[b-hebrew] Boring grammar again

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat May 7 01:49:40 EDT 2005

Dear Karl,

You have already received several good answers from others, and I would 
like to add a few thoughts. The Sumerian language is a so-called 
split-ergative language, which means that in some cases the author 
thinks along the lines of a grammatical analysis: subject, verbal, 
object, indirect object etc, and in other cases he thinks along the 
lines of a semantical analysis: agent and patient. This teaches us a 
lesson, because we can (and should) approach languages such as classical 
Hebrew both from the viewpoint of a grammatical and a semantical 
analysis. The difference is seen in 1) and 2) below. In both examples 
"God" is the agent and "the earth" is the patient. But in 1) "God" is 
the subject and "the earth" is the object, whil in 2) "The earth" is the 
subject. So the two ways of doing analysis approaches the text from 
different angles.

1) God created the earth.

2) The earth was created by God.

The best discussion of Piel of which I know, is found in 
Waltke/O'Connor. I teach my students that the Hebrew binyanim can be 
subsumed under the heading "diathesis," because the differences are 
basically differences between agent and patient. This is readily seen in 
the active/passive opposition (Qal-Niphal/passive Qal (but remember that 
Niphal once basically had a reflexive meaning, and still often has in 
the Tanakh), Piel-Pual, and Hiphil/Huphal), but is also seen in Piel, 
Hithpael, and Hiphil when these are analyzed in their own right. As 
already mentioned by others, Hiphil stresses action while Piel stresses 
state. This can also be expressed in the agent/patient relationship. In 
Hiphil (basically, but not always) the agent causes the patient to do 
something. One important side of Piel is that the agent leads the 
patient through the end of an action and into a resulting state (with a 
stress on the state). This is Piel's resultative force. In other cases 
the agent leads the patient directly into a state. This is Piel's 
factitive force. Another force of Piel is that the agent works om 
multiple patiens. We should not forget that Piel also has a denominative 
force: when nouns are made into verbs, Piel is often the binyan that is 
used. Whether Piel has an intensive force, which was the basic 
explanation some years ago, is an open question. And I agree with you, 
Karl, it is difficult to postulate an intensive force of Piel verbs 
without circular reasoning. Please note that Waltke/O'Connor gives 
alternative explanations of the best examples used to prove the 
intensive force of Piel.

When I read texts from one of the Semitic languages with my students I 
consciously consider whether one of the explanations above can be 
applied in cases of Piel (and D-stems in other languages), And it always 
seems to work. In any case, several students have expressed that they 
have found the agent-patient model (diathesis) as a fine help for 
understanding and distinguishing between the binyanim.

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

Karl Randolph wrote:

>To All:
>At the risk of sounding stupid or just unable to learn, here is a question that is bugging me, what exactly is the Piel? I’ve brought it up before: either I am too stupid to understand the answers that several of you put forward, or I found that there is still some contradiction from the answers I got.
>Back in Hebrew 101, the only class I took, I was taught that there was Qal, simple active, with Niphal as its passive, Piel as intensive Qal with Pual as its passive, Hiphil as causative with Hophal as its passive, ending with Hithpael as reflexive with the object being the same as the subject.
>Now here’s my problem: after reading Tanakh through a few times without points, I find no evidence for the Piel according to the above grammatical structure. There are no contextual clues that I have found that indicate the intensive Qal.  From my experience, all the other binyanim fit the above pattern, but Piel and its passive Pual don’t seem to fit anywhere.
>Peter Kirk and others have pointed out that Piel in modern Hebrew has a causative meaning. If that is also the case for B-Hebrew, what is the difference between the Piel and the Hiphil? What contextual clues indicate that difference? In this scenario, both Piel and Hiphil are causative.
>Now one option is that the Piel is just an alternate conjugation for Qal. That would explain the lack of contextual clues. Conversely, it could be an alternate conjugation for Hiphil.
>Are there any verbs where the uses in Qal and Piel are split about 50-50? Are there any where the uses are split about 50-50 between Piel and Hiphil? Verbs where all the uses except once or twice are one or the other could be an indication of scribal error. Further, if the once or twice is a Piel or Pual participle, those could be alternate spellings for Hiphil or Hophal participles, given the fluid spellings at that time. I could find out the above data myself, but if someone has already done it, why not take advantage of his scholarship?
>Of course, we can’t leave out the possibility that I’m just dense. If that’s the case, please excuse me for boring you all (though then I’m too dense to recognize my own denseness).
>Thanks again, Karl W. Randolph.

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