[b-hebrew] Basic observations on WAYYIQTOL

Dave Washburn dwashbur at nyx.net
Wed Aug 17 11:44:17 EDT 2005

On Wednesday 17 August 2005 05:05, Peter Kirk wrote:
> On 17/08/2005 05:54, Dave Washburn wrote:
> > ...
> >
> >>No need to go anywhere unfamiliar. Look at your sentence "Not sure I
> >>follow you here". As you admit, that would not be considered a
> >>grammatical sentence in isolation, but in the context of this
> >>interchange it is entirely acceptable.
> >
> >That's somewhat debatable, of course; it's quite possible that some
> > readers might have been put off, and it's also possible that some readers
> > for whom American (I often have trouble calling it English :-) isn't a
> > first language might have had difficulty understanding it because of the
> > grammatical anomalies in it.  Now, just between you and me, it might be
> > "acceptable" but in the broader sense of language, I would argue that
> > this doesn't necessarily make it "grammatical."
> Well, if you prefer that narrower definition of "grammatical", I would
> suggest that there are utterances in the Hebrew Bible, especially in
> conversation, which are not "grammatical" in this sense. We can't be
> sure which they are because we don't know the precise rules. But there
> are sentences which appear to break the normal rules e.g. by omitting
> implicit verbs, subjects etc. We were looking at Genesis 18, and there
> is an example there, in v.9, a sentence which is simply HINNEH BA'OHEL -
> no subject, no verb, just the kind of abbreviated form typical of an
> answer in conversation. Is this sentence "grammatical"? Not in isolation
> at least. But there it is in the Bible, in the first place I looked. And
> this is precisely the kind of abbreviated conversational language which
> I had in mind. Note that Abraham is speaking to strangers, so he can't
> be using an idiolect or breaking general linguistic conventions.

As we know, Hebrew allowed a whole range of verbless clauses that would be 
utterly foreign to English.  In addition, the behavior of HINNEH could fill 
several books by itself.  So I'm not sure this is a real example of an 
"abbreviated form" within the context of the ancient Hebrew dialect.  Compare 
the oft-seen response when someone is called to, HINNENI.  Considering the 
extensive use of verbless clauses and the generally verbless behavior of 
HINNEH, I doubt that this clause is ungrammatical, even in isolation.

> Well, I see your point, but I would see imposition of linguistic
> uniformity as a graver danger to society, because it breeds great
> resentment.

I would think that the source of the "imposition" would determine whether it 
does or not; does it come from self-appointed authorities like the 
prescriptive grammarians, or does it just more or less happen by common 
consent because the group knows, instinctively or otherwise, that it breeds 
better communication?  The latter is the sort of sociological convention that 
I refer to (oops, excuse me; I meant "to which I refer" ;-)

> >>>>More importantly, I also deny
> >>>>that they can be formalised. For one thing, they are very much
> >>>> dependent on the specific speaker and the specific audience. Private
> >>>> conversations between family members and close friends are often very
> >>>> far from following the linguistic conventions which would be needed
> >>>> for a public speech or lecture, or even for a conversation in a TV
> >>>> chat show which must be understood by the audience. For the people
> >>>> conversing privately can appeal to all kinds of shared understandings,
> >>>> and so can take all kinds of shortcuts.
> >>>
> >>>There are idiolects, sure. ...
> >>
> >>I didn't mean idiolects of this kind, although they are perhaps
> >>examples, but the way in which so much intimate conversation is highly
> >>abbreviated, often carried on with one word sentences and grunts like
> >>"m-mm".
> >
> >There are always subcultural dialects.  The famous Shibboleth story is a
> > BH example.  But once again, I think we have gotten fairly far afield of
> > Hebrew, unless we can come up with some reasonably certain examples of
> > the sort of thing you're describing within the corpus of the Hebrew
> > Bible.
> See the example above. Abraham's reply is not a grunt, but it is not a
> fully formed sentence either.

In English, I agree that it borders on a grunt.  But as noted, in the context 
of Hebrew verbless clauses and the common behavior of HINNEH, I'm not 
convinced of this.

Dave Washburn
"Well, if I'd wanted a safe life, I guess I wouldn't have 
married a man who studies rocks." - Betty Armstrong (Fay Masterson)

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