[b-hebrew] b-hebrew Uncancellable meaning and Hebrew verbs

James Read J.Read-2 at sms.ed.ac.uk
Fri Jul 3 06:13:44 EDT 2009

Hi David,

I haven't read your article and don't where it is. I'm guessing from  
comments in this email that your basic position is that different  
forms have different uses and that there is generally a usage which  
occurs frequently enough to be the default understanding. If so, then  
we seem to agree on this point.

May I make an observation? Very often in all fields of research we see  
a flame war of some kind, the opposing parties of which, at first  
glance, seem to have contradictory views. However, on closer  
inspection these flame wars generally boil down to minor  
misunderstandings and that, in actual fact, the two parties seem to be  
defending almost the exact same position but with different approaches  
that blind the opponents from realising just how similar their  
position is. This seems to me to be what is happening between you and  

When we analyse your positions closely you both seem to be saying  
almost the exact same thing but with different approaches. You both  
seem to concur that:

1) pragmatics and semantics both have influences
2) pragmatics can cancel default semantics
3) the pragmatics in our hebrew corpus show that tense is often cancelled
4) the pragmatics in our hebrew corpus show that aspect is often cancelled
5) the corpus shows that hebrew verbs have different uses as Rolf's  
statistics show

It seems to me that the reason you seem to be blinded to the fact that  
you are arguing an almost exact stance as Rolf is that you seem to be  
stuck on this uncancellable meaning thing and Rolf's conclusions of  
the uncancellable meaning of the verb forms. Rolf has already made it  
quite clear that the uncancellable meaning thing is actually a very  
small part of the study. The most salient part of the study, and what  
you seem to be missing, is his analysis of the verbs and the  
statistics he has gathered which show the various uses of the verbs  
and that both tense and aspect are often cancelled. Rolf has also made  
it clear that he accepts the possibility that there may be no  
uncancellable meaning to the verb forms but has shown that if there is  
an uncancellable meaning that his study attempts to explain what it is.

At the end of the day it really makes little difference if there is or  
is not an uncancellable meaning. It is very unlikely that the hebrews  
were conscious of such a meaning when they used the verb forms. What  
they were conscious of (I conclude by introspection) was the intended  
usage they had in mind each time they used the verb forms. So the  
really interesting question is "What signals can we reliably use to  
discern the intended usage?" rather than "What is the hypothetical  
uncancellable meaning that the hebrews were unaware of?".

The great value of Rolf's study is the statistics he has gathered  
using his method of analysing the verbs. This gives us a starting  
point to consider the different usages and ways of identifying them  
reliably. And so, as I have said before, if you really wish to give a  
worthwhile critique of Rolf's work, it's high time you moved on from  
the uncancellable meaning thing and moved onto Rolf's technique of  

I would like to invite you one more time to analyse a section of the  
corpus using Rolf's method to see if your results have any major  
disagreements with Rolf's.

Hi Rolf,

would it be possible to provide a computerised index of the  
categorised verb forms so that we can apply your method and see if we  
agree with your analyses?

James Christian

Quoting David Kummerow <farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com>:

> Hi James,
>> Hi David,
>> you keep on attacking uncancelability as if it is, in some way,
>> sufficient to undermine Rolf's analysis of the uses of the verbs in
>> biblical hebrew. To the best of my recollection (correct me if I am
>> wrong) you have not stated a concrete position that you hold with
>> respect to the various verb forms but various statements seem to
>> indicate that you uphold other traditional analyses.
> I have in fact stated my concrete views in my article in KUSATU 8-9
> (2008) 63-95 and at times on this list.
>> May I point out to you that your position on uncancellability of meaning
>> seems to undermine your being able to hold any kind of position on the
>> meaning of verb forms?
> Not true. Please read my article. Also see my comments about
> prototyicality etc on this list.
>   You yourself are arguing that meaning can be
>> cancelled by context. So how could you then defend any particular position?
> By way of defining semantics prototypically, not uncancellably.
>> I think you may be able to read Rolf's work better if you approach it
>> this way. Instead of assuming that the work falls down without the
>> foundation of uncancellability you could ask the question 'If there was
>> an uncancellable meaning what would it be?'.
> It does in fact fall down because uncancellablity of meaning as I've
> demonstrated in my review "controls" the interpretation of the results.
> Uncancellablity of meaning cannot be assumed given the wide
> cross-linguistic evidence regarding multifunctionality etc.
> And like I've said on this list: part of the problem with Rolf's
> position is when we get down to actual details of the text. I've
> repeatedly asked over the last few years to be shown how wayymer (just
> as one example!) can be construed imperfectively. That is, assuming that
> the imperfective aspect of WAYYIQTOL is uncancellable, how is this to be
> seen from wayyomer examples in the text?
> I think then you can see
>> the true value of Rolf's work. You can then see that his analysis shows
>> that tense is not uncancellable to the verb forms.
> Of course. But Rolf is also honest in admitting and show that
> traditionally-defined aspect doesn't fit either. And so because he's
> after the so-called uncancellable meaning, he then has to modify the
> definition of imperfective and perfective aspect so loosely that they
> can be sort of made to fit. I say "sort of" because, again, when we get
> down to examples, I simply am unable to see how his definition still
> fits -- hence my repeated asking to be shown concretely how wayyomer is
> imperfective in aspect.
> This seems to me to
>> be one of the most salient points of the study. This, of course, does
>> not mean that verb forms were never used without a tense in mind. The
>> possibility exists that there are different usages that conform to
>> different patterns. It would be interesting if somebody followed up
>> Rolf's work to explore this issue.
>> We can take for example English verbs. Usually there is a usage which we
>> consider to be the default. e.g.
>> I play football every Thursday evening
>> Jill goes to church on Sundays
>> Fred works in the factory
>> These examples illustrate a default of repeated action expressed by the
>> present simple in English. However, this default can easily be cancelled
>> by context. e.g.
>> A man walks into a bar and says 'Ouch!'.
>> Context reveals a story in the past. The default can also be cancelled
>> for semantic reasons. e.g.
>> He thinks she's lying
>> Certain verbs, as above, can use the present simple with a present sense.
>> Anyway, all this aside, if you really wish to attack Rolf's study I
>> would suggest applying his method of analysis to any given text and
>> seeing if you can find fault with the method. Your attack on
>> uncancellability really isn't going anywhere. Because such an attack
>> undermines every interpretation of the verb forms.
> James, I see it every day not working when I read the text! Hence I
> simply asked a concrete question regarding just one (!) example --
> wayyomer. Two or three years ago when I asked this question Rolf ignored
> it, and it seems like that's happening again.
>> James Christian
> Regards,
> David Kummerow.
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