[b-hebrew] Fwd: The translation of ehyeh

Alberto Arena semitics at gmail.com
Fri Aug 5 06:07:33 EDT 2005

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: B. M. Rocine <brocine at twcny.rr.com>
Date: 5-ago-2005 5.03
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh
To: Alberto Arena <semitics at gmail.com>

Hi Alberto,


Alberto Arena wrote:
> Dear Bryan,
> I am new to b-hebrew, anyway as I said you privately your work is
> worth of appreciation. I enjoyed your text-segmentation comments, but
> I can't grasp fully why do you think that initial yiqtol would have a
> *semantical* meaning different from dependent yiqtol. I suppose your
> idea depends on textual analysis you made. In your analysis of Psa
> 107, e.g., you affirm that the use of sequential yiqtols means
> volitive action, and so direct speech by YHWH. The same for Isa 52-53
> translation as you gave us on this list.

I am not sure what you mean by "sequential yiqtols."  In my posts about
Isaiah 52-53 and Psa 107, I tried to maintain a consistent
interpretation of clause-initial yiqtols as volitive.  I think there
were a couple of exceptions.

> Of course I agree that yiqtol can be used as volitive and/or modal.
> But the idea that position of a verb form is critical to understand
> its meaning is not fully convincent. I believe your model is
> esentially based more on pragmatics than on semantics. Anyway, can you
> give us more details? Thanks in advance

The idea that syntax can impact how to read a verb feels new to many
people because they have not been thoroughly trained in this way, but it
is indeed basic to reading Hebrew.

Every beginning student of Hebrew is introduced to the significance of
word order. We perfectly well understand and have been trained to
appreciate the difference between an X-Qatal clause (which has the qatal
verb in the second position within its clause) and a weqatal clause (in
which the qatal is clause-initial).  We translate ve'abraham yashav as
"but Abraham sat" and veyashab 'abraham as "and Abraham will sit."  What
is the difference that gives us "sat" and "will sit"?   Really only word
order.  By the way, do you realize that in narrator's text in Hebrew
prose (narrator's text is all the text that is not direct speech), qatal
(without a vav, ie. not weqatal) essentially _never_ appears as a first
word in a clause?  Interesting!  In direct speech the situation is a
little different.  A qatal may be the first word in the first clause of
a speech.  After that qatal will not genrally appear as a first word in
a clause.  I bore you with these details to demonstrate to you how
constrained and significant BH syntax is.

BH has a paucity of words for modal concepts like we express in English
with _would, should, may, might, could, ought, will, shall, want_  But
we cannot expect that native speakers of BH could not express such
concepts.  I believe that one of the ways the language makes up for the
lack of modal words is by manipulating word order.

In my model, basically a discourse analytical model based on Niccacci
and many other linguists, there are a number of discourse genres, each
of which accomplishes a particular "universal language task."  For
instance, people need to tell stories, tell other people how to do
things, explain how they feel, expose the truth, make predictions,
command others in any culture and language.  A different discourse genre
evolves to accomplish each of these universal language tasks.  BH is no

This model has import for the study of syntax and verbal semantics.  An
interesting pattern emerges of we study the distribution of clause types
in BH.  Most of the BH genres have a mainline of communication that
utilizes a verb-first clause type.  Historical narrative discourse uses
the wayyiqtol; Predictive narrative uses the weqatal; Hortatory
discourse uses clause-initial forms based on the yiqtol like the
imperative, jussive, and cohortative, to name a few.

I am over-simplifying the model because I am really trying only to give
you an idea of how the place of a verb in its clause can impact how to
read that verb.  You wonder if my view of the verbal semantics is
misnamed because it is, after all, pragmatics.  Yes and no.  I do not
believe we can separate verbal semantics, syntax, and pragmatics when it
comes to comprehending BH.

I never really set out to learn(or teach) Hebrew.  Learnign Hebrew is
only a means to an end.  What I really like to learn (and teach) is how
to better comprehend the Hebrew Bible.

Hoping to help,

> Regards,
> Alberto Arena
> The construction of Exo 3:14a is not unique in BH.
> 2005/8/4, B. M. Rocine <brocine at twcny.rr.com>:
>>Hi Harold,
>>Harold R. Holmyard III wrote:
>>Alviero Niccacci wrote:
>>>>Exod. 3:14a should then be translated: "I will be [first-place, volitive
>>>>yiqtol: I promise I will be, i.e. for you] what I was [yiqtol for habitual
>>>>past, i.e. or your Fathers]."
>>>HH: To me this is odd translation, taking the same verb and giving it
>>>two different interpretations within three words.
>>You are seeing the neatness of the Niccacci model.  To him, the type of
>>clause and the position within the clause are critical to understanding
>>the meaning of a verb form.  It would be great, if you would want to
>>learn more about Niccacci to read his "A Neglected Point of Hebrew
>>Syntax: _yiqtol_ and position in the sentence." Liber Anus (1987)
>>39:310-327.  It may be available on the net.
>>In summary, a yiqtol in first position (the first ehyeh) is volitional,
>>but yiqtol in a dependent clause (the second ehyeh) expresses future or
>>habitual past.
>>I have studied all the weyiqtols in the Tanakh as a means of testing
>>Niccacci's claims about clause-initial yiqtols and found them to be 98%
>>volitional or ambiguous (IOW only 2% clear counter-examples).

B. M. Rocine
Living Word Chruch
6101 Court St. Rd.
Syracuse, NY 13026
(W): 315.437.6744

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