[b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Aug 6 11:05:43 EDT 2005

Dear Bryan,

See my comments below.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "B. M. Rocine" <brocine at twcny.rr.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Saturday, August 06, 2005 1:33 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] The translation of ehyeh

> 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?

We can never be be absolutely certain when we draw conclusions regarding a
dead language, because informants are lacking. However, I have said before
that the certainty of our conclusions is opposite in proportion to the
number of factors that we try to account for at the same time. To use the
word and its context and syntax as the unit is on one side of the scale, and
to try to account for the text above sentence level is at the other side of
the scale.
(More below).
> 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 sure that those who work with the model all the time try to refine it.
But the basic principles of the model are what I find problematic.
> 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)

Your words above can illustrate my concern about circularity. I have
followed the discussions of foreground and background, and regarding which
kinds of  verbs are supposed to occur in which clauses on this list
throughout eight years, and I am familiar with Niccacci`s writings, (e.g.,
seven of his works are quoted in my dissertation). In all this a see a great
measure of circularity. Above you speak about historical narratives in a
character`s text and in a narrator`s text. What I have seen, at least i many
discussions on this list, is that the types and sub-types of narrative and
discourse are fixed on the basis of the verbs that occur in them, on the
basis of which types of contexts such verbs are supposed to occur. And that
is circular reasoning.

I have two questions regarding your words above. Is it possible in every
case clearly to distinguish between historical narratives in a character`s
text and in a narrator`s text? If we leave out the verb forms/conjugations
from the description, actually what are the differences? How many examples
of clause initial QATALs do we have in what you call historical narratives
in a character`s text?
> 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?

I am not quite sure what you mean by the words "license to ignore verbal
semantics," particularly not because I strive hard to make a scrupulous
distinction between semantic meaning and conversational pragmatic
implicature. We may illustrate the differences between our approaches by our
translation of Isaiah

You wrote:

"First text segmenting:
52:13-15 are the words of YHWH that are +projection, expressing YHWH's
desire and predictions concerning His servant.  Accordingly, the yiqtol
verb form in both the clause-intial and clause-medial positions plays
heavily, particularly in main clauses.

53:1-6 Here Isaiah is addressing his audience intimately and 1st plural
forms run throughout.  The section is to answer the questions that it
starts with.  It is neither telling a story nor making a prediction.  It
is establishing the identity of the special man.  It is a type of text
that I refer to as expository discourse.  It defaults for the present in
tranlsation.  As is characteristic of expository discourse, this section
uses heavily noun sentences as well as qatal verbs that come in the
second position of their clauses (some grammarians consider a sentence
with a verb in the second positon to be be a noun sentence of a sort).
Even the yiqtol forms in v. 2 fit in this context.  They express the
modal concept of what "we could" or "we might" do.

53:7-11a  This is also Isaiah, but he has stepped back from his
audience.  There are no more references to "we."  He is taking the role
in this passage of commentator.  Again we have a lot of expository
material communicated, as is typical, with noun sentences, irrealis
clauses, and x-qatal clauses.  These all default for present tense in
expository discourse.  The yiqtols of vv. 10-11a finish the commentary
with predictive material."

We both agree that the setting of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the future coming of
the serwant of YHWH. This means that reference time comes after the deictic
center. In translation I convey this to the readers by using future tense.
However, whereas I translate 52 verbs with English future, you render the
same verbs in the following way in your translation:

Present: 24
Modal 14
Perfect 5
Past 2
Future 7

Why do you use all these different English tenses? Because of your model,
i.e., because you expect  particular Hebrew verbs occuring in a particular
word order to signal particular things. A contextual reliance would in most
cases cause a future translation (a modal translation may be an alternative,

Because of the basis for your translation of Isaiah 52, 53 I am afraid that
a translation based on DA may distort the message. When I generally choose
future tense, I would only distort the translation if the setting were past.
But your translation based on DA will in my view confuse the reader, because
s/he will not understand the temporal setting,which in English is so
important. To continue my suspicion regarding circularity, I quote the
following words from your comments above on 53:7-11a:

"Again we have a lot of expository
material communicated, as is typical, with noun sentences, irrealis
clauses, and x-qatal clauses.  These all default for present tense in
expository discourse.

Here is my basic objection to DA, namely, to connect tense with discourse
type. This has the hallmark of being circular. First, is there a clear
definition of "expository discourse"? The verses 53:7-11a are in the third
person singular. In my view this is a prediction of what will happen with
the servant in the future (seen from Isaiah`s vantage point). On which basis
can we exclude that the words constitute a simple prediction, thus having
future reference?  In my view this is the circularity:  A scheme has been
constructed with discourse types subsumed under the heading "Expository
discourse," and these are connected with present tense. Some of these types
occur in this context, and therefore we must translate verbs with present
tense even if the context is future. So, the translation is based on a
theoretical scheme  rather than on the context.

>> 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."

I agree with your love for footnotes. At the outset I did not want to
discuss what I believe are weaknesses in DA and its application to
translation. But Alberto asked about your model, and I felt that your
comments deserved some comments. I hope I have managed to do this in a
cordial way, even though I have been very frank in my comments.
> Shalom,
> Bryan
> -- 
> B. M. Rocine
> Living Word Chruch
> 6101 Court St. Rd.
> Syracuse, NY 13026
> (W): 315.437.6744

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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