Questions for Rolf

Greg Doudna gdoudna at
Sun Apr 29 21:58:38 EDT 2001


You have two of three elements of what I consider exciting
scholarship: (a) the bold claim to overturn existing conceptions;
and (b) competence to talk about the data. All that remains
is (c) delivery on the promise. (This isn't meant as a criticism;
its meant favorably.)
I have studied the issues with the Hebrew verbal system much less
thoroughly than you but I would like to pursue a couple of things
I asked what problems in conventional explanations of Hebrew
that you saw your system solving and you listed several. Let
me make a counterproposal, and you show me where my
proposal is wrong, OK?

(a) I stipulate with you that there are only two, not four, finite
conjugations, and that the waw in waw-consecutives is nothing
but a conjunction or particle.

(b) But this requires no complicated aspect theory to explain.
There is a much simpler explanation: its all pragmatic. Hebrew is
showing what happens when two conjugations of finite forms got
mixed. Whatever these finite conjugations were marking from their
historic origins, in biblical Hebrew/QH as used they are not marking
tense or aspect inherently, and are effectively interchangeable. The
biggest argument for their *complete interchangeability* is the
very fact of the waw-consecutive, in which the opposite conjugation
follows with *exactly the same meaning* as if it was the other

(c) Because there is *no demonstrable difference* (hypothesis/proposal
here--I invite you to falsify it; maybe I can learn something) in meaning
between prefix- and suffix-conjugations in Hebrew inherently (i.e. the
only thing going on is pragmatic conventions in the use of these forms),
there is nothing more complicated needed to explain the waw-consecutive.
It accounts for all of your data showing interchangeability in those forms.

(d) On the other hand, the more I think about it, the aspect definitions
you propose as inherent are exceedingly difficult (for me) to pin down.
The differences almost seem to vanish upon examination. If you could show
classes of cases in which the waw-consecutive systematically
doesn't happen which would be predicted on the hypothesis of your
aspect system, that would be an argument. That is, what are some major-scale
Hebrew phenomenae, otherwise difficult to explain (but which are
systematic phenomenae) which would be predicted on the hypothesis
of your theory?

(e) Question: could you comment on how your aspect system treats
wa-yitol forms of MT, 'died'? 'And he ..., and he..., and he DIED, and
then...' What kind of process or glimpse of progressivity do you see
in the verb mwt/died in cases such as this? It looks to me like a
reference to the event (what you describe as the suffix-conjugation
meaning) without any glimpse of progressivity. I cannot see that any
continuing result after the person dying is being communicated or
intrinsic to the communication of the verb. Since I know you must
have thought of this, how do you treat this?

Let me go through the points you cited:

> than the meaning of morphosyntactic forms. I see the following advantages
> of my model:
> 1) It outlines a dipolar system of all the prefix-forms in one group and
> all the suffix-forms in the other, and explain the function of each form
> without exceptions.

Mine is simpler. According to what I proposed above there are only
two systems, and the functions are explained without exception:
(its all interchangeable, except by certain conventions from pragmatic
grounds, which hold true except for the cases when they don't. :-)
(The last smile is not an objection to the pragmatic explanation, since
real-life speakers can do things for all sorts of reasons pragmatically
and inconsistently.)

> 2) It explains why YIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, QATAL and WEQATAL can have
> past, present, and future reference and express both indictive and
> subjunctive, and at the same time be memebers of an ordered and functional
> system.

All of this is equally well explained by my proposal, with a far
less complicated proposal. Occam's Razor?
(On 'ordered and functional', that is not an argument against what
I proposed. A system in which two verbal conjugations without
marking anything are used in contexts which by pragmatic convention
portray meaning can be part of a well-ordered and functional

> 3) It explains the role of the WAW, which is prefixed to many verbs, on
> basis of simple syntax without seeking recourse in speculative ideas
> building on very little evidence.

So does my system, which is far less complicated requiring far fewer
assupmtions than yours.

> 4) It explains why the general narrative account often starts with a QATAL
> and continues with WAYYIQTOLs, and why we in future contexts, but not so
> often, find accounts starting with a YIQTOL and continuing with QATALs -
> this is explained without equating QATAL and WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL AND

By my proposal, this would all be convention--useful conventions that
use and hearers recognize because that is how things get said--but nothing
more complicated is required to account for these patterns.
Serious and sincere question: am I missing something here?

> 5) It explains how it is possible that the most important form in
> is imperfective while in non-Semitic languages this is the function of
> perfective forms.

By my proposal it is no less well explained (because neither form
is inherently perfective or imperfective). Simpler, accounts for the
data equally well, has good analogy in how pidgins work...
Hebrew is different from most pidgins in that it has a longer
development and history, etc., but is there any good reason to rule out
that these two-conjugations are the result of language contact at
some point in historic time, resulting in instant pidgin, and then
developing into the Hebrew with all of the variant patterns, etc.
familiar to us?
Unless there is some major point I'm missing, this seems a lot
simpler and a lot more intuitively feasible as an explanation than
what seems a highly abstract and complex system of underlying
rules which proves very difficult to actually verify. (Or seems so.)

> In short, the Hebrew verbal system is explained as a harmonious and
> well-ordered system.

Same with my proposal, not one bit less. (And less complicated.
Occoms Razor again.)

Can you show anything wrong with my proposed explanation
that yours will account for better? i.e. why is your system a superior
explanatory model for the five points you named? Are there any
sixth, seventh, or eighth points that you can name in addition to the
five you named?  The basic question is: if a simple explanation will
work, why struggle to create a more complex one?

Greg Doudna

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