[b-hebrew] Inflexions?

Rasmus Underbjerg Pinnerup pinnerup at privat.dk
Fri Nov 21 08:33:47 EST 2003

Dear Karl (and list members)

At 00:12 21-11-2003, Karl wrote:
>Seriously, this question has raised some rather interesting, even 
>apparently contradictory, responses. Hiphil and Hophal clearly have the 
>causitive sense, Hithpael reflexive, but what is the distinction between 
>Qal and Piel?

There is no one overarching pattern, but a number of individual patterns 
can be identified. Here I list them from Joüon-Muraoka with a few examples:

Factivive: »'âbad« "to perish" > »'ibbad« "to make someone perish", the 
same with »qâdaš« > »qidaš« and »gâdal« > »giddel«

Declarative-estimative: e.g. »niqqâh« "to declare clean"

Pluralising: »liqqeq« (to lick, multiple subjects) and »šillax« (to 
dispatch, numerous objects) (BTW, it is mighty tempting to point out the 
similarity btween "liqqeq" and "lick", PIE *ligh)

Frequentative: »ši'el« "to beg" (Qal: "to ask") and »šibber« "to break into 
pieces" (Qal = to break)

Denominative: »kihen« "to act as priest", »'illem« "to bind sheaves ('alummâh)"

Privative: »diššen« "to remove fat", »šereš« "to uproot" (contrast »hišrîš« 
"to strike root")

Adverbial (rare): »šixxet« "to act wickedly", »'iwwel« "to act in an 
iniquitous manner", »mihar« "to act quickly".

>One, off line response, said that the difference was between that of 
>transitive and intransitive verbs (in which case, many verbs are 
>incorrectly pointed).

That is a rather misleadingly simplifying take on the matter.

>If the Piel is causitive, then what's the difference between it and 
>Hiphil? Other times some say it is the same as Qal.

The Piel is often said to denote bringing about a given state ("to make 
someone holy"), whereas the Hiphil is said to denote bringing about a given 
action ("to make someone walk") - these aspects are called factivive and 
causative, respectively.

>I believe that languages are basically simple that can be mastered by 
>children, except for rare, specialized cases. If the Piel is to be 
>recognized in a case by case basis, then it fails the child masterable 
>test. [...]

You are still here assuming that the binyanim (Qal, Piel, Hiphil etc.) are 
merely inflexions of a given verb - that is most likely not the case. With 
regular inflections, a relationship such as you describe would exist - that 
is, when you place an -ed (and its various allomorphs) on the end of an 
English verb, you get the meaning "past tense" - this rule almost always 
holds true. The Piel (and other binyanim), however, is not an inflection 
like this - it is more like word-derivations, comparable to the prefix 
"in-" in English, which can also have different meanings like "direction 
into" (inscribe) and "negation" (incompetent). I'm sure someone can think 
of a derivational morpheme which more possible meanings. The point is that 
when we see a word with the prefix "in-", we cannot know beforehand what 
this signifies - we have to learn word for word (it took quite some time 
before I realized that "inflammable" meant "highly flammable"). We have to 
learn the meaning as a lexical unit - as if it were a new word, so to speak.

With some serious studies, we might narrow the given derivation (in-, Piel) 
down to a fixed set of possible meanings, but we cannot even then always be 
sure - for instance, the word "inflammable" doesn't really seem to fit 
either of the two meanings listed above.

Rasmus Underbjerg Pinnerup 

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