[b-hebrew] VERBS

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Jul 27 02:39:24 EDT 2005

Dear Joel,

I agree with some of Peter`s application of the Relevance theory: language
is rather fluid, and the great part of it is changeable. Words can be used
in a figurative, idiomatic, and  hypothetical way, and expressions can be
used in a substandard way as well. Your example below with the deaf woman
shows that "sing" can be used without words and melody, but this is an 
illustrative use. A situation (the deaf woman`s behavior) is compared with a 
situation where words and melody come out of someone`s mouth. Nevertheless, 
I would still say the acts of the deaf woman are durative and dymanic (her 
actions occur over time and change), the characteristics we are speaking 

I would like to stress that I do not view the durativity, dynamicity, and
telicity of all verbs to which one of these characteristics can be applied
as uncancellable. To the contrary, a verb lacking telicity can get this
characteristic when an adverbial is added (e.g. "she ran to the well" in
contrast  with "while she ran...."). My point, however, is that some verbs 
marked for durativity, dynamicity, or telicity, or a combination of these 
characteristics, and in
these cases the characteristic is uncancellable.

In connection with the cancelability/noncancelability of characteristics we 
can perhaps speak of three groups of verbs:

1) Verbs where the particular characteristic easily is blotted out or 
changed by the context, and it is clearly seen that the characteristic is 
2) Verbs where the characteristic is not blotted out or changed by the 
context, except in special cases, such as idiomatic use, illustrative use, 
slang, idiosyncratic or substandard use.
3) Verbs where the characteristic cannot be blotted out by the context.

I do not have a list of all the verbs that have semantic characteristics. My 
task, therefore, is to
demonstrate the existence of verbs belonging to group 3. So let us look at 
some Hebrew examples.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dr. Joel M. Hoffman" <joel at exc.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Cc: <furuli at online.no>
Sent: Tuesday, July 26, 2005 5:30 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] VERBS

> >When I hear someone deny that characteristics of some words cannot be
>>blotted out by the context, I become stunned. This is so elementary that
>>even children understands it.
> If so, the children are wrong.

I would like to use telicity as a example.
The book  "A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics" 4th ed, by David
Crystal (2001) says that telicity refers "to an event where the activity has
a clear terminal point. Telic verbs include fall, kick, and make". Let us
look at the Hebrew equivalents for two of these verbs, namely, BR) (create)
and NPL (fall). I am quite sure that Hebrew children knew that the end was
included in both verbs. When BR) was used, the children knew that a result 
must follow, i.e.
something was made. And when NPL was used, every child knew that the person
or thing falling would not remain in the air, but would meet some kind of

So I ask: Are there situations where the telicity of BR) and NPL can be 
blotted out or changed by the context?

> The meanings and connotations of words absolutely depend on context,
> and your examples actually disprove your theory:

Based on Psycholinguistics I would say that words, for example substantives
and verbs, have  lexical
meanings which are completely independent of  any context. Or to say it more 
correctly:  The sounds and
letters of a word have no meaning, but they signal a concept in the minds of
people speaking the same language (some words signal two or more concepts).
This is the *lexical* meaning of the word, and it is completely independent 
any context. The concept signaled by each word usually has a core which is
quite clear, but it becomes more fuzzy toward the edges. When a clause is
spoken or written, the role of the context is to make visible the part of
each concept that the author wants to communicate and keep the rest of each
concept invisible. Thus, the context does not generate any lexical meaning,
but it makes  visible for the listener or reader a part of the meaning that 
already is there. Thus, lexical meaning exists in the minds of living people 
and not in lexicons or in the contexts of words.

However, modern lexicographers who worked with Hebrew-English lexicons did 
their work on the basis of induction. Because they lacked the old Hebrew 
presupposition pool, they would not intuitively know the concept to which a 
word referred. Thus, they were dependent on the context. The same is true 
with those who translate from Hebrew to English, they really need the 
context. When we speak of "meaning," we need to specify what kind of meaning 
we are speaking about, and the particular situation of communication where 
we are using the word. Only in some contexts can it rightly be said that "a 
word has not meaning without a context"! A language is not only pragmatics, 
but there are several fixed points as well.
>>cancelled.  "To sing" will always indicate that words and melody come out
>>someone`s mouth, and this is durativity and dynamicity.
>    "The deaf woman was able to sing with her hands, conveying
>     the melodic beauty through the intricacies of her
>     signing [sic, signing, not singing]."
> Here we see that the most fundamental aspect of "sing" can be changed
> by context.  Idiomatic usages such as "sing his praise," further
> demonstrate.  (For the non-native English speakers, "sing his praise,"
> just means "to praise," and is commonly used of ordinary people.  For
> example, "the politician demonstrated his loyalty to the president by
> singing his praises every chance he got.")
> Tense and apsect behave similarly.  In American English, for example,
> the news uses the present tense to describe the past (e.g., "Two
> children die in a fire overnight"); sportcasters use the future tense
> to describe the past (e.g., after a baseball batter swings at and
> misses the last pitch of a game, "and that'll be strike three!"); and
> everyone uses the present for the future (e.g., "I'm flying to Norway
> tomorrow.").  In Modern Hebrew, past-tense motion verbs (but not other
> verbs) are used for future-tense suggestions (e.g., "HALAXNU?,"
> literally "did we go?"  meaning "shall we go?") [This example is
> doubly interesting because "SHARNU," "did we sing?" cannot mean "shall
> we sing?"  It basically only works with motion verbs.]
> -Joel Hoffman

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list