[b-hebrew] More on Piel etc.

Dr. Joel M. Hoffman joel at exc.com
Fri May 13 10:55:59 EDT 2005

>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

The "exceptions" are numerous.  For example:

HIGGID (from N.G.D) is not causative.  I means "to say."

HIGDIL (from G.D.L) has a sense of "do great things," not "make big."
("Higdil Adonai la'asot....")

Even a seemingly causitive verb like HORISh (from Y.R.Sh) means
"bequeath," not "cause to inherit," just as HOLID (from Y.L.D) means
"give birth to" (a.k.a. "beget"), not "cause to be born."  For
example, "YHWH holid et yitzchak" does not describe the situation in
Genesis, even if you think that YHWH caused Isaac to be born.

>Fair enough, I can accept that this is true of many researchers. Maybe 
>sometime one will come along and do a better analysis which just might 
>come up with a clearer rule for Piel.

This misses the entire point of how Hebrew works, and, in fact, of how
language works.  The BINYANIM *do not* dictate the semantics of the
verb.  They sometimes corelate with semantics, but that's only useful
if you already know what the verb means.

This is part of a very general pattern in language that etymology and
internal word structure correlate with, but do not dicate, word

We can look at English to see this.  "Re-" generally means to do
something again, but knowing that correlation doesn't help us
understand "revisit" (a second date is not revisiting, for example),
"review," and certainly not "remember."  

(If I understand correctly, the same applies to Mr. Cherny's examples
from Russain --- alas, my mail reader just gives me ?'s for the
Russian letters, so I'm not entire sure what he's referring to, but if
he is talking about the PO- prefix and others, they behave the same as
the Herew BINYANIM, correlating with a variety of meanings, but
knowing the meaning of the stem is not enough to know the meaning of
the prefixed verb.)

>For example, it is not that the verb DiBBeR means to 'speak
>emphatically' or anything like that. Rather, it is that Biblical
>Hebrew sees the very action of speaking as somehow heightened. In

Again, do you have any evidence for that?  (Mr. Cherny correctly
points out that the only evidence he might have for his suggestions
would come from a supernatural visit.)

We are left with the quite common situation of not entirely
understanding the nuances of ancient words.  My approach (and that of
most linguists, I believe) is to assume that, barring any evidence to
the contrary, ancient languages work the same way modern ones do.  I
am surprised to find people here suggesting that Hebrew works in a way
completely unlike any known language, particularly when they have no
evidence for their hypotheses.

>other words, the root DBR naturally occurs in the Piel stem because
>Biblical Hebrew sees the Piel stem as the appropriate form. If you

I think DBR occurs in the Piel because the Piel is used to make verbs
from nouns, and the noun is DAVAR.

>-- each of the binyanim/stems has a particular feel to it. It's not a

I think that "feel" is wrongly imposed by people who don't understand
the inherently arbitrary connection between morphology and semantics.

>Also, I think Karl is right about the dangers of using Modern Hebrew
>to make definitive statements about Biblical Hebrew. It sometimes has
>illustrative value, but not determinative value.

I agree 100%.  My point in using MH was just to show another language
that uses templatic mophology.  I could equally have used Arabic
(except that I don't know Arabic well enough).

To summarize, as I see it: In light of our imperfect understanding of
ancient Hebrew and its verbal system, we can either (a) assume that
Hebrew worked more or less the same way all known modern languages do,
in which case morphology and semantics are loosely related but
morphology does not dictate semantics, or can we can (b) assume that
Hebrew was unlike any modern language, and having no evidence about
how it was different, we should feel free to speculate.  It seems to
me that choice (a) is the scientific approach (which I why I prefer
it), and choice (b) is dogmatic.  But, again, if someone has
compelling evidence that the BINYANIM are more closely related to
semantics than I seem to think, I'll be grateful to see it.

-Joel Hoffman

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