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

Peter Kirk peterkirk at qaya.org
Tue Jul 26 08:08:34 EDT 2005

On 26/07/2005 09:42, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>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.

I have not denied that "semantic meaning" exists, but I have denied that 
there is any totally uncancellable semantic meaning. I deny the 
existence of this in any real human language. This is in line with the 
linguistic approach of for example Relevance Theory, which is now widely 
accepted. Accordingly, my prediction is indeed that Rolf will find not 
find any "parts of the Hebrew verbal system that never change", nor any 
parts of Hebrew, nor of English or Norwegian. In fact, as I argue below, 
I don't see how even in principle he can demonstrate this "never" from 
the limited corpus of biblical Hebrew.

However, this difference between us is entirely independent of Rolf's 
own argument that "[if] It is *assumed* that Hebrew has [N] different 
conjugations ... This assumption prevents any real test of the number of 
conjugations of the verbal system, because if you start with [N] you end 
up with [N]." - an argument which applies whether N=2 or N=4, and 
independent of any linguistic assumptions.

>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.
It is impossible in principle to demonstrate uncancellability from the 
limited corpus of biblical Hebrew. All we can possibly prove is that 
there are no known examples of a particular feature being cancelled. 
This point is especially severe because, as Relevance Theory teaches, 
semantic features are much more likely to be cancelled in an ongoing 
conversation where the parties have shared assumptions than in a formal 
written text where such assumptions cannot be made - and most of the 
Hebrew Bible is formal written text, with relatively little reporting of 
one-to-one conversations.

>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. ...

You did write yesterday of:

>1) the fact that there is no
>distinction between WAYYIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, and YIQTOL on the one hand and
>QATAL and WEQATAL on the other before the Masoretes
which implies that before the Masoretes there were only two verb forms. 
You did not present this as a conclusion from analysis of verb forms 
(that was point 3 in this list) but as an incontestable fact. Indeed you 
have been stating this same thing for the eight years that we have both 
been on this list. It is hard to believe that you are not presupposing 
this. In fact I think you have previously explicitly stated that you were.

>... Second, how can someone believe he has 
>produced such
>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.

Well, I rely on the summaries of your work which you have posted here. 
If I have been misled by those summaries, I invite you to correct them. 
I agree that it would be better if I actually read the dissertation, but 
unfortunately I cannot afford $65 for it, especially considering my 
advance estimate of its value.

>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!
>... The conclusion drawn is that because all the five Masoretic verb 
>groups can
>refer to past, present, and future, tense is not grammaticalized in Hebrew.

OK, except that I wonder if you have paid proper attention to the 
possibility that Hebrew verb forms indicate RELATIVE tense. I would also 
be concerned if you have taken a very small number of exceptions as 
disproving a rule. Your "uncancellability" rule, which certainly IS 
controversial, would imply that you should do so. But I and many 
linguists would hold that, especially in conversational contexts, even 
semantic distinctions can be cancelled. Anyway, we always have to allow 
that some verbs may have been corrupted in the textual tradition, or in 
the tradition of pronunciation used by the Masoretes for vocalisation.

>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
>classical Hebrew.

Rolf, are you saying that there are WAYYIQTOL verbs which are 
imperfective (in the traditional sense) and YIQTOL verbs which are 
perfective (in the traditional sense)? Are these more than a very small 
minority (which might be caused by rare context-dependent cancellation 
of semantics, or by corruption of the pronunciation tradition)? I would 
be interested in any evidence here.

>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.

I don't think I claimed "arbitrary". But I would claim "idiosyncratic" 
on the basis that these characteristics of "aspect" are quite different 
from those of the standard cross-linguistic concept of aspect, as 
defined by Comrie etc, and as far as I know are unparalleled in any 
study of any other language. That doesn't imply that they are wrong, but 
it does suggest that they should be accepted only with some caution - 
and also that here there is a new concept which should not be confused 
with an old one by reuse of the same terminology.

>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.

Thank you, Rolf. I must say that it still seems to me that you have 
defined your new "aspects" in an idiosyncratic and counter-intuitive way 
in order to unite verb forms which appear on the surface to be very 
distinct. But I accept that there is a possibility that your analysis is 

But I don't accept that you have proved that the old analysis is 
incorrect. Such proof might come clear examples of imperfective 
WAYYIQTOL and/or perfective YIQTOL (in the traditional senses of 
aspect). That is why I am interested in such examples.

>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. ...

I have not done the latter. I stand with your "few" and "others", but I 
don't accept that they are few, although maybe not the majority.

>... 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.

Agreed. But I don't believe it is possible to make a firm distinction 
especially in a dead language with a limited corpus. And such a study 
requires an open mind on the number of verb forms.

>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.
Well, it seems to me that we are having a meaningful discussion. But I 
understand that you do not want to prolong it.

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

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