[b-hebrew] Hithpael and stative verb

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Wed Nov 12 05:41:57 EST 2003

Doris wrote:
> Can a stativ verb like taher be expressed as hithpael  -  
> since by doing so 
> it would change from a state-of-being into an action,  i.e. 
> "he was pure" would 
> become "he made himself pure", thereby losing its stativ quality ? 

First, a rather picky little point. In English it's spelled "stative."

Second, I think something ought to be said on a topic like this about
what constitutes a verb in Hebrew (or any other Semitic language). A
Hebrew verb is made up of a root and a pattern. The same is true of a
lot of nouns and adjectives in Hebrew, but with verbs there is enough
regularity to the patterns that we call them by a special name. Binyan
is the Hebrew grammatical term; in English, one of the more popular
options is "stem." We often try to abstract a relationship between the
various verbs derived from the same root, but it should be understood
that each root-binyan combination is its own verb with its own history.
The danger I'm trying to avoid here is that we would conceive of the
so-called derived stems (everything except G/Qal) as inflectional forms
of the basic verb for the same root, similar to the difference between a
perfect and an imperfect conjugational form. A native speaker would not
generate binyanim in the same way that, for instance, a singular form is
chosen to fit a given context rather than a plural. I like to think of a
morphological continuum, where on one end we have purely inflectional
morphology (formal distinctions between things like person and number)
and on the other hand we have purely derivational morphology (noun
patterns might be a good example). The binyanim I would be inclined to
place near the latter end. There is some regularity in the connections
between form and meaning, but nothing close to what we get in real
inflection. So, an answer to this question should come more from
lexicography than from grammar.

Third, it is really quite common that we have a stative G verb from a
root and other derived stems from the same root that are not stative.
Notice in this light that the distinction between stative and
non-stative is generally made only in the G binyan anyway. So, probably
the closest thing to an answer to the question that I think you were
asking, is that there is no problem with a non-stative Dt/Hitpael verb
coming from the same root as a G/Qal stative verb. Indeed, it is often
the case that Dt verbs relate most directly to some D/Piel counterpart,
which I think is probably the case in this instance. And it is really
the D verb that takes us away from the stative realm.

Finally, all of this is made unneccessary in some respects by the fact
that a simple glance at any good dictionary shows several instances of
Dt verbs from this root in BH. I still feel like it needs to be said on
occasion, but we could have dispensed with the whole business by
changing the question from "can" to "does."

Trevor Peterson

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