Hebrew Syntax., 2 Sam 15:37

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Apr 19 04:37:06 EDT 2002

Dear Dave,

I found your thoughs coherrent and logical, and I am sure that the 
models of  Bryan and Alviero are based on systematic thinking as 
well. I hope I am always able to bring across that I criticize 
methodologies and not persons,their knowledge or intelligence.

I agree with you that statistics is just a help and should be used 
with care. The problem that causes the differences in understanding 
Hebrew verbs is in my view that many scholars have not done the 
fundamental groundwork that leads to the understanding of the 
fundamental parameters and concepts.

For example, how many of those on this list have pondered on the 
*definition* of aspect? (Just look into your own mind) How many have 
worked with the concepts "equipollent" and "privative" in connection 
with aspect, and have decided that Hebrew aspects are either 
equipollent or privative? These are not just theoretical questions 
but are highly significant for the theunderstanding of verbs.

My research has led me to the conclusion that Hebrew aspects are not 
equipollent, i.e. there is not one negative and and one positive part 
with equal semantical weight, but they are privative, i.e. the two 
aspects constitute one positive part each with no negative part of 
equal semantic weight.

In a privative system (the concept is from the phonological studies 
of the Prague school in the 1930es) one member is marked (its meaning 
or area of function is more restricted than the unmarked member). And 
most important, the unmarked member may have a meaning different from 
the marked member, but it may also have the same meaning as the 
marked member. We can illustrate this by the unmarked word "lion" and 
the marked "lionness". The word "lionness" stands in opposition to 
"male lion", and here we have an equipollent opposition. However, the 
word "lion" can both denote the genus lion, a "lionness", or a "male 
lion". The relationship between "lion" and "lioness" therefore is 

It is obvious that if one does not have a well founded opinion as to 
whether Hebrew aspects are equipollent or privative, any research 
above the sentence level (discourse analysis) can give wrong results. 
As a matter of fact, if Hebrew aspects are privative, as I believe, 
discourse analysis has an extreme drawback from the start.

Another problem is the very nature of aspect. The English aspects 
(present participle - imperfective and perfect - perfecive) can be 
viewed as privative, but at the same time they are in one respect 
mutually exclusive. Actions expressed by the imperfective aspect are 
never terminated at reference time and actions expressed by the 
perfective aspect are always terminated at reference time. If this 
model, with this opposition, is transferred to Hebrew, as is very 
often the case, one uses wrong parameters and the results MUST  be 

The following important observation is the result of the conclusion 
that Hebrew aspects are privative and that they both have 
similarities and differences compared with English aspects:

Both Hebrew aspects can in many cases be used for exactly the same 
situation without any difference in meaning!

Aspect plays just a minor part in signalling meaning because it is a 
subjective viewpoint that does not contribute anything new, just 
helps make some things visible and other invisible. Lexical meaning, 
Aktionsart, and the syntax of the clause is of much more important 
for conveying meaning than aspect.

I will point to one example, namely 2:1,2.

"Why are the nations in tumult (QATAL) and the national groups 
themselves keep muttering (YIQTOL) an empty thing? The kings of earth 
take their stand (YIQTOL) And high officials themselves mass together 
(QATAL) as one."

The verse contains two QATALs and two YIQTOLs, but who can point to 
any difference in meaning? The thoughts of the verse is of the kind 
that both aspects can be used indiscriminately; the YIQTOL plays the 
role of the lionness and the QATAL plays the role of the lion.

I agree with the approach of Alviero, Bryan and others in their 
discourse analysis, that we must isolate those forms that indicate a 
certain meaning and interpret other similar forms where the meaning 
is not visible in the light of those forms having meaning. However, 
the practical execution of this principle is diametrically opposite 
in my case compared with theirs.

For example, in most cases of WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL with past 
reference, we cannot see, on the basis of the context, whether the 
aspect is imperfective or peerfective. Therefore I have analysed all 
the finite and infinite forms of MT on the basis of the relationship 
between event time, reference time and the deictic point. On this 
basis I can draw the definite conclusion that it neither is discourse 
function, nor verb form that give the temporal reference of a clause 
but only the context. Further, I have found all the examples of 
WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL (and the other forms as well) where the 
relationship between reference time and event time can give only one 
interpretation as to aspect (e.g. conative situations, intersection 
of RT in the middle of ET etc). There are so many WAYYIQTOLs which 
definitely are imperfective that I draw the conclusion that those 
WAYYIQTOLs where we cannot see the aspect, are imperfective as well. 
Because all forms have been analysed, the conclusion has a sound 
basis; in this case is statistics important.

On the basis of the fundamental parameters durativity, dynamicity, 
telicity, event time, reference time,the deictic point, privative 
versus equipollent, and these applied to *all* the verbs of the MT I 
draw the conclusion that Hebrew has only two conjugations (YIQTOL, 
WAYYIQTOL, and WEYIQTOL are imperfective, and QATAL and WEQATAL are 



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

>Rolf wrote: Regarding 1 Kings 3:24-26 you have a problem with your concept
>"continually". I think we agree regarding what did happen, the soldiers
>used some time to destroy this city and that city, they used some time to
>fill this water spring and that water spring, until everything was ruined.
>They could not do this destruction several times because there were a
>limited number of cities, trees and water springs. These actions are
>described with YIQTOLs ( and one WEQATAL)
>Are the actions described by WAYYIQTOLs in verses 21-24 different? Hardly!
>The Moabites were gathered together, one after the other (v 21), and they
>stood there (not "had been standing" - focus on the continuing state). They
>marched one after the other to the camp of Israel (v 24), and the
>israelites rose, one after the other,and Israel struck the Moabites, one
>after the other. Then the Moabites fled and Israel again killed Moabites,
>one after the other. There were probably more Moabites that were killed
>than the number of cities and springs that were destroyed according to
>verse 25. If the actions described by the YIQTOLs are imperfective, the
>WAYYIQTOLs must be imperfective as well.
>DKS: You are correct, I was wrong to describe the action with the word
>"continually."  But I can still conceive of a fundamental difference in the
>kind of action described in the WAYYIQTOL's versus the
>X-YIQTOL's/WEQATAL's.  It seems that the author was portraying the action
>of the mustering in v. 21 and the battle in v. 24 as a whole, while the
>despoiling of the land is somehow iterative.  The Moabites mustered, and
>Israel defeated them; the defeat continued during the rout.  Then the
>Israelites systematically despoiled Moab.
>You are right that technically all action takes place one moment at a time,
>one event after the other.  For example, in order for the Moabites to
>gather, they gathered one after the other.  But the author has a choice how
>he portrays that gathering, and he can bring out some nuance -- in this
>case it would have been suspense if he had used X-YIQTOL: "One by one, from
>city to city, the Moabites were called up, until they stood as a vast
>army."  But the author chose to state it as a simple fact, not marked as
>suspenseful: "The Moabites were called up and they stood."
>At the end of v. 24 "the land" as a whole and (all) the Moabites in it are
>the objects of the defeat.  The despoiling, on the other hand, is portrayed
>as a city-to-city iterative action (YIQTOL).  The final city, Kir Haroset,
>is then portrayed as the final single action (QATAL).
>Rolf wrote: I work from the bottom and up, while discours analysis work
>from the top an down.
>DKS: I think you'll find that Talstra and his students are very much
>bottom-up in their analysis, yet they refer to what they do as DA (except
>for those among them who differentiate Text Linguistics from DA).
>Rolf wrote: In order to substantiate that the prefix-forms and the
>suffix-forms with prefixed WAW have a different meaning from those without
>the WAW, *all* the forms must be analysed and semantic differences must be
>domonstrated on the basis of their time references and the intersection of
>event time by reference time. Verb meaning can never be established by a
>study of the foreground/background functions of a few thousand forms
>occurring in narrative contexts.
>DKS: Two observations.  First, I am looking for how verb forms *function*
>in sentences and paragraphs.  One component of analysis of various
>sentences is semantic.  I think we are fundamentally different in our
>approaches here.
>Second, for my research into the nature of language, statistical
>observations do have some merit.  Certainly statistics don't dictate what a
>particular sentence *must* mean.  (Illustration: If a coin came up heads 5
>times in a row, what are the odds it would come up heads the sixth time?
>50/50.  Past patterns do not dictate current situations.)  Hypothetically,
>even if we observe a certain function in all the other examples in our
>corpus of a certain form, that does not mean that the one form we are
>looking at will demonstrate that function -- this could be the one
>exception.  Yet, there is merit in statistics.  Chances are good that this
>form will have that function -- that is certainly the first line of
>reasoning that should be pursued.  (Also, one should consider that perhaps
>the coin is weighted such that it favors heads.)
>You yourself have used statistics, and you argue that some forms of YIQTOL
>in some grammatical constructions can have past reference.  The challenge,
>in my mind, is to define what the writer/speaker of Biblical Hebrew
>discerned as the indications of past reference.  What in grammar, syntax,
>semantics, or text-grammar told the hearer that this YIQTOL has past
>reference?  And which elements of the sentence or paragraph are meaningless
>with regard to tense?  You argue that the conjunction is meaningless with
>regard to tense, while conventional Biblical Hebrew grammar sees it as
>crucial.  Conventional grammar puts little importance on the sentence that
>comes before or after the sentence in question.  DA sees those as crucial.
>Consider these random thoughts -- I don't have time to make my ramblings
>more coherent.
>Dave Stabnow
>Bible Translation Editor
>Broadman & Holman Publishers
>Nashville, Tennessee
>david.stabnow at lifeway.com
>     Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do,
>do everything for God's glory.  (1 Cor 10:31, HCSB)

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