[b-hebrew] Piel etc.

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri May 13 00:33:05 EDT 2005


Ahh, back to grammar. I like discussing that better than arguing history.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Peter Kirk" <peterkirk at qaya.org>
> On 12/05/2005 03:30, Karl Randolph wrote:
> > ...
> >
> > In my research on the meanings of words, I have found, for 
> > example, that the Hiphil always means causative of the Qal. So 
> > far, I have found no exceptions. Of course, it may be a circular 
> > argument, I came to the table expecting to find a fairly rigid 
> > rule, and found one, while one who does not expect such won’t.
> >
> Well, the rule might be similar to that of the English imperfect, a 
> case of inflectional morphology (and syntax); or it might be a 
> classic case of derivational morphology, like English -ish, which 
> simply doesn't have a single fixed semantic force. A priori you 
> cannot know. So you should come to this without any preconceptions 
> of whether there will be a fairly rigid rule, as far as this is 
> possible.
Part of this is from learning a few languages besides English and Hebrew. I have yet to see an exception to this, but that for the most part, language grammar rules are fairly simple and regular. In other words, a bright six year old should have a working knowledge of the mechanics of his mother tongue. Most learning after six is of the exceptions to the rules. English itself is one of the most complex, and that because of its history: being a combination of different languages thrown together where different parts are ruled by competing rules, even today. Having seen a pattern of simple and rigid grammar rules in different languages, I then expected to find the same pattern in Hebrew as well. Oh yes, I consider the Hebrew binyanim as grammar.

Part of it is that people find what they expect to find. If you don’t expect to find simple and rigid grammar rules, then you won’t find them. Simple as that.

The greatest irregularities I expected to find were irregular forms. I found fewer of those in Biblical Hebrew than I expected. Most “irregular” inflections follow pretty predictable patterns, at least in the unpointed text.

> > ...
> >
> > I have to knock the Masoretes here. ... But you have 
> > to admit, those Masoretes tried, and for the most part, did a 
> > great job.
> >
> >
> You will never convince anyone of a rule for the semantics of Piel 
> without at least taking proper account of the Masoretic pointing, 
> not just rejecting it but if necessary explaining where and why it 
> has gone wrong.
Let’s go back to the final statement, “for the most part, did a great job.” While I don’t agree with them 100%, which is why I never indicate pointing, going back and spot checking a few verbs in the concordance where both Qal and Piel are sufficiently well attested, I found a pretty close corrolation between where a simple active was pointed as a Qal, and the “made to be...” meaning was pointed as a Piel. I would need to do more research to verify the finding. Could it be that the Masoretes had this rule and followed it, while we did not know the rule existed?

> > ...
> >
> > Or maybe the reason I find so few exceptions is because I used 
> > the patterns to help me define the terms and understand their 
> > semantic domains in the first place.
> >
> > Does what I say make sense?
> >
> >
> >
> Yes, but I fear that your method may be partly circular and so 
> potentially faulty.
> -- Peter Kirk
> peter at qaya.org (personal)
> peterkirk at qaya.org (work)
> http://www.qaya.org/

The problem is that analysing texts by semantic domains only is also partly circular and potentially faulty.

One of the tools of research is iteration. If you think you see a pattern, you then go back to your data and see if it fits. Often that pattern is not that obvious until someone has an insight and tests a pattern that he thought he saw. Sometimes the pattern doesn’t fit most of the data, which means go back to the drawing board. If the pattern is a close fit, but not perfect, then tweak the pattern and try again. Back and forth until the fit is within tolerances, if not perfect.

I use iteration over and over again while analysing lexeme definitions in Tanakh.

To bring this in a full circle, I expected to find simple and fairly rigid grammar rules in Biblical Hebrew, and found them. The biggest problem is in trying to understand and explain them in other languages.

Karl W. Randolph.

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