[b-hebrew] More on Piel etc.

Karl Randolph kwrandolph at email.com
Fri May 13 16:41:34 EDT 2005


You are defining terms according to a modern, Indo-European manner. But is that the way the ancient Semites defined their terms? I don’t think so. In fact, I have repeatedly contended that the ancient Hebrews looked at an action behind all their root meanings, not a state of being or an object as is in Into-European languages.

The different binyanim are a fairly rigid means of assigning meaning to the roots. Like all languages, it is not without exceptions, but again like all languages, the exceptions are far outnumbered by those examples that follow the rules.

Let’s take an example you mention, NGD. From the shegolate and other  forms, we see the root meaning of being in front of. Because the root meaning already is a rather stative concept, we don’t expect to find it as a Piel, and we don’t. The Hiphil causative shows an action that a matter, case, object, etc. is put before someone so that he should notice it, literally “cause to be in front of”. That the action is often done verbally does not negate the basic root action.

What I find is that lexicographers all too often define each binyan in isolation from other binyanim, and then claim that there is no connection. They didn’t even look! And I go as far as to say that when they have done so in semantic domains without considering root actions, that they run the risk of misunderstanding the semantic domain (e.g. irony uses words opposite to their usual meaning, to make a point) and so they end up with a different definition than the semantic domain originally intended.

Another example is YR$ with the root action of expropriation, i.e. the transfer of property from one to another. Children expropriate their parents, hence inheritance is a derivative use. Another example is YLD with a root action of bringing forth. Giving birth is one form of bringing forth, hence it is a derivative use. Again the Hiphil use is consistent with the cause to bring forth.

Another thing I keep emphasizing is that which often makes perfect sense in Biblical Hebrew, often comes out garbled when translated, because of the differences of the languages. Similarly, a translator often will find it better to use a term in translation for a particular verb’s binyan that does not directly relate to the root meaning, again because of the differences in languages and that a root meaning may be awkward in direct translation.

The very reason I say that the binyanim indicate meaning is because I expect that ancient Hebrew acted just like any other language spoken by man. Forms do confer meaning. Many Indo-European languages have different forms for the nominative, genitive, dative and accusative nouns: using the wrong form, if it is not recognized as a mistake, will result in gibberish. The same is for verbal forms indicating tenses. Similarly, the different forms affected by Hebrew roots correlate to meanings conferred by the forms, so that if we know the effect of the form on the meaning, it will help us understand correctly lexemes, their meanings as affected by their forms, even their semantic domains.

Karl W. Randolph.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Dr. Joel M. Hoffman" <joel at exc.com>
> 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
> meaning.
> 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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