[b-hebrew] Basic observations on WAYYIQTOL]

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Thu Aug 18 12:25:54 EDT 2005

On 18/08/2005 16:34, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>[quoting James]
>  What is your view on the sequentiality of wayyiqtols? Is sequentiality the uncancellable
>  semantic meaning of wayyiqtols or is this a pragamtic feature which is best left to context?
>  RF:
>  The sequentiality of WAYYIQTOLs illustrates in an excellent way the fallacy of stressing quantity rather than quality, or in other words, to fail to distinguish between semantics and pragmatics. ...

I can accept what you have written here, that WAYYIQTOL does not have a 
necessary semantic meaning of sequence.

>[again quoting James]
>  One thing I did not understand though is your view of the 998 wayiqtols that do not
>  express past action. Are you saying these are exceptions to the norm? Are you saying
>  they do or do not have an uncancellable semantic meaning?
>  RF:
>  Comrie suggested that to find the true properties of verbs used in narrative contexts on has to look at the same verbs outside narratives. In my study I have analysed all the WAYYIQTOLs in the Tanakh, and the 998 WAYYIQTOLs with non-past reference occur outside narratives. Regarding the about 13,000 WAYYIQTOLs occurring in narrative contexts we can know nothing regarding tense or aspect, because these are covered by the strict form of the narratives. ...

No, Rolf, this is not true. Within narrative, as we have seen with 
Genesis 18, there is a rich interplay of different verb forms: 
WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, participles etc, each of which indicating or at least 
correlating with differences in the actual situation: mainline events, 
background or past events, background states etc. So there is certainly 
data there for examining what might be the semantic distinction between 
WAYYIQTOL and the other forms. Such a test might not be able to tell us 
exactly what WAYYIQTOL is. But it can tell us some things which 
WAYYIQTOL cannot be, and the most obvious of these is that it cannot be 
imperfective aspect, in any sense which has enough in common with the 
standard linguistic definition of "imperfective" that it is reasonable 
to redefine the same term to cover it.

I found this definition of "imperfective aspect" at 

> Imperfective aspect is an aspect that expresses an event or state, 
> with respect to its internal structure, instead of expressing it as a 
> simple whole.

But how can there be any expression with respect to the internal 
structure of events like "looked up" and many others expressed by 
WAYYIQTOL in Genesis 18 and elsewhere? And if your redefinition of 
"imperfective aspect" no longer has any reference to internal structure, 
why don't you clarify things for everyone by using a different word?

>... In my view, all WAYYIQTOLs have the same meaning, including the 998 with non-past reference, and they represent the impeerfective aspect (defined differently compared with the usual definition). ...

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

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