[b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

B. M. Rocine brocine at twcny.rr.com
Sat Aug 6 08:33:02 EDT 2005

Hi Rolf,

You wrote,

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.

Might not we all?

I don't know what Weinrich means by "unassailable."  Any model of BH may 
make particular claims that are unfalsifiable because we lack 
counter-examples, having a finite corpus and no native producers of the 
language.  However, in general, discouse analysis is as falsifiable as 
other models.  Counter-examples to a model must be explained and given 
their due weight in modifying the model.  The model is, after all, data 
driven.  The DA model is falsifiable enough that issues of word order, 
emphasis, paraphrase, back-looping, text-segmentation, etc. have already 
been discarded and/or modified during the last thirty-five years.

I am not just trying to dismiss you.  I know you have valid concerns.  I 
think the concern is best stated in this perspective:  DA ventures into 
the realm of chunks of text larger than the sentence, i.e. paragraph, 
speech, discourse, letter, story, etc.  In so doing it is analyzing 
conventions, _not rules_; something more like art than math.  IOW, there 
is more license in a writer/speaker's choices.  Still, however, the same 
as we can identify that a craft like a pot is _not_ Egyptian or _not_ 
Assyrian, we can reliably identify the conventions of BH communication 
through both positives _and_ negatives.  (e.g. Positive: _historical 
narratives in a character's text_ always begin with clause-initial 
qatal; negative: _historical narratives in narrator's text_ do not use 
clause-initial qatal)

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).

   "Eschew"--that's about right.  Discourse analysis is primarily a 
study of human behavior, so _function_ has the attention rather than 
verbal semantics.  However, we would think semantics would be a "help 
meet" for function, and some linguists have examined this relationship. 
  Eskhult, Hatav, DeCaen come to mind.  I do a little of the matchmaking 
in my book, too:  _Learning Biblical Hebrew: a New Approach Using 
Discourse Analysis_ (second--corrected!-- printing due out this fall).

Haven't your own claims about the verbal semantics of BH given us 
license to ignore verbal semantics when we read Hebrew?

> 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.
I accept the call for conservatism in translation.  I like Robert
Alter's diatribe against the "heresy of explanation."  If I was
tranlsating the HB for the masses, I would not tranlsate ehyeh 'asher
ehyeh, and in a loooong footnote I would include a synopsis of the
erudite comments of the esteemed b-hebrew mailing list!  ;-)  All 
translations should have lots of footnotes.  Lots of the footnotes 
should read "or, "....""  Others should read, "meaning of Hebrew uncertain."


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

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