[b-hebrew] Psa 107:19-21 (was WAYYIQTOL)

Sameer Yadav sameer_yadav2 at yahoo.com
Wed Mar 24 10:01:20 EST 2004


I think you could be right about qtl being non-modal
after all in some of the cases I cited, but qtl is
used in more modal contexts than these, e.g.
precatives, performatives and comissives, volitives,
and future (which is modal on at least one semantic
analysis).  By Hatav’s characterizing future tense as
non-modal and habituals and generics as modal, it can
be made to appear as if there are less examples of qtl
in modal contexts and yqtl in non-modal contexts than
there actually are.  But if there are problems with
her semantic analyses then it poses a real problem for
her overall view. 

My point is just that one’s theoretical account of
modal semantics is going to significantly shape the
interpretation of textual evidence. The qtls in Exod
20:10-16 are volitive/deontic.   The qtls in 1Sam
24:15; 2Sam 7:29; Psa. 4:2; 7:7; 57:7; 1Ch. 17:27; Job
22:18; appear to be optative or precative.  I realize
that the optative cases are debated but Buttenweiser
seems to make a good case for it, as does Hendel. 
Similarly, non-assertive speech-acts are commonly
regarded as semantically modal.  Should we say that
comissives (e.g. modal ‘will’ in promises) like the
qtls in Gen. 17:20 and performatives like the qtls in
Gen. 23:11are actually non-modal, just so we can
preserve a more consistent mapping of a Hebrew verb
usage to a general semantics of modality?  In some
cases, it seems like Hatav would face problems even if
she has her modal semantics right.  For example, even
if her view that habituals are modal (depending on O.
Dahl) is correct, she still has to explain why qtls
are used with a habitual sense in Gen. 2:6; 29:3; Exod
18:25, which would count as modal on Dahl’s analysis.

For your example of “were” in English to be parallel
to counterfactual uses of qtl, I would have to be
(mistakenly) arguing that ‘were’ in these contexts is
a counterexample to seeing it as an indicative (past
tense) form, when obviously it is not.  To this it
seems like it could be replied that the lack of number
agreement between subject and verb distributionally
marks the modal use of ‘were’ in English as distinct
from its normal function of desginating past-tense. 
But modal uses of qtl, if semantically non-standard,
do not exhibit distributions that mark these allegedly
‘non-standard’ modal uses from their allegedly
‘normal’ indicative non-modal uses.  At first it
seemed to me that a better parallel example may have
been the use of ‘was’ in counterfactuals like “If I
was rich, etc.” but in this case it is the conditional
‘if’ that marks the verb as modal, rather than the
verb itself, which cannot convey the same modality
without the conditional particle (compare “Were I
rich, I would…” and “*Was I rich, I would…”)  I am
just saying that the allegedly ‘non-standard’ modal
uses of qtl are not marked as such, and the only thing
leading someone to believe that they *are*
non-standard uses of a normally indicative form is
that it is required by the theory that yqtl and wqtl
are modal and qtl is not, which begs the question, and
is betrayed by counterexamples like the ones above.  

If qtl were an uncoverted modal ( = indicative) then
we wouldn’t see deontic, comisssive, precative etc.
uses of it.  The fact that we do, added to the fact
that wqtl also has these modal uses, makes the idea
that the waw converts the qtl to a modal form seem
arbitrary.  Abandoning that idea we should expect that
the qtl plus a conjunction can be used in
syntactically subordinating clauses, since that
function fits the crosslinguistic pattern for modals
(i.e. the  oblique uses of the subjunctive).  That is
what we find in Gen 18:19 (“that they might keep”;
“that YHWH might bring…”). 

If the modal uses of qtl count as strong enough
evidence to reject the modal version of the
waw-conversive theory, then all the modal uses of wqtl
where the waw is being used as a simple coordinating
conjunction count as straightforward modal uses of
qtl, which completely undermines both Hatav and Zuber.
 The modal uses of wqtl where the waw is being used as
a subordinating conjunction may be said to be
syntactic and not semanitcally related to the verbal
inflection, but the modal use of the qtl in these
cases is consistent with its non syntactically derived
modal uses, and so there is no reason to think that
its use in these cases is non-standard. For example,
while I agree that conditional particles mark
standardly non-modal verbs in the *protasis* of
counterfactual conditionals as modal (“If I had known,
I wouldn’t have done it”), nevertheless, in the
*apodosis* English requires the standard modal marking
of an auxiliary (“would have”).  Similarly, the wqtl
is used modally in the protasis of counterfactual
conditionals (Jdg. 8:19; 13:23; 17; 2 Sam 2:27, where
the waw acts syntactically as a conditional ‘then’ and
the translation of the qtl form requires a modal

All this doesn’t mean that qtl and wqtl are the modal
forms in BH, because obviously yqtl and weyiqtol
perform similar functions.  It just means that there
is more to the  modal parameter in BH than the choice
of an inflectional form.  Presently I am in the
process of trying to figure out exactly how semantic,
syntactic, and pragmatic features come together to
form the modal parameter.

- sameer

> Not really.  We see examples in English, where the
> "proper" subjunctive is "If 
> I were a rich man" even though, taken in syntactic
> isolation, "were" is an 
> indicative.  In our day, it has become more
> acceptable to say "If I was a 
> rich man" where, in the absence of the "if"
> particle, "was" is an indicative.  
> I see no reason why Hebrew couldn't have had similar
> particle-based 
> phenomena.

> I'm inclined to agree with Hatav on that point, and
> I really doubt whether any 
> syntactic theory is ever going to cover all possible
> counter-examples, 
> especially where poetry is involved.  In every
> language I've ever seen, 
> poetry makes its own syntax and structure that may
> or may not, as the 
> occasion warrants, resemble "good" grammar.  That's
> why in my own research I 
> studiously avoid poetic passages when trying to sort
> out a general syntax of 
> the verb system.  In general, though, I tend to
> suspect that Hatav's modal 
> analysis of the four main verb forms holds up. 
> Where she and I part company 
> is on the question of sequentiality, but that's
> another topic.

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