[b-hebrew] Verbs

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Fri Jul 29 02:26:21 EDT 2005

Dear Bryan,

You ask good questions.  I use 30 pages in chapter 2 of my dissertation to 
define the Hebrew conjugations and 52 pages in chapter 8 to account for the 
actual use of them in the Tanakh. So I have a problem when I shall  give an 
answer that both is short and adequate. But I will give a few main points 
regading my conclusions.

1. There is a semantic difference between the imperfective aspect (YIQTOL, 
WEYIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL) on the one hand and the perfective aspect (QATAL and 
WEQATAL) on the other. But the aspects are not mutual exclusive; there are 
similarities between the aspects as well. The WE- and WAY- elements are 
there for syntactic (pragmatic) nd not for semantic reasons.

2. The aspects are viewpoints used to make a part of verbal action visible. 
Therefore lexical meaning, Aktionsart, procedural characteristics such as 
the singularity/plurality and definiteness/indefiniteness of the objects, 
adverbials etc., word order and other factors play a greater role in the 
commnication of meaning than the aspects.

3. In communication the requirement of precision is different in different 
contexts. In one context I need to tell that my car is a Volvo; in another 
it is enough to refer to it as a car, or even e wehicle or a thing. Under 
the word "car" a Volvo, a Ford. a Renault etc. can be subsumed. These cars 
are different, but this difference is not communicated in all contexts. The 
same is true with the aspects.

For example, a state is a situation that holds without ny input of energy; 
every part of a state is similar to any other part, or to the state as a 
whole. This means that if we use verbs to describe states, in most cases 
there are no details to make visible (an exception is the entrance into the 
state and the first part of the state, often expressed by QATALs, e.g. "J. 
started to reign"). This means that in static situations the semantic 
differences between the aspects do not matter, and both aspects can be used 
to describe states without any difference in the communicated meaning. The 
description of the borders of Israel (Joshua chapters 15 through 19) is a 
fine example. Exctly the same situations with the same time references are 
described by 85 WEQATALs, 16 WAYYIQTOLs, 3 YIQTOLs, and 3 QATALs. The only 
difference is a syntactic one, because the WE- of WEQATAL and the WAY- of 
WAYYIQTOL, being conjunctions, have particular syntactic functions. it is 
forfeited to insist there is a difference between the conjugations (aspects) 
in these situations.

In particular contexts the requirement for precision is high. Events that 
are conative, particular kinds of ingressive and resultative, and events 
where one action intersects another "while Abraham was sitting in his tent, 
Isaac arrived" can only be made visible by the use of the imperfective 
aspect (infinitives and participles can be used in the last mentioned 
situations). The imperfective aspect can make visible the beginning or the 
end (and the resulting state) of an event, but not both beginning and end. 
Situations where both beginning and end is made visible, therefore, must be 
described by the perfective aspect (this does not relate to whether an event 
was factually completed at reference time, e.g. narrative events expressed 
by WAYYIQTOLs need not be perfective).

Future contexts can in some respects resemble states, because they have not 
happened and the details are not known. We can see a difference between 
simple future and future perfect, but this cannot be done by the aspect 
alone but only by a combination of aspect and lexical meaning (both aspects 
can express future perfect). The vagueness of future events, as far as 
details are concerned, imply that both aspects can be used to describe 
future events because there simply are no details to make visible. However, 
there are lingusitc conventions regarding the description of such situations 
(covering the use of YIQTOL, WEQATAL, and WEYIQTOL).

I agree with you that word order in future and other situations is 
important, because WEQATAL and WAYYIQTOL are sentence initial forms and 
YIQTOL and QATAL are not. This means that theme/ rheme differences exist; an 
author wants a particular element before the verb for emphasis or in order 
to signal new information etc. This will influence the choice beteween 
YIQTOL/WAYYIQTOL and between QATAL/WEQATAL. Moreover, in some contexts where 
the requirement of precision is low, the author may use different 
conjugations and forms to express the totality or universality of something 
(e.g. the unsurpassed power of YHWH, 1 Samuel 2:6)

The points above imply that to always try to find a distinction between the 
conjugations and to convey this in translation is forfeited; sometimes there 
is no distinction, and the function of the conjugations` distinctive role 
have been exaggerated. On the other hand, there are important aspectual 
distinctions in many contexts which should be conveyed in translation. 
Particularly the imperfective characteristics of narrative sequences have 
been neglected. For the English reader, however, the choice of tense should 
have priority in translation. As for the text from Isaiah, I made an 
academic translation, and further work on the text would probably cause 
several adjustments, but that would hardly influence the future tense.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of oslo

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "B. M. Rocine" <brocine at twcny.rr.com>
To: <b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Thursday, July 28, 2005 11:17 PM
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Verbs

> Hi Rolf,  my questions and comments are at the bottom.
> Rolf Furuli wrote:
> <noted and snipped>
>> My examples below represent "academic translation," and is no final 
>> product.
>> They were made while I wrote this post, and the purpose was to give a 
>> broad
>> illustration of one side of Bible translation that would be influenced by 
>> my
>> dissertation,
>> namely the choice of English tenses.
> <noted and snipped>
> > 53:12 For that reason I will give him a portion (YIQTOL) among the
> many, and
> > with the mighty ones he will divide (YIQTOL)  the spoil.  Because he 
> > will
> > let his soul be poured out (QATAL)  to death, and will let himself be
> > counted (QATAL) among transgressors.  He himself will carry (QATAL)
> the sins
> > of many people, and he will make intercession (YIQTOL) for the
> > transgressors.
> >
> > Because I chose a future setting, most of the verbs have been
> translated by
> > future. If the setting is viewed as past, the same verbs would have been
> > translated by past, or sometimes by perefect.  This means that
> according to
> > my system, the conjugations have very little to tell us about the
> temporal
> > references of the verbs.  The temporal references must be construed
> on the
> > basis of the context.  The traditional way of translation leads the
> reader
> > through a confusing zig-zag journey, QATALs and WAYYIQTOLs are
> translated by
> > past or perfect and YIQTOLs and WEQATALs by future. For example, look
> at the
> > two last clauses of 53:12, where we find one QATAL and one YIQTOL. Many
> > modern translations give these two verbs the same temporal reference
> > (perhaps in most cases past reference).  But if a QATAL and a YIQTOL can
> > have past reference in these two clauses, why cannot the same be true
> > throughout the whole text?
> >
> <snipped>
> Okay.  I follow you.  Your English translation demonstrates what you
> have consistently claimed on this list for years now, that the finite
> verb forms are *not* tenses, i.e. they do not grammaticalize past,
> non-past, present, or future.
> I wish you could demonstrate for us what, in your model, the verb forms
> *do* bring to the passage.  I assume the writer is choosing a form for a
> reason.  Do you agree?  If so the forms themselves are meaningful.  At
> least the forms may guide us through the text.  If so, can we capture
> the message of the Hebrew verb forms in, for example, an English
> translation of Isaiah 53:12?
> Thanks in advance,
> Bryan Rocine

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