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

dwashbur at nyx.net dwashbur at nyx.net
Thu Apr 23 09:52:44 EDT 2009

On 23 Apr 2009 at 17:23, George Athas wrote:

> Rolf,
> I wonder whether you are accepting an assumption about Hebrew without subjecting it to scrutiny. Please correct me if I'm wrong in how I'm reading you:
> You ask whether WAYYIQTOL represents past tense. However, in asking this, are you importing the standard convention of Indo-European languages, which tell stories in past tense? That is, how do you know that Hebrew tells stories with a basic past reference? How do you know that Hebrew doesn't tell stories in present tense, such that WAYYIQTOL is effectively a present tense?
> Feel free either to answer, question, or go to town on me.

And even that is changing in some cases.  One of my favorite mystery authors, Patricia 
Cornwell, has written her last several novels in present tense.  In the case of Hebrew 
narrative, since the writer was telling something that happened before he wrote it, I suspect 
it would have been assumed that the story was "past tense," but that's a pragmatic 
consideration that wasn't encoded in the verb forms at all.

I see the wayyiqtol as the simple declarative sentence.  "He did x.  He did y.  He did z."  I 
don't see sequence encoded in it; rather, any sequence that is there comes naturally by the 
nature of the events described, and if sequence doesn't come naturally by the nature of the 
events described, it's not there.  This has the advantage of unifying just about all of the 
phenomena we see and providing an explanatory account of them.

Of course, that's just my unbiased opinion ;-)

Dave Washburn

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