[b-hebrew] VERBS. Was " masorete pointing v's LLX transliterations"

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Mon Jul 25 04:36:51 EDT 2005

RE: [b-hebrew] masorete pointing v's LLX transliterationsDear James,

In the archives you will find hundreds of posts discussing the verbal system of classical Hebrew.  So I will just give a few comments below.

There are three basic problems in published studies of the the Hebrew verbal system:

1) It is *assumed* that Hebrew has four different conjugations (YIQTOL/WEYIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, and WEQATAL). This assumption prevents any real test of the number of conjugations of the verbal system, because if you start with four you end up with four.

2) The basic distinction between semantic meaning (intrinsic or uncancelable meaning) and conversational pragmatic implicature (meaning dependent on the context) is ignored.  In textbooks and monographs the function of verbs are presented (which of course is very fine), but the intrinsic meaning of the verb forms plays a secondary role.  I am not aware of a single study where the distinction between the semantic and pragmatic sides of the verbs has been systematically studied.

3) When aspect is applied to Hebrew verbs, it is assumed that Hebrew aspects have the same nature as the aspects in other aspectual languages.  I am not aware of a single study where the nature of Hebrew aspect has been studied in its own right, from the viewpoint that aspect can be language specific.

In order to try to do something with the problems mentioned above, I have, over a period of ten years, analyzed all the 79,574 finite and infinite verbs of the Tanakh, the DSS, Ben Sira, and the old Hebrew Inscriptions regarding temporal reference, modality, and to a certain extent the discourse functions of the verbs.  The analysis has been done by the help of the parameters "event time," " reference time," and "the deictic center". And by using these I have avoided being lead astray by the traditional definitions completed/uncompleted or complete/uncompleted, and the study has been language-specific.  Tense is the function of the deictic center and reference time in my system, and aspect is the function of event time and reference time.  Thus, tense represents deictic time and aspect represents non-deictic time.

I have studied the functions of the verbs, but my goal has been to find the *meaning* of each verb form, i.e. to find the parts of the verbal system that always will have the same meaning.  Because any verb form can have past, present, and future meaning, can express completed and uncompleted events (or bounded and unbounded events), my conclusion is that neither tense (=grammaticalized location in time) nor aspect as it is found in English are grammaticalized in classical Hebrew.  However, the Hebrew conjugations do express aspect, but with a nature very different from the English aspects.  This means that YIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, and WAYYIQTOL  represent the imperfective aspect and QATAL and WEQATAL represent the perfective aspect.

As for your questions below, several scholars have returned to the old tense-view of Hebrew verbs, but many others think the conjugations are aspects. However, several scholars can be criticized for mixing aspect terms and Aktionsart terms in their definitions.  The consequence of my conclusions is that narrative past in most cases is expressed by imperfective verbs (WAYYIQTOL). I reject the view of S.R. Driver that WAYYIQTOL expresses nascent events (a kind of progression that could be expressed as "he proceeded to speak). But to express that an event is nascent (or ingressive) is one side of the imperfective aspect. So "he proceeded to speak" can be a fine translation in many cases instead of "he spoke". The imperfective aspect can also express progressive, egressive, conative, resultative and other events. My conclusions are radical indeed, because they in a way turn  of Hebrew verb grammar upside down. An acceptance of the conclusions would have a great impact on  Bible translation, because thousands of verbs in modern Bible translations are in need of re-translation.  This relates particularly to the temporal references of verbs.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli

----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Read, James C 
  To: Rolf Furuli 
  Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org 
  Sent: Monday, July 25, 2005 12:40 AM
  Subject: RE: [b-hebrew] masorete pointing v's LLX transliterations

  Thanx for the answer Rolf. I didn't have an opinion either way. I
  just wanted to know other people's thoughts and evidences so that I
  could formulate my own opinion after hearing the proofs.

  Re: verb forms.
  Are you therefore saying that the verbs would be therefore only
  perfect and imperfect in aspect with no suggestion of tense? I
  thought it was already a well established fact that the hebrews
  had no concept of tense in their language.
  I have read arguments for a translation of the account of creation
  as a series of progressive actions rather than simple past events.
  Are you in favour of this mode of translation? Or am I understanding
  your comments badly?

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