[b-hebrew] Prophetic Perfect? Psalm 107

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon May 24 07:15:50 EDT 2004

On 23/05/2004 10:51, furuli at online.no wrote:

> ...
> In many cases the distinction between semantic meaning and 
> conversational  pragmatic implicature is difficult to establish. But 
> Peter draws this too far, because there are many areas of language 
> where the difference is clear-cut, as in connection with verbs. Of 
> course, falsifying examples must have a secure foundation (textually, 
> contextually etc), and even exceptions can be allowed if they can be 
> linguistically explained. But the main proposition stands: A verb 
> conjugation which semantically represents past tense cannot have 
> future reference.

So, Rolf, are you making the claim that if a language has a true past 
tense that can NEVER be used with a future reference? Would you, I 
wonder, accept that English has a true past tense (or perhaps more than 
one, but let's stick to the simple past for now)? What would you do if I 
found secure counter-examples? Would you abandon or modify your "main 
proposition"? Or would you decide that English has no more of a past 
tense than Hebrew does? By this kind of argument we could probably 
demonstrate quite quickly that there are no past tenses in any language, 
except perhaps in certain dead languages in which there is insufficient 
data to falsify the hypothesis.

Of course you have left yourself a get-out clause that "exceptions can 
be allowed if they can be linguistically explained". So then, would you 
like me to offer linguistic explanations for your non-past WAYYIQTOLs? 
We have been through this before, and I found none which don't have 
convincing to me linguistic (or textual) explanations. Many can be 
explained as future perfects, perhaps even "prophetic perfects". And in 
rather a lot of the cases we looked at before the temporal reference of 
the events is highly uncertain.

> The fact that the infinitive absolute is used for narrative accounts 
> in Phoenician, and to some degree in the Amarna letters, has no direct 
> bearing on the falsification principle. But this fact illuminates the 
> case with the WAYYIQTOLs from another angle.  If infinitive absolutes, 
> which nobody would say semantically represent past tense, are used as 
> the narrative verb form, then the WAYYIQTOLs neither need to represent 
> semantically past tense, just because they in great numbers are used 
> in narrative accounts. Why some say they cannot understand this simple 
> fact is difficult for me to understand.
While I would not say "semantically", I would suggest that a Phoenician 
verb form used regularly in past contexts, whatever its Hebrew cognates, 
is a past tense.

As for swans, suppose that I am describing a beautiful riverside scene. 
Swans were gliding past, and the flowers on the bank matched the swans' 
feathers. What colour were the flowers? Of course, they were white, 
because in this scenario the swans, unless otherwise specified as black, 
are assumed to be white (except perhaps by readers in Western Australia, 
where swans are prototypically black). And it is not just pragmatics 
which tells us that the flowers were white, it is the semantics of the 
whole text.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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