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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Mon Jul 25 07:54:16 EDT 2005

On 25/07/2005 09:36, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>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.

Rolf, this is unfair. It is undeniable that in the pointed Masoretic 
text there are five (not counting imperative, infinitives, participles 
etc) verb paradigms which are distinct in FORM (I here count WEYIQTOL as 
a different form from YIQTOL) - a number reduced by two if initial vav 
pointed with sheva is *assumed* to be nothing more than a prefixed 
conjunction, but that still leaves three distinct FORMS. The issue is 
whether these various forms are distinct in MEANING. But your method, at 
least in its original form, was apparently to *assume* that underlying 
the various FORMS there are only two distinct MEANINGS - and that the 
formal distinctions were arbitrary inventions of the Masoretes, a 
suggestion which was rightly questioned by your external examiner. Of 
course if you start with two you end up with two, just as with four - or 
else you end up with an absurdity which demonstrates that your initial 
assumptions were incorrect. Well, the initial results of your 
investigation seemed to me to lead to such an absurdity. I hope that you 
have been able to modify your presentation either to give a coherent 
explanation of why your results are not an absurdity, or else to present 
your results as proving the invalidity of your original assumptions and 
so that there are at least three semantically distinct verb paradigms.

>2) The basic distinction between semantic meaning (intrinsic or uncancelable meaning) and conversational pragmatic implicature (meaning dependent on the context) is ignored. ...

This distinction is part of just one recent and controversial approach 
to semantics. You really should accept that other scholars have the 
right to use their own models of semantics without complaining about it 
- especially when most of them were writing before your own model was 
even though of.

>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.

Well, the whole point of the linguistic concept of aspect is that it is 
intended to be a cross-linguistic category applicable to many languages. 
You can argue if you want that Hebrew does not have aspect as applied to 
other languages, but in that case it would be safer to avoid confusion 
by using a different word which will not confuse linguists.

>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), ...

I note that this is probably only true on your two form assumption, i.e. 
if you assume for example that WAYYIQTOL (most commonly past and 
completed) is the same verb form as YIQTOL (most commonly non-past and 
uncompleted). This is a bit like saying that if you presuppose that the 
words "chalk" and "cheese" have the same meaning there is no English 
word which distinguishes chalk and cheese.

>... 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.

Rolf, I have never understood your attempts to define "the imperfective 
aspect" and "the perfective aspect" as applied to Hebrew. But one thing 
is clear: your definitions of these aspects as applied to Hebrew are so 
totally different from the cross-linguistic definitions found in 
standard linguistics books that your use of the same terminology serves 
only to spread total confusion.

>... 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 t
> ranslation, because thousands of verbs in modern Bible translations are in need of re-translation.  This relates particularly to the temporal references of verbs.
Rolf, what turns Hebrew grammar upside down is not your conclusions, but 
your initial *assumption*, that verb forms which are distinct in form 
and which in traditional grammar have very different meanings are in 
fact semantically identical. Since you started with this assumption, it 
is of course part of your conclusion, but it is not a meaningful result 
because it is clear that if you start with a different assumption you 
end up with different conclusions - indeed you said so yourself: "if you 
start with four you end up with four". So, unless you can demonstrate 
very clearly that your assumption (not your conclusions) must be correct 
and the alternative assumption must be incorrect, the best you can hope 
to prove by your method is that there is an alternative consistent 
interpretation of Hebrew verbs, and that we cannot be sure which of the 
two interpretations is the correct one. I don't think you have actually 
demonstrated that your assumption leads to an alternative consistent 
interpretation (although I haven't seen your final results on this), but 
that's a separate issue.

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

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