[b-hebrew] VERBS

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Jul 27 10:06:27 EDT 2005

Dear Ken,

Your thoughts below are interesting, and I agree that a few counter-examples
do not necessarily invalidate a particular meaning. I state this explicitly 
in my
dissertation, but I qualify the statement by saying that such
counter-examples should be explained. For example, we have hypothetical
conditional sentences and other special cases. When we look at the English
verbal system, we see that present verbs with future and past reference are
normal, and therefore I conclude that English present is not a tense.
However, when verbs with past tense are used in non-past contexts, we see
that they are special cases; i.e. their "unnormal" use can be explained (see
B. Comrie "Tense" (1985) p. 20.) The same is true with future forms.

The only candidate for a tense interpretation in classical Hebrew is 
WAYYIQTOL. However, most of the 997 examples of WAYYIQTOLs with non-past 
reference are not special cases. And even though they are few (6.9% of all 
WAYYIQTOLs), their number is statistically significant, and therefore they 
militate against a tense interpretation.  Moreover, you will see from my 
chapter on YIQTOL that of the 1,027 examples of YIQTOL with past reference, 
896 are preceded by a word element. And it is argued that in most of these 
examples, if this preceding element were removed, the YIQTOLs would have 
become WAYYIQTOLs. So the WAYY-element simply is the normal conjunctive 
element when a verb YIQTOL is sentence initial.
The conclusion is that the WAYYIQTOLs with non-past referene and the YIQTOLs 
with past reference, cannot be viewed as "a few" counter-examples; their 
numbers are significant.

I am not sure what you mean by "core meaning" in connection with tenses, so 
could you please explain that?

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Ken Penner" <pennerkm at mcmaster.ca>
To: "'Rolf Furuli'" <furuli at online.no>; <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Wednesday, July 27, 2005 1:46 PM
Subject: RE: [b-hebrew] VERBS

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

> 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
> McMaster/Hebrew

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list