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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Aug 9 13:32:14 EDT 2005

On 09/08/2005 14:39, Ken Penner wrote:

>It might be helpful to determine whether the term "deictic centre" is 
>being used in a consistent way in the discussion here.


>It seems to me that Peter is calling "deictic centre" what Rolf calls 
>the "reference point" or "reference time".
>In my understanding, the deictic centre is normally at speech time, but 
>can occasionally be moved, as sometimes happens in letter writing: "I 
>have attached a document to this letter" or "I will attach a document to 
>this letter" have different deictic centres, one at the time of writing, 
>and one at the time of reading. Here I think Rolf is using the term in 
>its usual meaning.

Well, I was using "deictic centre" in the sense that Vadim was using it, 
in response to his "a speaker who is mentally transposed into the past 
events, changes his deictic center from the present to that past. ... 
Theoretically, a person could be similarly transposed in the future 
events, and employ past tense when emphatically relating about the 
future from his futuristic deictic center". And it seems to me that that 
was the same as the usual meaning which you describe above, i.e. that 
the speaker is imagining himself or herself into a particular time which 
may not actually be the time of writing.

But would something like Ezekiel's account of his vision normally be 
analysed in terms of a displaced deictic centre? After all he is 
(presumably) describing what he has seen in the past, relative to when 
he writes, although it is interpreted as referring to future events. Or 
perhaps this is just a simple past, since he saw something in the past, 
even though that something will not in fact exist until the future. 
Interestingly, from a brief glance through Ezekiel 40-48 I cannot find a 
WAYYIQTOL used for an actual event which Ezekiel saw, only for his 
seeing and moving and what his guide said to him - one of the few actual 
events in these chapters, 43:4, is described with a form BA' which is I 
think ambiguous between QATAL and a participle. If we take this as a 
participle as the same word in 43:2, Ezekiel's whole vision is of 
something static around which he and his guide move, and there are no 
future events described with past tenses.

Are there actually passages in the Hebrew Bible in which an 
unambiguously future set of events is presented as an extended narrative 
using WAYYIQTOL forms? There are some WAYYIQTOLs in Ezekiel 37:7,8,10 
which is explicitly explained as a prophecy of the future, but in an 
interesting mixture with WEQATALs suggesting that this is not simple 
narrative displaced into the future.

>When speaking of relative tense, though, we are speaking of the 
>relationship between a *reference time* and the time of the event.
>It seems to me that Rolf calls any relationship between the reference 
>time and the event time "aspect", and any relationship between the 
>deictic centre (the time of the communication, which is normally the 
>speech time) and the time of the event "tense". (Please correct me if I 
>have misunderstood you.) Marion Johnson's work supports Rolf's usage 
>here, but it has not yet become standard.

My usage of "relative tense" may not have been standard, I agree. I was 
referring to the relationship between the event time and the deictic 
centre. Perhaps this is just regular absolute tense from Rolf's viewpoint.

>So Rolf has no need of the labels "absolute tense" and "relative tense"; 
>these are simply "tense" and "aspect", respectively. Now, of course, 
>there are different kinds of relationships between the event and the 
>reference time (e.g. inclusion, precedence), so there would be 
>correspondingly different kinds of aspects.

Understood. And this helps me to understand what Rolf is saying. I would 
suggest that at least some Hebrew verb forms can be described as 
relative tenses, which I would consider to be a sub-category of tenses. 
But if Rolf's terminology, rather than his analysis, requires him to 
call the same entities "aspects", his terminology also requires him to 
deny that they are tenses of any kind. So perhaps part of our 
disagreement is purely terminological - although I don't think this is 

>Have I captured your views accurately?

I hope you have now, with these clarifications.

Peter Kirk
peter at qaya.org (personal)
peterkirk at qaya.org (work)

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