[b-hebrew] The perspective of this native speaker of Modern Hebrew of Biblical Hebrew tenses

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Nov 27 12:46:22 EST 2004

Dear Peter,

See my comments below.

Peter Kirk wrote:

> On 27/11/2004 09:07, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>> ...
>> Aspect can be defined as the relationship between ET and RT.  Given 
>> that the perfective aspect in English is expressed by perfect and the 
>> imperfective aspect by present participle, there are just two options 
>> in English for the relationsship between ET and RT.  When the 
>> perfective aspect is used RT intersects ET and the coda (end), and 
>> when the imperfective aspect is used RT intersects ET at the nucleus 
>> (the two aspects can be combines though, as in "Ann has been reading 
>> the book".)  On this basis the distinction incomplete/completed (or, 
>> as some prefer: incomplete/complete) is made. ...
> I don't accept this "Given". In English, the canonical perfective 
> aspect, as defined by linguists on the basis of Russian etc usage, is 
> expressed not by the perfect but by the simple past and future forms, 
> sometimes also the simple present. The English perfect is something 
> rather different, expressing the present results of a past action - it 
> is perfective plus something else, although forms like "Ann has been 
> reading the book" are imperfective plus something else. As such the 
> English perfect is like the Greek perfect but unlike its analogue (the 
> verb meaning "have" plus past participle) in many other modern 
> European languages, which does have simple perfective sense. Sorry to 
> digress from Hebrew to English, but this misunderstanding may be part 
> of the problem which many English speakers have in understanding what 
> Rolf is trying to say.

I refer to the book of Broman Olsen (Broman Olsen, M. (1997) A Semantic 
and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect).  Before deciding 
this issue, this book should be read.  The strength of the system of 
Broman Olsen is that she can explain the whole English verbal system 
with its tenses and aspects as a function of the Deictic center, Event 
time, and Reference time.  She needs not seek recourse in the so-called 
"Relative tenses," and there are no exceptions.  Her system indicates 
that tense and aspect are exclusively connected with verb *form* and are 
not pragmatic functions of the context.  While Broman Olsen's view that 
perfect is the form that expresses the perfective aspect is "objective" 
and clear-cut, your pragmatic application of the perfective aspect leads 
into a quagmire of subjective interpretations and disputes.  As I wrote 
to Bryan, you cannot compare Russian "aspect" with English aspect.  
Backe (Backe, C. (1985). Verbal Aspect: A General Theory and its 
Application to Present Day English) who discusses Russian and English,  
even doubts that English has aspects on the basis of Russian definitions.

>> I agree with your comments regarding the use of WAYYIQTOL and QATAL 
>> in past contexts, with one exception.  There are several examples of 
>> WAYYIQTOL with non-past reference (at least 998).  And here I would 
>> like to point out the second cardinal error in the study of classical 
>> Hebrew, namely the almost total reliance on quantity rather than 
>> quality.  Let me illustrate the point:  The difference between long 
>> and short WAYYIQTOLs is being viewed as very important, because it is 
>> believed that WAYYIQTOL goes back to a short preterit YAQTUL.  
>> However, 73 per cent of the WAYYIQTOLs are long. ...
> Do you in fact mean, 73% are undifferentiated between long and short? 
> Or possibly 72.9% are undifferentiated and 0.1% are long in 
> distinction from short? Remember that for most verbs there is no 
> possible distinction between long and short, as this distinction is 
> made only when the final root consonant is he and I think with hifil 
> forms - is that correct? And when there are two possible forms, in the 
> overwhelming majority of cases the shorter one is used with the WAY- 
> prefix. Isn't that correct? You offer exact figures; do you have an 
> exact figure for WAYYIQTOL with a longer form when there is a shorter 
> alternative? 

I mean that 73 per cent of all WAYYIQTOLs are long, i.e. they are not 
apocopated.  My point was that this fact has no bearing on the question 
of whether or not the antecedent of the WAYYIQTOL is a short YAQTUL; we 
should not just refer to quantity.  Your observations above are correct, 
and to make a quality test, we have to ask whether the falling away of 
the third radical in lamedh he verbs is phonological (the same tendency 
that we see in the apocopation of Hebrew personal names) or whether it 
suggests that a short form was the antecedent of WAYYIQTOL. And further, 
we have to find out what causes the apocopation of other forms.

To answer your question about numbers, I would like to point out that 
apocopation is connected with *person* and not with *root*.  This 
suggests that apocopation is phonologically/morphologically and not 
etymologically conditioned.  I bring a quote from p. 120 of my dissertation:

"In the 1st person singular/plural group, 66.9 percent of the forms that 
could have been apocopated are normal and 33.1 percent are apocopated.  
In the 3rd person plural group of Hiphils, 75 percent of the forms that 
could have been apocopated are normal, and 25 percent are apocopated; in 
the 3rd person singular group only 1.3 percent of the forms that could 
have been apocopated are normal and 98.7 percent are apocopated.  The 
logical conclusion to draw is that the choice of apocopation or not is 
connected with phonological factors and morphology, because the stress 
patterns are different in 3rd person masculine singular forms compared 
with 1st person singular/plural and 3rd person masculine plural forms."

> Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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