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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Sat Jul 4 04:49:59 EDT 2009

Dear list-members,

David Kummerow has several times made the challenge found in the 
first quote below.

David Kummerow wrote:

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?

When I read the words above, I wonder if DK has read my whole 
dissertation. If he has read everything, he either has not understood 
it or he speaks contrary to his better judgement. It is shown in my 
work that in most verbs the relationship between event time and 
reference time is not seen, but only in a few hundred verbs can we 
clearly see the relationship between event time and reference time, 
thus clearly pointing out the aspect. In chapters 2 and 8 I argue 
that the perfective and imperfective aspect in Hebrew are not 
mutually exclusive as in English, and on p. 412 I list two 
similarities and four differences between the aspects. For example, 
in my analysis, only imperfective verbs can express conative 
situations (situations attempted but not carried through), and 
situations where the action expressed by one verb is intersected by 
another (When Moses read the law, Joshua entered his tent.)

Ignoring the points above, DK takes one root, )MR, and asks for one 
example where we can see that this verb is imperfective and has 
cancellable properties. A fair question to ask would have been: 
Please give me ten examples of WAYYIQTOLs that are imperfective. But 
let us continue with )MR.

James Read asked DK for examples, and DK used Gen 12:1.

>  >
>  > 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.

I quote the verse from the NIV:
"The LORD had said (WAYYIQTOL) to Abram, "Leave your country, your 
people and your father's household and go to the land I will show 

What is visible in connection with the WAYYIQTOL of )MR? In most 
cases the Aktionsart of this verb is dynamic and durative, but it can 
also be semelfactive ("Peter said "ah"."), so the words has no 
uncancellable Aktionsart properties. The relationship between the 
deictic center and reference time is seen; R comes before C, so the 
reference is past. But we cannot see which part of the action that 
the writer wanted to make visible, whether the force is "YHWH began 
to speak/ continued to speak/spoke/hd spoken."

And here is something that DK seems to have overlooked, namely, that 
narrative sequences have different properties that cannot be ascribed 
to the verb forms:  B. Comrie (1985) "Tense" p. 63 says:

"In looking for examples of relative time reference, it is essential 
to ensure that the relative time reference interpretation is part of 
the meaning of the form in question, rather than an implicature 
derived from, in part, the context. One area which is particularly 
confusing in this respect is narrative, where one gains the 
impression that a sequence of events which are located temporally one 
almost immediately after the other, the chronological sequence 
mirrored in a linear order of clauses. Thus one might be tempted to 
think that this sequencing is part of the meaning of the verb forms 
used, thus introducing a meaning of 'immediate past' or 'immediate 
future' relative time reference (depending on whether one defined the 
time reference of the preceding verb in terms of the following verb, 
vice versa). However, as was shown in section 1.8 this sequencing of 
events is a property of the narrative itself, quite independent of 
the verb form used to encode the narrative, so that the mere fact 
that verb forms receive this interpretation in narrative is not 
sufficient evidence for assigning this meaning to the verb forms."

Linguistis may have different opinions, but I would think that all, 
or most linguists would agree with Comrie in this case.

Comrie does not discuss WAYYIQTOL but the relative time reference in 
narrative. But an important point is that he shows that a verb form 
may be given a particular meaning in a narrative. But this meaning 
need not be an intrinsic part of the verb form but rather an 
implicature from the narrative itself (the context), Comrie's words 
in an excellent way illustrate my distinction between semantics and 
pragmatics. And they also imply that the verb forms used in narrative 
contexts can have different meanings. For example, any verb form used 
in narratives *must* per definition have past reference. In Hebrew, 
WAYYIQTOL  is used, in Phoenician infinitive absolute is used, and in 
Ugaritic  the prefix form (possibly the short one) is used. But we 
cannot know the real meaning of each form just because it has past 
reference and is used in narratives. So, the conclusion: "WAYYIQTOL 
is so often used in narratives with past reference, that it must 
represent past tense (or the perfective aspect), overlooks elementary 
linguistic principles.

Therefore, the words of DK regarding the verb in Genesis 12:1 
"Default construal can really only be taken as past perfective." are 
really primitive words, because,

-they are not argued, just claimed.
-basic linguistic principles, such as those expressed by Comrie are overlooked.
-The perfective aspect are defined in more than ten different ways. 
So what is THE perfective aspect?
-All-propositions (expressed by "only") do not belong to linguistics.

I will continue with )MR in my next E-mail.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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