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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Apr 22 10:00:40 EDT 2009

Dear Stoney,

When we discuss linguistic issues, we may define 
our concepts differently. And that need not be a 
problem as long as the other part clearly 
understand our definition. So, you are free to 
define tense as you have done below. Another 
question is whether the definition is precise 
enough to give good results in the study of 
languages. To borrow a viewpoint from the natural 
sciences: If a hypothesis is so general that it 
can explain everything, it explains nothing. A 
scientific hypothesis should be falsifiable, that 
is, it should be possible to think of situations 
which, if they occurred, would prove the 
hypothesis to be wrong. And similarly in 
linguistics; if definitions are so subjective or 
general that there are no controls to use in 
order to distinguish between what falls inside 
and outside the definition, such definitions are 
not helpful in linguistic research. I am afraid 
your definition belongs to this group.

My definition, on the other hand, can be used to 
falsify, and as far as dead languages are 
concerned, it can be used to find whether there 
are particular verb forms that uniformly express 
a particular time reference. Based on my 
definition, the test is very simple. Applied to 
WAYYIQTOL it goes like this: If WAYYIQTOL 
represents past tense, we will expect that it 
always has past reference, except in situations 
which linguistically can be explained as special 
cases (such as hypothetical conditional clauses 
etc). If we find a reasonable number of 
WAYYIQTOLs with non-past reference, the 
hypothesis that WAYYIQTOL represents past tense 
is falsified. Can you apply your definition of 
tense in a similar way to Hebrew and get 
linguistic results? In that case, please explain 

I suggest that you read the book "Tense" (1986) 
B. Comrie. There you will find a definition 
similar to mine.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Rolf :
>'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 when the temporal reference 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".'
>This seems to be unnecessarily restrictive. Isn't simpler and more
>productive to treat 'tense' as a component of the utterance, a component
>which may be realized either grammatically or lexically — or, redundantly,
>both — or even (as often in English, and I am beginning to suspect in
>Hebrew) left unmarked?
>Stoney Breyer
>Touchwood Creative | www.touchwoodcreative.com
>3200 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO. 63103
>tel: 314-421-9878 x103 | fax: 314-421-6276
>stoneyb at touchwoodcreative.com
>*ein Mann ... dem das Schreiben schwerer fällt als allen anderen Leuten.
>-Thomas Mann

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