing cross-Semitic evidence, I wish you wouldn't pull in
languages like Ugaritic and Geez (which are less directly helpful in
illuminating the Hebrew situation, and which I am consequently less
familiar with) to use as your first line of evidence, or try to make use
of forms such as Akkadian IPTARAS which are not directly historically
comparable to any morphological form in Hebrew according to the
historical-comparative method accepted since the 19th century.  (If you
only want to compare the synchronic semantic systems of languages,
without paying any attention to linguistic "genealogical"
considerations, then there's no need to confine yourself to the Semitic
group of languages at all; however, if you want to try to do historical
reconstruction between related languages, then you must pay attention to
the established historical-comparative rules.)

Henry Churchyard   churchh at

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