[b-hebrew] Tense and aspect; was: "The use of "

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Apr 22 03:36:46 EDT 2009

Dear Jason,

It is important to distinguish between tense and 
time/temporal reference. All languages have 
different means to signal whether an action is 
past, present, or future. But first whenthe 
temporal refrence is an intrinsic part of a verb 
form,  can we say that a language has tense. 
Therefore, tense is defined as "grammaticalized 
location in time". Burmese, for example, do not 
have tenses. In English the forms "went" and 
"spoke" are preterits, they have an intrinsic 
past reference. But not so with the participle 
walking in 1), 2), and 3) below. Each clause has 
a different temporal reference, but this 
reference is not an intrinsic part of "walking".

1) At present He is walking.
2) Tomorrow he will be walking.
3) Yesterday he was walking.

Classical Hebrew has different ways to signal 
temporal reference. The most important one, 
according to my analysis, is a narrative sequence 
of events, one event following the previous one, 
expressed by YIQTOLs with the prefixed 
conjunction WAW. These forms are often called 
"waw consecutive" or WAYYIQTOL. Narratives are by 
definition past, and regardless of which verb 
form is used in narratives, it has past 
reference. So the time markers in this case are 
the narrative setting plus the conjunction WAW, 
which moves the sequence of actions forward.

Please note that  the WAYYIQTOL  form also can 
have present and future reference, it can be 
modal, and the action of one WAYYIQTOL can occur 
at the same time as the action of the previous 
WAYYIQTOL. Moreover, the WAYYIQTOL can be 
conative, ingressive, progressive, egressive, and 
resultative, as other imperfective forms can. And 
it occurs in typical imperfective constructions 
such as, "When Jill entered the room, John was 
reading (WAYYIQTOL) the book.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>How common do you think it is for the understood/translated tense to
>correlate with imperfect or perfect aspect? Is the correspondence
>truly so trivial that (at the very least, in narrative) we cannot
>assume any type of tense indication in the form? In my personal
>reading, anyway, I don't see the problem in narrative with viewing
>imperfect (and corresponding vav-conversives) and perfect (same)
>simply being understood/assumed as future in tense.
>In other words, there is nothing necessarily contextual that would
>make me choose past tense in my translation of ÂÈýÓ¯ VY)MR on its own
>in a simple sentence introducing some piece of speech. I mean, it
>could just as well be future, telling me what someone WILL say. I know
>it's kinda being absurd, but surely there is SOME TENSE FUNCTION
>within the narrative flow, something above and beyond "aspect/Aspekt"
>or perspective. I cannot help but feel that Hebrew (yes, Biblical
>Hebrew) expresses tense quite naturally in most cases. In those which
>are less straightforward, the aspectual features of the forms come
>into play. For the vast majority of verbs, though, it seems rather
>clear (again, in narrative).
>I don't mean to argue the position. It just doesn't set well with me
>to think that the language had nothing to indicate tense inherently in
>the verb, when it is so naturally there in the majority of cases.
>Jason Hare
>Rehovot, Israel
>On Wed, Apr 22, 2009 at 1:24 AM, K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com> wrote:
>>  No. Unlike English and other Indo-European languages, Biblical Hebrew did
>>  not express tenses through the form of the verb.
>>  Context is the main and final arbiter.
>>  Karl W. Randolph.
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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