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

Yitzhak Sapir yitzhaksapir at gmail.com
Mon Jul 6 21:13:25 EDT 2009

On Sat, Jul 4, 2009 at 11:49 AM, Rolf Furuli wrote:

> 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:
> "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.

Hello Rolf,

I looked up Comrie on the above, and it seems Comrie does say that
sequencing is a property of narrative rather than verb forms.  But Comrie
never says that past tense is an attribute of narrative in such a way that
a narrative can change the basic tense or aspect of a verb form.  In fact,
there are examples Comrie provides that go against that:
"Crossing the street, I entered the supermarket."

Comrie doesn't say that "Crossing the street" is forced to be past tense.
Instead he says that it does not, and its "immediate past" interpretation is
due to the sequencing that is part of the context of the narrative.
It is his view,
rather, that it remains present and is therefore at that point simultaneous
with the current reference time.  This is why, "I will cross the street.  I will
enter the supermarket." is not a narrative.  The tenses or aspects don't
change to allow this to be a narrative.  What Comrie says about verbs
gaining interpretation from the narrative context itself only has to do with
sequencing, and not with tenses.  Indeed it makes good sense even in BH
where there are examples of such sequencing.  For example, Gen 24:34-
35, "And Abraham became great, And [God] gave him sheep and cattle
and silver and gold ..."  Becoming great and receiving all the blessings are
likely concurrent.    Your example from Gen 41:1-7 also fits well with
Comrie's view on this.

So in the following:
> 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.

The above, specifically the last two sentences, appears to misread into
Comrie the exact position that he argues against -- that verb tenses in
narrative receive a different tense due to their use in a narrative context.

So while many linguists probably would agree with Comrie, I doubt most
linguists would accept that an imperfective verb form can be used in
narrative contexts.  In any case, without a cross-linguistic analysis like
Comrie's, and without having examples of the use of imperfective
aspects in narrative contexts in living languages which have perfective/
imperfective distinctions, it is very hard to see how an argument could
be made for Biblical Hebrew to have such uses.

Yitzhak Sapir

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