[b-hebrew] Aspect

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Thu Jun 10 10:40:03 EDT 2004

Dear Eduard,

See my response below:

>Dear Mr. Furuli:
>Thanks for your answer. By the way, the definition of aspect was 
>from R.L.Trask, and is indeed basic. Your explanation on Aktionsart 
>and the *procedural trait* of verbs was very interesting. How can I 
>learn more about these issues? What references have you used for 
>personal research?

My dissertation, which is based on an analysis of the 70,000 verbs of 
classical Hebrew will be completed and proof-read in two months.  It 
is a study of *text*, not of scholarly opinions regarding the text, 
but I refer to about 250 different sources.  A very fine place for 
you to start is with Broman Olsen.

>But to return to the verb NITZDAK my interest was related to the 
>kind of action described. You mentioned that it had a perfective 
>aspect. Does this mean that the action is nondurative, that is an 
>event and not a progression? Actually, how does a Hebrew verb 
>reflect a progression, or the progressive (continuous) aspect of the 
>English language? I notice that the translators of the NRSV
>( New Revised Standard Version) translate some of the original 
>Hebrew verbs in the progressive.
>( Sorry, I don't have an example right now of such a text). Is such 
>a translation right or legitimate?

In order to understand Hebrew aspect you have to do much work 
yourself, because *definitions* of aspect  are generally lacking 
(except superfluous ones), and when definitions are attempted, the 
readers are usually lead astray.  For example, I have no problem with 
ascertaining a "complete event" with reference to what happens in the 
world.  That simply is the progression of the event from its 
beginning to its end.  But what in the world is a "complete event" in 
the *grammatical (aspectual) sense* of the word?  What does the word 
"complete" signify when used grammatically?  And further,  all 
events, save semelfactive, instantaneous ones are progressive.  Both 
aspects can be used for all these progressive events, so what then is 
the grammatical meaning of "progressive aspect"?

My point is that the lexical meaning of a verb and its Aktionsart are 
the most important factors for conveying meaning, and aspect comes as 
third in importance.  We have to put these three together and combine 
them with other contextual matters in order to see the meaning. 
Bible translators must carefully weight all these factors when they 
choose their rendering.  And in addition, the target group of the 
translation will influence the renderings.  In my view, modern 
translators should use progressive English renderings such as "she 
continued to", "she began to",  "she was (walking"), and the like to 
a much greater extent than what is done.  So generally I see no 
problem with NRSV's progressive renderings.  The   imperfective 
aspect is generally used to signal "she started to" (e.g. the 
WAYYIQTOL in 1 ki 6:1  "In the four hundred and eightieth year... he 
began to build the temple").

>Essentially, what I wanted to know was if NITZDAK described an event 
>or a progression, Can this aspectual characteristic of the verb be 
>deduced from its morphology?

One of the most basic distinctions in Hebrew is between actions and 
states.  A state is durative but not dynamic, and any part of a state 
is similar to any other part or to the state as a whole.  The default 
interpretation of ZDQ  in Dan 8:14 is "to be just", which signifies a 
state.  If the verb is taken in this meaning, you can drop the word 
"progression", because nothing happens inside a state. As I already 
have written, taking the WEQATAL as perfective could give an 
ingressive interpretation, i.e. the holy (thing) entered the state of 
justness and continued to be there.

I would say that the aspect can *only* be seen by verb morphology: 
QATAL and WEQATAL always signal the perfective aspect.  A Hebrew 
aspect can never be neutralized, but its nature is not always made 
visible in communication  (this is very important but usually 


Best regards


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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