[b-hebrew] tenses; frequency

Vadim Cherny VadimCherny at mail.ru
Wed Aug 10 14:11:58 EDT 2005

> 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!

On the contrary, yes. This is how natural sciences operate; your reasoning
holds for mathematics.

> 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.

I doubt this result very much, but that is another issue. Quite simply,
semi-diphthong wa draws stress to itself (just like in French endings), and
the reduced stress at the end of verbs blurs soft sounds, thus short form.
At the beginning of phrase, a common place for wayiqtol, intonational accent
is strong, and reduction at the word-end is insignificant, thus preserving
the full verb. Kind of simpler explanation.

> An assymetry in a material must be researched, but we cannot at the outset
draw any conclusions on the basis of a particular assymetry.

Why is that? If a hypothesis in natural science makes a prediction, and if
that prediction holds true, this strengthen the hypothesis. In natural
sciences, no hypothesis could be formally proved, just substantiated.

> 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

Yes, they can! Yiqtol's prefixes already have schwa, and adding waw with
another schwa, according to the standard rule of two schwas at the
word-beginning, makes the first schwa hirek or, in this case, patah! Rolf,
you are inventing the problems out of thin air.

> 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.

Scholars posit hypotheses, see if they explain the available data, and
explain reasonably simply, and if they explain - the hypotheses are

Vadim Cherny

  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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