[b-hebrew] Tenses and aspects; was: footnotes

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Aug 8 05:18:52 EDT 2005

Dear Vadim,

I shall not comment your words about translation, but would like to say a
few words about tense and aspect.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Vadim Cherny" <VadimCherny at mail.ru>
To: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>; <furuli at online.no>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Monday, August 08, 2005 7:58 AM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Tenses and aspects; was: footnotes


> Exegetical needs sometimes give rise to grammatical superstitions like the
> ludicrous idea that Hebrew lacked tenses. See how many advocates of that
> bizarre assumption are around, even though there is not a single language
> around--nor could there be for obvious semantical reasons--that lack
> tenses.
> Chinese, for example, has tenses in adverbial format, but since there is
> no
> comparable constructs in Hebrew, Rolf et al want us to believe that
> Hebrews
> did not distinguish between past and future. Thus, exegetical needs
> produce
> not only the garbled grammar, but garbled philosophy.

It seems that we use the word "tense" in different ways. I use Comrie`s 
of tense: "tense is the grammaticalization of location in time". This means
that tense is an intrinsic part of the verb form and is independent of the
context. A term covering a broader area is "temporal reference". When I say
that a verb has past reference, I do not say whether this is due to an
intrinsic property of the verb itself or whether it is constured on the
basis of the context. But when I say that a verb has past tense, I say that
this is an intrinsic (grammaticalized) part of the verb itself.

Your example with Chinese suggests that when you use "tense," you use he
word the way I use "temporal reference".  Chinese does not have tenses, but
the temporal references of the clauses can be construed on the basis of
particular factors.  The same is true with Burmese. (See B. Comrie (1985) 
"Tense" p. 50).
 I have never said that
the writers of classical Hebrew did not care about the temporal reference of
events and states.  To the contrary, I have stressed that time played an
important role for them. My point. however, is and has been that the context
(including adverbials) was used to signal the temporal references.
> Regarding the tenses and aspects, I posted a question before, and here
> repeat the challenge: let anyone offer a single example (ok, besides
> perhaps
> a few grammatical errors) of a verb which is meaningless in its tense and
> is
> only meaningful if it has aspect. Something like "yesterday he will say."
> I
> contend there are no such entries in Tanakh, and all the thousand entries
> that Rolf collected for aspects that are clearly not tenses, are clear
> only
> in the light of his preconceptions.

I think you misunderstand the nature of aspect and temporal reference; the
situation is not "either this or that" but "both this and that". I would say
that the context tells the readers whether an event occurs before the
deictic center (past reference) or after it (future reference), and the
conjugations (the aspects YIQTOL, QATAL ...) make visible a part of and the 
quality of the verbal action
that  the context has fixed as past or future. So your challenge does not
work, becuse its premise is that there is something called tense in Hebrew, 
and tense and aspect are mutually exclusive properties.

However, the role of the context as fixing the temporal reference is seen in 
the examples below, all the verbs being verbs of speech.

The reason for the past reference of the YIQTOL in 1) and the YIQTOL  in 2) 
is that a conjunction and a relative particle precede them respectively. 
The past reference is clear on the basis of the context. There can be no 
doubt that the first YIQTOL of 3) has past reference, and the second has 
future reference even though the conjugation is the same. This is fixed by 
the context. The first YIQTOL is preceded by a relative particle, and the 
second is sentence initial. The second YIQTOL is an example of a sentence 
initial YIQTOL that is not modal. I have not tried to make the aspects 
visible for the English reader, only the temporal references of the verbs.

1) "And he spoke (WAYYIQTOL) to her.: `Because I spoke (YIQTOL) to Naboth 
the Jezreelite and said (WAYYIQTOL)  to him...`" 1 Kings 21:6

2) "And Zebul said (WAYYIQTOL) to him:`Where is your big talk now, you who 
said (YIQTOL)..." Judg 9:38

3) "In the place where it was said (YIQTOL) to them, `You are not my 
people,` it will be said (YIQTOL) to them, `The sons of the living God`" 
Hosea 1:9 (10).

> Vadim Cherny
Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo 

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