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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Sat Nov 27 13:32:21 EST 2004

On 27/11/2004 17:46, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> ...
> 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. ...

Rolf, I know my own mother tongue well enough that I don't have to be 
told how to speak it by someone who is not a mother tongue speaker. And 
I have already had enough of Microsoft products trying to correct my 
grammar that I don't want to be told how to speak or write by Mari 
Broman Olsen who now holds the post of "Computational Linguist/Tech Lead 
Natural Language Group - Microsoft", as I recently discovered from a 
posting to a private list.

> ... 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.
Well, the problem is one which you have identified before. Russian has a 
distinction known as "aspect" ("vid") which is a long known Russian 
grammatical category. English has a different distinction or pair of 
distinctions. And Hebrew has yet another distinction or pair of 
distinctions. And we shouldn't assume that the distinctions match. I'm 
sure we can agree on this much.

The problem comes when you try to apply value judgments, that one of 
these distinctions is the real definition of "aspect" and others are not 
true "aspect". They are different distinctions, and deserve different 
names. And they need careful description.

> 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.

The apocopation cannot be purely phonological, because both apocopated 
and non-apocopated forms occur without that WAY- prefix, in 
phonologically similar environments. If there was a phonological factor 
causing apocopation, it would do so all the time or depending on the 
environment. And so there must be some other factor involved. The likely 
alternative factor is a semantic one, and this hypothesis seems to be 
confirmed by the observed semantic distinction between these forms 
(jussive vs. regular "imperfect"), although I admit that the match is 
not perfect. Similar observations can be made about the distinction 
between WAYYIQTOL and WEYIQTOL, which cannot be phonological.

> 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."
Do these data apply to WAY- prefixed forms, to non-prefixed forms, or to 
others? One reason for different results for the first person is that, 
as is well known, first person jussive (or cohortative) forms commonly 
(although not always) carry a suffix -A (written as he), and this suffix 
rules out apocopation. I would need to look more closely at the reason 
for the difference between singular and plural. I don't rule out 
phonological factors applying alongside semantic ones.

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

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