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

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Fri Jul 3 19:38:17 EDT 2009

Hi James,

> 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 Rolf.
> 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

I agree. But Rolf disagrees. And that is the basic sticking point. For 
him, any meaning which is able to be cancelled is not in fact semantic 
meaning but is pragmatic.

> 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

I agree. But Rolf redefines aspect so that to his reading of the text in 
every case it is not cancelled. Again, this is a sticking point -- hence 
my questions regarding wayyomer.

> 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. 

No, that's not true. See my responses above.

> Rolf has already made it quite 
> clear that the uncancellable meaning thing is actually a very small part 
> of the study. 

Not true. PLease read his dissertation. Trying to find the uncancellable 
meaning of the BH verbal forms is his aim throughout his work!

> 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. 

No, he claims that his definitions are suitable for every example in the 

> 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. 

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly and stated this explicitly in my review.

> 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 analysis.

James, I've already published in this area. I do not get what you 
meaning by "moving on from the uncancellable meaning thing" -- as I've 
been arguing, we should all move on from it because it is not a 
linguistic reality. I can't "move on" from it because I do not hold that 
position myself.

> 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.

Well, OK, I'll start at Gen 12:1. First verb is problematic. Default 
construal can really only be taken as past perfective. Rolf would say 
that it is past imperfective. Already we see it not working so I see no 
point in continuing on.

David Kummerow.

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