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

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Sat Nov 27 13:20:11 EST 2004

On Saturday 27 November 2004 02:07, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> It is true that Indo-European scholars have imposed upon classical
> Hebrew their definitions of aspect, but it is my impression that most
> modern Israeli scholars have done exactly the same, not with aspect,
> which they reject, but with tense.  When you say that the
> perfective/imperfective distinction work about half the time, you are
> correct.  But note that this is when you apply English aspectual
> distinctions to classical Hebrew.  And this is a cardinal error in
> Hebrew studies, to assume that aspect is one and the same thing in all
> aspectual languages, namely, the opposition incomplete/completed or
> incomplete/complete!  I am not aware of a singly scholarly study that
> presents a different view.

Then you haven't read either my paper (Hebrew Studies 1994) or Galia Hatav's 
monograph, because we both take different views.  Hers in particular 
addresses your questions about aspect, R-time, and all the rest.  While I 
don't agree with her in all respects, I found her approach to be a real 
breath of fresh air, and was able to make some modifications of my own theory 
based on it.

> > Vav conversive + yiqtol form ("imperfect") is a past event in Biblical
> > Hebrew, pretty much always (at any case, I can't think of
> > exceptions).  The very same action, though, can be encoded in the
> > qatal form ("perfect") if the author chooses to put the subject first,
> > before the verb.  And the reason for that choice can be any number of
> > things:  it can be a focus on the subject rather than the verb, it can
> > be in order to mention an action which is not a part of the same
> > series of actions (which may or may not be the equivalent of a perfect
> > verb in English in a particular context), it can simply be a signal
> > for the end of a series of actions (as in the last verb in Genesis
> > 1:5a, which ends a list of actions of God that starts at 1:4).
> snip
> 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.  If quantity were our criterion, we
> could reason that because 10,611 WAYYIQTOLs are long, the form IS long.

I agree with you that the two-form hypothesis is unsatisfying, though for 
different reasons.  For one, as Peter pointed out in another post, it is only 
visible in one stem form.  Second, it makes much more sense to explain that 
one stem form's variation in terms of word-structure and what I will call 
word-cadence.  I also don't see the "way." prefix as a conjunction, but 
rather as a specific syntactic preformative that happens to resemble the 
conjunction in its consonantal form.  Such an idea shouldn't be surprising to 
anybody who has studied first-year Hebrew, because we have ample precedent 
for it: witness the consnantal similarity between the definite article and 
interrogative-he, then throw in the he-prefix of the hifil and hofal stems, 
and we have four distinct syntactic entities that all look the same 
consonantally.  But as you have doubtless discovered, entrenched ideas change 
slowly, if at all; the most common response I have received to this idea is 
"no, it must be a conjunction.  Why?  Because it *looks* like a conjunction."  
And so it goes.

In any case, I heartily commend Galia Hatav's book to you as you continue your 
thought-provoking research.

Dave Washburn
"No good.  Hit on head."   -Gronk

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