[b-hebrew] Verbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Aug 1 01:15:39 EDT 2005

Dear George,

See my comments below.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "George Athas" <gathas at hotkey.net.au>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Sunday, July 31, 2005 1:09 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Verbs

>  Dear Rolf,
>  You know what it looks like? It looks as though you're saying, "It
>  creates a lot of theoretical difficulties trying to unravel how these
>  various verb forms function in their contexts, so let's just throw
>  them all out and make up the meanings that seem logical to us."
I am glad that you qualify the statement above a little, because to
characterize my conclusions as based on
"meanings that seem logical to us" is to turn the situation upside down. My
basic criticism of the conclusions of other scholars regarding Hebrew verbs,
is that they either are based on conjectural *logic* or that they are using
the conclusions of earlier scholars without any systematic tests of these
conclusions. I do not claim that my conclusions represent
the final truth, but they are based on a systematic application  of
scientific methods and not only on logic:

1) It is the only study where practically all the verbs of classical Hebrew
have been analyzed.

2) The basic linguistic tools "event time", "reference time", and the
deictic center have been used, and I am not aware of a single study of
Hebrew verbs where these parameters have been systematically used. To the
contrary, the
traditional approach is to create a theory based upon logic, and then apply
this theory to a part of classical Hebrew texts and see if it fits.

3) In my study, the mentioned parameters were first used inside the frame of 
Hypothetic deductive method, in order to show what det conjugations *are
I think I have demonstrated by the use of these parameters that the
conjugations are not tenses (in which you agree), and that they are not
aspects with the opposition complete/completed versus incomplete. This is a
balanced scientific approach based on data and not on logic. By the use of
the Hypothetic deductive method you cannot verify anything but you can
falsify (show that a hypothesis is wrong).

4) Most studies are concerned with the *function* of the conjugations, which
of course is a fine endeavor. But my research has been concerned with the
*meaning* of the conjugations. As a matter of fact, in most clauses in the
Tanakh, there are several factors that together cause a particular meaning.
Therefore, if a clause signals a special meaning (e.g. habituality,
progressiveness etc) this is not a characteristic of the conjugations alone.
I have therefore tried to find the clauses that are so restricted that the
only factor that can cause a particular meaning is the very conjugation
used.   Such clauses are few but very important, and I make the assumption 
that if I am
able to establish the aspect (perfective or imperfective) in a few clear
cases of a particular verb form (e.g. WAYYIQTOL, QATAL), then this is the
nature of the form itself. This is logic, but it relates to the applications
of my findings and not to the findings themselves.

I will use WAYYIQTOL as an example. Most instances of the WAYYIQTOLs occur
in narrative texts, and it is impossible to know where reference time
intersects event time in these cases.  Most scholars say that
these WAYYIQTOLs are punctiliar or that reference time intersects event time
at the coda (end). These views  based on the consecutive nature of
narratives, thus being based on conjectural logic and not on an analysis of 
WAYYIQTOLs. When such an analysis is done, we will find examples where the
aspect of the form can be established. Please look at 1a and 1 b below.

1a. In the four hundred and eightieth year after Israel came of the land of
Egypt...he began to build (WAYYIQTOL) the temple.  1 Kings 6:1

1b. In the four hundred and eightieth year after Israel came of the land of
Egypt...he built (WAYYIQTOL) the house.

The reasons for the differences between "he built" (1b) and "he began to
build" (1a) is a knowledge of the world. When the house is unspecified, it
may have been built during one year. However, we know that it took several
years to build the temple, and we must therefore conclude that what is made
visible of the WAYYIQTOL in 1a is the beginning and the first part of event
time. Thus, we can establish that reference time intersects event time in
its first stages, and this is the imperfective aspect. A knowledge of the
world is an extralinguistic characteristic that is not a part of the clause
and its context. Therefore we can conclude that imperfectivity is a
characteristic of the verb itself.

Where reference time intersects event time in the first WAYYIQTOL of 2 
cannot be
established, but the second WAYYIQTOL is conative. This means that reference
time intersects event time in the preliminary stages of an action, or we may 
say that it occurs before the beginning of event time, because the attempt
is not carried out. This is also an imperfective perspective.

2. When Reuben heard (WAYYIQTOL) this, he tried to deliver (WAYYIQTOL) him
out of their hands. Genesis 37:21

There are many more examples similar to those above where we can see that 
WAYYIQTOL has imperfective characteristics, and on the basis of these I draw
the conclusion that all the other WAYYIQTOLs are imperfective as well. This
is also corroborated by all the data which show that YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL
have exactly the same nature.  Their syntactiv function is different,
because the conjunctions WAW (in the WAYYIQTOLs expressed as WAY-) is an
important syntactic tool, but their semantic meaning is similar.  So again, 
the conclusions regarding the meaning
of the conjugations are not based on conjectural logic, but on concrete data 
established on the basis of research.

> Harold (and others),
> While it might appear so, I think there is more in Rolf's theory than
> merely this. I have been working (among other things) at a theory of
> Hebrew verbal aspect over the last few years, and hope to have a grammar
> ready in the next couple of years.
> Rolf's point that Biblical Hebrew has no tense is one with which I
> strongly agree. The evidence strongly points in this direction. But this
> statement needs to be nuanced. Perhaps another way to put it is that the
> verbal conjugations do not speak so much about tense, but rather the
> reader's distance from the action. In other words, the verbs do not work
> on a temporal plain, but rather a spatial plain. Tense must be inferred
> secondarily from the spatial sphere. The way I describe it to my students
> is a bit like watching a play in a theatre. English verbs, which have
> tense, are like watching the play from your seat in the audience: you
> don't move, the action moves before you. Biblical Hebrew verbs, though,
> invite you to come onto the stage and watch the play from various vantage
> points.
> Thus, WAYYIQTOL verbs present an action which is viewed as being initially
> 'far' from the viewer/reader, but which invites the viewer/reader to come
> and look at it. In this way, narrative momentum is produced, and the
> viewer/reader moves with the action. A QATAL verb, though, halts such
> narrative momentum and presents an action up close. This is not because
> the action of the QATAL is close in time, but because the author wants the
> viewer/reader to see the action as critically important. A YIQTOL verb
> presents an action which is quite distant from the viewer/reader, such
> that the action is almost seen as filling out the background or the 'set'.
> A WEQATAL verb is merely an 'add on' verb form and sustains the focus
> wherever the viewer/reader is. Thus, the verb forms are like stage
> directions, telling the viewer/reader 'where' the actions are occuring on
> the literary 'stage', rather than 'when' the actions are occuring in time.
> The choice of verb forms has primarily to do with dramatic effect. After
> all, let's face it, Biblical Hebrew is great at telling a story or a poem.
> Timing is of secondary importance. For example, many times a YIQTOL is
> translated as a future tense, not because the future tense is intrinsic to
> it, but because the author wants the viewer/reader to see the future as
> 'far' from the current standpoint. On other occasions, a YIQTOL is
> translated as a continuous past tense because, again, the action is seen
> to be distant from the current standpoint. In any case, the author is
> trying to convey that the action conveyed by the YIQTOL, whether it be
> past, present, future, or a combination of these, should be seen as
> filling in the background or the 'set'. Thus, it's not that Hebrew verbs
> have no temporal connotations, but they are not intrinsic to the verb
> form.

Bryan`s model can be true, and your model can be true, but hardly both
models. They are both based on internal evidence and logic, but on the basis
of which data can we test them?  You speak of distance and a spatial
perspective, which in some languages are characteristics of verbs (see B. 
(1985). "Tense," chapter 4). But do we have texts in the Tanakh, on the
basis of which we can establish that distance is a characteristic of
particular conjugations?

> Having said that, some work needs to be done on the various stages of the
> development of Biblical Hebrew. At some stage, tense came into the Hebrew
> language. A diachronic analysis needs to be done to see how and when the
> language developed and gained a tense system.
> Best regards,
> Lecturer in Biblical Languages
> Southern Cross College
> Sydney, Australia
Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo 

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list