[b-hebrew] tenses; frequency

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Aug 10 01:39:15 EDT 2005

Dear Peter

A very good example of my claim that when you start with four (presume 
four), you end up
with four, is the study of W. Th van Peursen (2004) "The Verbal system of 
the Hebrew Text of Ben Sira".  On p. 7 he writes:

In the French edition Joüon had already indicated the importance of viewing 
the Hebrew conjugations together as a system. This means that 'the value of 
a verbal form is brought out by its contrast with the other forms. In 
Hebrew, as in any other language, verbal forms limit each other reciprocally'. 
Once we have acknowledged that the conjugations, like any other element of 
the language, are interrelated terms of a system, we should not search for 
the meaning of, for example, the perfect, but ask ourselves what in a given 
context where we find a perf. the meaning of the impf. or the ptcp. would 
be. (Italics his.)

The words above close the case: There are four conjugations! A view which in 
principle is similar is seen in the discourse analysis of Niccacci. He even 
presumes there are five different conjugations (WEQATAL being an independent 
conjugation). Further he claims that the combination of each of the five 
conjugations and the word order of a clause signals a particular meaning. 
Thus, the interpretation of the verbs in the clauses is basically based on 
theory, and that is the reason why I speak of circularity in connection with 
this method.  And again, the case is closed: classical Hebrew has five 

When I started my studies of Hebrew I already had a background in the
natural sciences, and I was well versed in the principles of the philosophy
of science. Therefore, I did not just accept what my professors told me, but
I asked questions. Very soon I realized that the grammars were not able to
account for all the peculiarities of the Hebrew text, and I continued to ask
questions. Particularly was I sceptical to the claim that an element which 
seemed to be the conjunction WAW could turn the meaning of a verb form to 
the very opposite, because a parallel to this is lacking in any other 
language, including the Semitic ones.

The mentioned scepticism was one reason why I started the work with the 
dissertation, and the working hypothesis was that the traditional view is 
wrong. However, to have a working hypothesis does not close the case. To the 
contrary, a working hypothesis should be modified or even changed on the 
basis of data. My study has been and is strongly data-driven, because the 
basic part of it is the analysis of "all" the verbs of classical Hebrew as 
to their temporal reference and modality, and to a great extent as to their 
syntactical role (which forms occur before and after ech vereb, word order 
etc). The greatest part of the ten years used for the study was devoted to 
the mentioned verb analysis, which naturally is very time consuming. When I 
started, I did not know the final result. But my conclusion today is that 
the data strongly argue in favor of two conjugations.

Any researcher will be influenced by his or her beliefs, philosophy, and 
biases,  A balanced scholar tries to curtail these as much as possible, but 
objective research is non-existent. However, to be sceptical to traditional 
explanations and to use a working hypothesis indicating that they probably 
are wrong does not close the case in favor of two conjugations. This is so 
because the existence of just two conjugations are not used as an axiom.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
To: "Rolf Furuli" <furuli at online.no>
Cc: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Tuesday, August 09, 2005 10:46 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] tenses; frequency

> On 09/08/2005 21:41, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>>... 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.
> Indeed, Rolf. And this is a question which you have never answered
> unambiguously concerning your own research. Do you assume any particular
> number of conjugations? Did you begin by assuming or preferring any
> particular number of them? If so, even if you formally abandoned such a
> presupposition, did you retain any prejudice which might have caused you
> to prefer an analysis which in fact corresponds with a previous
> preference?
> -- 
> Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

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