[b-hebrew] Basic observations on WAYYIQTOL

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Aug 16 06:35:35 EDT 2005

On 16/08/2005 08:48, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>Dear Peter,
>I do not want to participate in any discussion with you, not because I have 
>nagative feelings against you personally, or because I doubt your
>capacity or your knowledge, but simply because we live in two completely
>different worlds as far as linguistics and linguistic theory are concerned.
>I will illustrate the situation with the following German example (I do
>not know a similar English example). Someone says,  "Heute ist
>strahlendes Wetter." How would people interpret this clause? It is an
>statement indicating that the weather is excellent, probably with the sun
>shining from a blue sky. One
>person could say, "I think it means that it is raining." Why? "Because the
>one who uttered the statement could view each raindrop as a "Wasserstrahl"
>(a squirt or jet of water).
>This interpretation is not completely impossible, but it is extremely forced
>and unnatural.

I would agree that this statement (or at least its English equivalent) 
could mean that it is raining - not because of any kind of forced 
interpretation at the word level, but because the statement may be 
entirely ironic.

>When I discuss matters with someone, I accept criticisms and
>counterarguments, and even encourage such, but I expect a minimum level of
>agreement regarding the
>basics of linguistics and linguistic imterpretation. In many cases I have
>not found that with you, but you have often used arguments of the
>"Wasserstrahl" type, ...

No, Rolf. I would never argue in this kind of way based on etymology of 
a word to overthrow the clear meaning of a sentence. For I don't hold 
that meaning is intrinsically at the word level, as you seem to. But 
what I would argue is that the normal semantic meaning of a sentence can 
be entirely cancelled and reversed, perhaps because the sentence is 
being used in irony or some other figure of speech, or perhaps because 
such an unusual use has become conventional. And example of the latter 
which we have seen recently is the Russian "poshli", literally the past 
tense of the verb "go", as a command to go immediately.

If you want to cut yourself off from the world as a whole by refusing to 
discuss your theories with anyone who does not accept your minority 
theory of "the basics of linguistics and linguistic imterpretation", 
that is your prerogative, but you don't stand much chance of getting 
your theories accepted by the majority.

>... and therefore I see absolutely no purpose of 
>in any discussion with you. But I am very surprised that you do not
>realize that you are not able to present my viewpoints correctly to this
>forum as long as you have not read my dissertation. That is the reason why I
>compelled to write this post, because I see the need to correct some of your

I am basing my descriptions of your viewpoint on what you have written 
to this list repeatedly over the last eight years. If your dissertation 
is in fact inconsistent with what you have written here, that is your 
problem. But I accept that I may not have been entirely fair in 
representing what you have written on this list, and that is why I wrote 
at the end "Dave, Rolf and Yitzhak, I hope I have been fair to you here" 
and welcome your comments.

>3) For some scholars, such as Rolf and Dave as I understand their wordk,
>this rather small number of exceptions is a problem. For they hold to
>theoretical models according to which exceptions to semantic rules are
>not possible. So, they are forced either to look for more and more
>intricate modifications to the rules to fit all of the data, or else, as
>Rolf has almost done, they end up denying that there are any semantic
>distinctions between Hebrew verb forms, and claiming that everything is
>1) You have completely missed the point! It is not true that " a rather
>small number of exceptions is a problem". In my work, all the verbs (save a
>few with textual problems and a few missed ones) of classical Hebrew have
>been analyzed. And the conclusions drawn from this analysis has to do with
>80,000 verbs, and not with a small number of exceptions.

I know, and you know that I know. But my point here is dealt with below.

>2) It is not true that my study has been based on "theoretical models
>according to which exceptions to semantic rules are not possible". For
>example, as far
>tense is concerned, I have used the same principle as many other scholars. ...

You have repeatedly stated that semantic meanings are uncancellable, and 
have held so firmly to this minority linguistic dogma that you have 
refused even to participate in discussions with those like myself who do 
not accept this dogma - which is the most basic difference between us. 
This dogma clearly implies that exceptions (barring textual corruption) 
are impossible. I don't think you have even allowed yourself the "bad 
grammar" get-out which Dave has claimed.

>3) It is not true that exceptions to semantic meaning cannot be accepted. ...

You now agree that semantic meaning can be cancelled in specific 
contexts? I am glad to hear you say this, but it contradicts what you 
have written many times on this list.

>... However, I do not accept a situation where hundreds of examples militate
>against a theory, and where these examples are brushed aside by saying: "We
>must accept exceptions." I accept exceptions when they can be explained as
>special cases. ...

So, what kinds of explanations are acceptable? Only modifications to the 
semantic rules? In that case you are not really accepting that the rules 
are cancellable, but only that you didn't know the rules perfectly the 
first time. Or are you accepting that semantic rules are cancellable by 
the context?

>4) I have never denied, and will never deny that "there are semantic
>distinctions between between Hebrew verb forms," and I have never claimed
>that "everything is pragmatic".  To the contrary, I argue that there is a
>semantic distinction
>between the perfective and the imperfective aspect. However, I also argue
>that in many contexts this semantic distinction is not made visible (e.g. in
>stative situations) for the audience. Because the requirement of precision
>is not high in all situations both aspects can be used without any
>discernable difference in meaning. In other context the semantic distinction
>is important.

I carefully wrote "as Rolf has ALMOST done". I accept that you hold to a 
distinction between what you call "the perfective and the imperfective 
aspect" - although your definitions of these are entirely different from 
those standard among linguists (in other words you are being like Humpty 
Dumpty here) and quite frankly, from the descriptions I have seen on 
this list, incomprehensible. But you deny a semantic distinction between 
WAYYIQTOL and (long) YIQTOL, which I and most scholars consider to be 
the most basic semantic distinction in the Hebrew verb system, with 
WAYYIQTOL as prototypically perfective and YIQTOL as prototypically 

>>4) For others, such as Yitzhak and myself (although for rather different
>>reasons) and probably in practice the majority of scholars, it is to be
>>expected that even the best semantic rules will have some exceptions.
>>For language is intrinsically dynamic and variable, and anyway the texts
>>we have are not pure. We are not making any strong claims for the
>>meaning of WAYYIQTOL which can be falsified by a few counter-examples,
>>we are only outlining general meanings of verb forms which may be
>>cancelled in specific contexts. The precise meaning in each case is
>>determined not only by the verb form but by how it works in the context.
>If paragraph 4) relates to me, you are again turning the situation upside
>down. ...

No, it does not, it relates to "others" and so excludes those named in 
my paragraph 3).

>... A main point of my disseratation is excellently expressed by your
>last clause: "The precise meaning in each case is determined not only by the
>verb form but by how it works in the context." That is the reason why I
>point out hundreds of examples where QATALs signal exactly the same meaning
>as YIQTOLs, and that is the reason why I point out scores of examples (there
>are literally hundreds) where only one of the aspects can be used to express
>a particular thought.

I am glad to hear that you agree with me on this.

>As I said above, I agree with your statement that "the best semantic rules
>will have some exceptions". But that does not invalidate the distinction
>between semantics and pragmatics. Most linguists accept that there is a
>distinction between Semantics and pragmatics, but how they will apply this
>principle on the verbal system of a dead language will of course vary.
>I view your statement in the past that my dissertation is valuless as
>amusing rather than insulting, because everybody will understand the quality
>of such a statement when it is made by one who has not read the source. But
>I hope that you in the future will refrain from presenting my viewpoints to
>others as long as you have not read the source.
I have presented your viewpoints as presented in this forum. You may 
indeed have written in your dissertation such things as "the best 
semantic rules will have some exceptions". If so, there might be some 
value in that dissertation. But on this forum, and even in discussing 
your dissertation work, you have many times specifically denied this 
statement, stating that semantic rules are uncancellable.

Are there two different Rolfs, one who is a member of this forum who 
insists on dogma like the uncancellablity of semantic rules, and another 
who has written a dissertation on a completely different theoretical basis?

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

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