[b-hebrew] Inflexions?

Trevor Peterson 06peterson at cua.edu
Tue Nov 18 18:03:22 EST 2003

Karl wrote:

> Before I saw it in a message on this list, I never heard of a 
> Binyan. How does it differ from an inflexion?

Binyan is the Hebrew word for the class of patterns containing Qal,
Piel, Nifal, etc. We sometimes call them stems in English, but this term
is too ambiguous to be of much use. It serves its purpose as long as
everyone agrees what it means. I prefer binyan both out of respect for
the tradition of native Hebrew grammar and as a more specific term. As I
said in a recent thread, I do not consider the binyanim inflectional
forms. Generally, this latter term contains such features as person and
number, but in a more particular sense it is best reserved to refer to
the tense forms. Binyanim are part of the derivation of verbs.

> Now you mention 
> a t-binyan: I thought from the context of its use I might 
> understand binyan, but after your response I realize I don’t.

A t-binyan is a general reference to binyanim that form with an affixed
t-element. In BH, the Hitpael is a t-binyan. In Targum Aramaic, there
are t-binyanim corresponding to the Peal (the Aramaic equivalent of the
Qal), the Pael (Piel), and the Afel (Hifil). The internal passive forms
(Pual, Hofal, Qal passive) have disappeared by this point.
> The class I attended had said that the verb is the root, a 
> teaching strengthened by such as Davidson’s Analytical 
> Lexicon, which listed all its entries under verb/roots. Now 
> you say they are different, how and why? What’s the 
> difference between a root and a stem?

As I said above, "stem" is ambiguous. Some people use it to refer to the
root, others use it to refer to the binyan. A verb is formed out of the
combination of root and binyan. Roots are abstractions. To have an
actual verb, you need the root manifested in a particular binyan. It is
common for Semitic lexica to catgorize words (or at least verbs)
according to root, and there is an unfortunate tendency to associate the
root with the Qal verb; but they should not be confused.
> What is the definitional difference between a Qal and Piel? 
> The Hiphil and Hophal are recognizable in that they are 
> causitive, the Hithpael in that it is reflexive. But what 
> definitional pattern is there that lets me know when to use a 
> Qal and when a Piel? The class I had was vague on this 
> difference, and my reading hasn’t strengthened it. If 
> anything, it weakened it. That’s why I asked my original question.

The first answer is that you know which to use because you know the
actual verb that is appropriate for what you want to say. (This is why
it's important to realize that a verb is a root and binyan together.) As
far as what the Piel means, it is approached differently by different
scholars. You might take a look at E. Jenni's monograph. In general, it
tends to extend the meaning of a Qal verb. Sometimes the difference is
that the Piel refers to a wider group of objects. Sometimes it relates
to the bringing about of a state expressed by the Qal. Sometimes it has
no observable relationship to a corresponding Qal but is simply a
preferred option for deriving a verb from a noun.
> Other than the notation system (Qamets, Holem, Shewa, etc.), 
> I don’t claim that the Masorites invented anything “out of 
> thin air”. However, they invented their notation system to 
> record a tradition as it existed close to a millennium after 
> Hebrew ceased to be used in daily life, which leads me to 
> question that tradition at times.

Yes, but why question their preservation of a tradition that was
probably if anything more active in earlier centuries?
> Are there online references that I can look up to spare you 
> from having to answer these questions?

Not that I'm aware of.

Trevor Peterson

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