[b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Aug 6 03:33:21 EDT 2005

Dear Bryan and Alberto et al.,

Since the approaches of Bryan/Alviero Niccacci and myself are so different,
and since they can cause very different translations (e.g.. Isaiah 52, 53),
I find it pertinent to make some comments.

Text-linguistics or discourse analysis has been taught and studied at the
University of Oslo for many years. By varying word order and by the use of
different devices, the author implies whether he gives new information or
whether the information already is known. The author may also use the word
order for the purpose of emphasizing or to signal a particular perspective.
clause can be analyzed grammatically (subject, perdicate, object),
semantically (agent, patient), and by the use of discourse analysis
(theme/topic/, rheme/comment/) All three forms of analysis are important,
and in a study of a text they complement each other. When a text is to be
translated between modern languages, the temporal references, moods, and
aspects of the verbs of the clauses are studied, and discourse analysis is
not an alternative to such analyses, but it is a complement.

In 1964 (1970) Harald Weinrich published his book "Tempus: Besprochende und
Erzählte Welt," and this book turned the situation upside down. He suggested
that discourse forms (narrative and discourse) were the important factors
and not the tenses and aspects of the verbs. Thus, discourse analysis now
became an alternative to other kinds of analysis and not just a complement.
Alviero Niccacci (1990) "The syntax of the Verb in Classical Hebrew Prose,"
Wolfgang Schneider (1982, 1993) "Grammatik des biblischen Hebräisch," and
Bryan Rocine (please give us the bibliography, Bryan) have published
grammars based on Weinrich`s model.

When I wrote my mag. art. thesis (completed 1995), I considered Weinrich`s
model and its application by Schneider and Niccacci on Hebrew, and I found
serious problems with the model. The basic problem is circularity. Weinrich
(1970:41) admits that his model is "unassailable," i.e., it cannot be
tested. This means that when we assign particular values, such as modality,
to particular discourse genres (e.g. sentence initial YIQTOLs signal
volition), we *may* force ideas upon the text that never have been there.
This has great consequences for translation, and there is no way to test
whether the values ascribed to particular discourse genres are correct and
whether they always can be applied. I would say that discourse analysis is a
valuable supplement to the analysis of the aspect and mood of Hebrew verbs,
but I endorse the criticism of J.A. Cook of those who use it as their
principal tool: "They either eschew the semantic component or downplay its
contribution to the function of verb forms." ("The Biblical Hebrew Verbal
System, a Grammaticalization Approach" Ph.D. diss. 2002:275).

While I know Bryan has a great knowledge of Hebrew, I disagree with his
model. I am particularly concerned with its consequences for Bible
translation. Already the modern idiomatic translation model, where Relevance
theory and natural language play the principal roles, often adds information
in the TL that is not in the SL, and often deletes information in the TL
that is in the SL (the reasons are the basic differences between Hebrew and
English and the theological views of the translators). In addition to this,
if discourse analysis with all its subjective (untestable) assessments
should be used as the primary tool for the understanding of the SL, I am
afraid that the message in the TL can be even more different from the SL.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "B. M. Rocine" <brocine at twcny.rr.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Friday, August 05, 2005 11:12 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

> 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
> different.
> 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,
> Bryan
>> Regards,
>> Alberto Arena

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