[b-hebrew] VERBS

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Wed Jul 27 08:46:44 EDT 2005

Rolf wrote:

> The concept signaled by each word usually has a 
> core which is
> quite clear, but it becomes more fuzzy toward the edges.

The same fuzziness may also obtain with verbal inflection: there is a core
meaning that may become fuzzy in certain contexts, e.g., the English
narrative present: "Yesterday I had the strangest experience: I'm at the
store, when up comes ..." 
The point I am making is that the core meaning is not cancelled by a few
counter-examples. We would not take the above English example to argue that
English is a tenseless language. Likewise, since 93% of wayyiqtols have past
reference (according to Rolf), we should be wary of using a few
counter-examples (e.g., wayyiqtol referring to the present or future) to
argue that Hebrew was a tenseless language. It may well be that Hebrew did
not inflect its verbs to indicate tense, but one can't simply say "because
any verb form can be used with any time reference, Hebrew verbs are not
inflected for tense." By this argument, Hebrew verbs would not be inflected
for aspect either, or for modality. (This reminds me of Sperber's theory!)
Here I think I disagree with Rolf's approach (if I understand it correctly;
"Statistics based on quantities can demonstrate what verb forms are not, but
can hardly
demonstrate what the verbs are, that is, the semantic meaning of the
conjugations."): statistics ARE the key to the core meaning, the
prototypical feature set, if you will. This is how we learn language as
children, this is how lexicographers establish lexical meaning, and this is
the approach I use in my dissertation.

Ken Penner

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list