discourse and aspect

David Stabnow dstabno at lifeway.com
Thu Dec 20 16:53:41 EST 2001

Rodney Duke wrote:

>Is seems to me, as I try to analyze passages according to a discourse
>approach, that I find dissimilar forms used to express a complete
>thought or action.  (See examples below.)

>Historical Narrative
>Gen 1:5
>Wayyiqtol (mainline): "And God called the light day"
>X-qatal (offline, but completes thought): "and/but the darkness he
>called night."

>Gen 4:2 b,c
>wayyiqtol (mainline) "And it happened that Abel was and shepherd of a
>X-qatal (offline, but completes thought) "but Cain was a tiller of the

>Gen 4:3b-4a
>wayyiqtol (mainline) "And Cain brought. . ."
>x-qatal (offline but completes thought) "and/but Abel brought. . ."

>Predictive Discourse
>Gen 17:4b-5
>weqatal (mainline) "And you will become a father . . ."
>lo-yiqtol (offline) "And 'Abram' will not again be called your name"
>weqatal (not back to mainline, but completes offline thought), "and/but
>your name will be called Abraham."

To state it in a simplified nutshell, the four examples above all express
contrast.  And X-qatal is the complementary form for wayyiqtol, as is
x-yiqtol for weqatal.  The forms with waw are used for on-line clauses; any
time something is fronted (brought to the marked position before the verb)
the complementary clause forms are used.  It is not unusual in contrasting
pairs for the contrasted element to be fronted in one of the clauses.

Jouon, among others, addresses the function of one clause relative to
another: see, e.g., sections 160-176.  While in English the relationships
are most often indicated by vocabulary (such as "while" on the first clause
of this contrasting pair), in Hebrew fewer relationships are indicated by
vocabulary, some are by syntax, and many are unspecified (or only indicated
by waw).

>Expository discourse (here, as intro to historical narrative)
>Gen 2:5b-6
>Verbless (mainline) "And there was not yet man to work the ground"
>x-yiqtol (offline) "And a mist went up from the land"
>weqatal (offline but completes thought) "and it watered the whole face
>of the ground"

This pair is similar in form, but it is not a pair expressing contrast.  In
fact, I would argue that it is not a pair at all.  The second clause in the
off-line paragraph does not complete a thought, but is merely the second
element in a sequence.  The first clause in the off-line sequence has the
subject fronted in order to mark that subject as the topic of the

While the paragraph is off-line in the expository episode, it could also be
considered an embedded customary episode.  In that case, the second clause
in on-line, since weqatal is on-line in customary discourse.

I know I didn't directly address your question of aspect and tense.
Personally, I prefer the way Longacre has addressed form and function,
especially as developed by David Allan Dawson in _Text-Linguistics and
Biblical Hebrew_.

Dave Stabnow
david.stabnow at lifeway.com

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list