[b-hebrew] tenses; frequency

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Aug 9 16:41:06 EDT 2005

Dear Vadim,

After looking at hundreds of swans, one may develop the hypothesis that all swans are white. If the person travels around the world and looks at hundreds of thousands of swans and all are white, has the hypothesis been proven? Not at all! Hundreds of thousands of confirmatory examples do not prove anything, but one black swan who has not been dyed or has been through a fire will falsify the hypothesis. This is the consequence of what is called "the problem of induction".

The lesson to learn is that in a research material there is som bias, i.e. we cannot just rely on statistics, but we must ask if there are factors that influence the results we get.  For example, it is believed that the WAYYIQTOL tend to use the short form of the verb and the YIQTOL the long form. Yet, 73% of all WAYYIQTOLs are long. Where is the bias? Because of morphology and phonological factors most of these 73% simply cannot be shortened. So, a study of all WAYYIQTOLs shows that the short form is used by WAYYIQTOLs in most cases where it can be used but not in all such cases.

An assymetry in a material must be researched, but we cannot at the outset draw any conclusions on the basis of a particular assymetry. In connection with the classical Hebrew verbs, a very important question to study in order to find any bias is the syntactic role of the conjunction WAW.  Can the functions and nature of WAW  alone explain the WAY- of WAYYIQTOL or the WE- of WEQATAL. And a very important methodological question is this: Is an assumption behind my research that Hebrew has a particular number of conjugations, four, three, or two? For example, If we use the axiom that Hebrew has four conjugations, then we end up with four. In addition to looking for prejudice in the material, we need to be conscious of our own prejudices. I would say that to come to grips with Hebrew verbs, it is necessary to start without any assumptions as to the numbers of conjugations in Hebrew.  I would also say that one needs to study all, or most of the verbs of classical Hebrew to have the right foundation to draw conclusions. 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Vadim Cherny 
  To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org 
  Cc: Peter Kirk ; furuli at online.no 
  Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2005 8:09 PM
  Subject: tenses; frequency

  Possibly, a significant argument in favor of tenses is that the exceptions are asymmetrical. There are few cases of past tense employed for the future reference, while much more - of the future tense employed for the past reference. I don't have the statistics, but, Rolf, correct me if necessary.

  If there were no tenses, but only aspects, we would expect about the same number of exceptions on each side: qatal/wayiqtol for the future, and weqatal/yiqtol for the past.

  If the exceptions are indeed asymmetrical in the way I described, then it is due to the emphatic shift of the reference point back in the time - people re-live past, not future events. Forward shift of the reference point (yiqtol for the past) would mostly occur in visions, and so be very rare.

  Vadim Cherny

  Best regards

  Rolf Furuli
  University of Oslo

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