[b-hebrew] VERBS. Was " masorete pointing v'sLLX transliterations"
Read, James C
K0434995 at kingston.ac.uk
Tue Jul 26 05:29:41 EDT 2005
I have read your reasoning and much of it seems logicl to me. One
observation I would to make though is that you have presented nothing
new which I have not heard argued before by my Hebrew professors
back at St. Andrews University.
Another observation I would like to make, which I feel should be of
interest to a linguist, is that many scholars seem to put far too
much emphasis on grammar. Languages are not dictated by grammar but
by meaning. Children do not learn languages by grammatical rules
but learn the phrases which convey their thoughts and feelings.
Grammar is but a set of observation, a summary of patterns which
a language seems to follow. As we delve deeper into any given
language we see that beyond this 'grammar' are the exceptions, which
seem to have much more fundamental importance if one truly wishes to
understand the heart and soul of the language. A good case in point is
the English language, which consists of more exceptions than rules.
While I agree that there are two fundamental verb types in the hebrew
language, I differ on its magnitude of importance for purposes of
translation. When we get bogged down with grammatical rules and factors
of tense and aspect, our translations start to get heavy and burdensome
because we are more concerned with translating the particle than the
phrase. The hebrew language is a phrasal language and all attempts to impose
a grammar upon it are modern. Languages are not to be understood in terms
of grammar but are naturally learned as fixed phrases which, by definition,
exist only in a context. Therefore, it is quite natural that a specific
verb form not have a uniform behaviour (as you rightly observe) because it
is not its individual grammar which conveys its meaning but the phrase in
which it stands and the context it resides in.
My current research project is based on these principles and the objective
is to form an artificially intelligent program which learns languages by
examples and contexts and ignores grammatical boundaries. I am fully
convinced that this research will break through prior limitations in
translation technology, which have long been restricted by the grammatical
approach to linguistic studies.
From: b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org on behalf of Rolf Furuli
Sent: Tue 7/26/2005 9:42 AM
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] VERBS. Was " masorete pointing v'sLLX transliterations"
Since Peter does not stop, and some parts of his descriptions of my
work is not accurate, I see the need for a few comments.
There are two basic reasons why I see no purpose in discussing the classical
Hebrew verbal system with Peter:
1) Peter has not read my dissertation, and some of his criticisms are based
on his interpretation of my remarks regarding Hebrew verbs in previous
discussions on b-hebrew in in an article. So a scholarly discussion is not
possible at this
2) Peter and I disagree regarding one issue that is so fundamental in my
view, that a disagreement here prevents an intelligent discussion. I stress
the difference between pragmatic and semantic factors, and Peter need not
agree that a scrupulous distinction between the two is necessary in a study
of Hebrew verbs. But Peter has, at least in the past, denied that "semantic
meaning" exists, and this is the most important concept in my study. My aim
has been to find the parts of the Hebrew verbal system that never change,
parts that have an intrinsic meaning not dependent on the context. If the
existence of such parts are denied, there is no purpose of any discussion.
Point 2) is very simple to demonstrate. I a future Beiheft of "Zeitschrift
der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft" a 30-page article discussing
the verbal system of classical Hebrew will appear. I start with a
description of the difference between semantic meaning and conversational
pragmatic implicature, and one example illustrating intrinsic, uncancellable
meaning is the verb HLK (to walk). In this verb we find two uncancellable
properties, dynamicity (which means change) and durativity. Regardless of
whether the root is used as an infinitive, a participle, as YIQTOL or
WAYYIQTOL, these properties will always remain. The contrast is the verb
ML), whose default intepretation is statitivy (to be full). However, in some
contexts it can have a fientive interpretation (to fill). Thus its stativity
is conversational pragmatic implicature.
Rolf, let me make this clear. I have stated that there is a fundamental
logical flaw in your argument, that it simply confirms your initial a
priori assumption (that there are two semantically distinct verb forms
rather than fouror five). This devastating critique basically implies
that your work is valueless. And you are not prepared to answer my
critique? That sounds rather like an admission that you don't have a leg
to stand on.
First, I did not base my study on an a priori assumption that there two
semantically distinct verb forms rather than four. To the contrary, I write
that in unpointed texts we find two groups of finite verbs, prefix-forms and
suffix-forms, and some of these have a prefixed waw. Thus, Hebrew has at
least two different conjugations and possibly four. The purpose of the study
is to find the correct number. Second, how can someone believe he has
a "devastating critique" of a dissertation that it is shown to be
when the person has not even read the dissertation? I see no possibility
for a balanced discussion in such an atmosphere.
> 4) On this assumption, all of the verb forms in the Hebrew Bible are
> analysed according to a complex and controversial linguistic model. The
> results of this analysis are that there are only two semantically
> distinct Hebrew verb forms, and that the distinction can be called one
> of "aspect" although it is different from the normal concept of "aspect"
> as defined by linguists. [The details of this analysis are in fact
> irrelevant to the argument here - although I dispute some of those
The "complex and controversial linguistic model" is in fact very simple, at
least the part of it that is used to find the number of the Hebrew
conjugations and whether tense and aspect are grammaticalized in Hebrew. And
this part is not controversial at all!
1) For my analysis I have used the fundamental parameters "event time,"
"reference time," and "the deictic center". These have been accepted
linguistic tools from 1947 when Reichenbach invented the terms. I will go
far as to say that I doubt that any linuist will say it is controversial to
use these parameters in a study of Hebrew verbs. One can discuss whether the
way they are used is the best one, but the use of them (and we are
discussion the model) is uncontroversial.
2) The application of the parameters is very simple; it simply means the use
of the hypothetic deductive method, which is fundamental for science. The
first question is: Do Hebrew verbs represent tense (grammaticalized location
in time)? And the reasoning is simple: Reference time occurs before the
deictic center when the tense is past, after the deictic center when the
tense is future, and contemporaneous with the deictic center when the
reference is present. If tense is found in the Hebrew verbal system, we
expect to find groups of verbs with a uniform temporal interpretation. If we
now leave alone details and the possibility of exceptions, which are dealt
with in the dissertation, and concentrate on the model which we are
discussing, this model is extremely simple. There is nothing controversial
in this model used to answer the question whether tense exists in Hebrew.
Moran used it in his Amarna studies in 1950 and Waltke/O`Connor used it in
their work, and many other scholars have used it as well. The advantage of
my study in connection with tense is not the use of a new model, but rather
that the model has been systematically applied to *all* the verbs of
classical Hebrew without any preconceived idea of the number of conjugations
in Hebrew. The conclusion drawn is that because all the five Masoretic verb
refer to past, present, and future, tense is not grammaticalized in Hebrew.
3) The next question is whether aspect, as it is defined by Hebraists is
found in classical Hebrew, and the same model is used. If aspect (in the
traditional definition) is a part of the verbal system, we expect to find
one verb group which code for complete or completed (reference time
intersects event time at the coda) action and another that codes for
incomplete action (reference time intersects event time at the nucelous). An
analysis of all verbs show there are no groups with a uniform
interpretation, but verbs from all groups signify completed and incomplete
action. Thus, aspect (in the traditional sense) is not grammaticalized in
4) If neither tense nor aspect is grammaticalized in Hebrew, what then, do
the verbs represent? Again the parameters "event time," "reference time,"
and "the deictic center" can be used. By studying where reference time
intersects event time in Hebrew verbs it can be argued that Hebrew verbs
represent aspect, though of a different nature than English aspect. The new
characteristics of aspect presented in my dissertation are not arbitrary or
idiosyncratic as Peter suggests (though without using these words). But they
are the result of a systematic application of the mentioned parameters to
the Hebrew verbs.
5) On the basis of the conclusions of 2), 3), and 4) the number of
conjugations can be assessed. The same parameters are used. If YIQTOL and
WAYYIQTOL are semantically different, and the same is true with QATAL and
WEQATAL, then we expect that the pattern of the intersection of event time
by reference time is different. But this is not the case. The pattern of
YIQTOL and WAYYIQTOL is similar, and the pattern of QATAL and WEQATAL is
similar, and the patterns of the first group is different from that of the
second. The conclusion drawn from this is that Hebrew has only two
conjugations and not four. I would again like to stress that this
conclusion of the existence of only two conjugations is the result of a
systematic study of all the verbs of classical Hebrew. It was not an a
priori assumption that was forced upon the Hebrew verbal system.
When we speak of controversial models and conclusions, we should distinguish
between linguists and Hebraists. It is my experience that many, or perhaps
most Hebraists read Hebrew texts as literature and not as grammatical
pieces. Of course they know Hebrew grammar, but in my experience few
Hebraists have studied linguistics and apply linguistic concepts to the
Hebrew texts. I once gave a lecture on Hebrew verbs at a conferecne of
Semitists, and questions and comments revealed that they did not understand
the fundamental difference between semantic and pragmatic factors and that
it could have a meaningful application to Hebrew verbs. However, several of
my collegues that are linguists but do not know Hebrew immediately grasp the
importance of this distinction, because it is so fundamental for their
When I present a study that turn Hebrew grammar upside down, this must be
controversial. It is understandable that we all cling to our ideas and
defend them. But we should also be open for new ideas and new approaches.
It is a sign of openmindedness that we ask whether the traditional
definitions of aspect can be applied to all aspectual languages, and whether
Hebrew really has four conjugations, and so forth.
As for my approach and the parameters I have used in my study I find much of
the criticism of Peter and others unfair. One of the most fundamental
distinctions in modern linguistics is between semantic and pragmatic
factors. A few linguists will say that it is difficult to distinguish
between the two in practical work, and others would say that a scrupulous
distinction is not always possible or even feasible. But to criticize the
very use of the distinction must be based on linguistic ignorance. One area
where this distinction should have been used, is to distinguish between past
tense (intrinsic past meaning) and past reference. And I am not aware of a
single study of Hebrew verbs where this has been carried out. So it is high
time for fresh thinking and for the application of linguistic principles in
the study of hebrew verbs.
I do not forbid you to comment on the points above, but I stick to the view
that our thinking regarding Hebrew verbs is so different that a meaningful
discussion is not possible.
University of Oslo
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