[b-hebrew] b-hebrew Uncancellable meaning and Hebrew verbs
furuli at online.no
Tue Jul 7 03:19:02 EDT 2009
I will first give a sketch of my theory of meaning and communication.
( I started to work on this theory when I many years ago studied
applied linguistics and psycholinguistics). In everyday speech we
usually need not qualify the word "meaning," but in scholarly
discussions we should tell whether we speak of lexical, grammatical,
syntactical, pragmatic or semantic meaning. But that is rarely done.
As for communication, my view is that in the words of a language
there is a potential for many different meanings, and communication
means that particular parts of this potential is made visible for the
listener or reader and the rest of the potential is kept invisible.
Various tools are used to signal this.
Lexical meaning is not found in lexicons or Word books but in the
minds of the native speakers of a particular language. In lexicons we
only find glosses, i.e., the words in the target languages that are
used to translate particular word in the source language. A word
exists in the mind as a concept with a rather clear nucleus but the
concept is fuzzy towards the edges. (Sometimes a word signals two or
more concepts.) When a particular word, say a substantive, is used in
a clause, the other words of that clause, or the wider context will
help to see which part of the concept signalled by the words that is
made visible and which parts are kept invisible. So the context does
not generate new lexical meaning, but it makes visible what already
is there, Here we should think of Ogden's "triangle of signification"
with word, concept, and reference at the corners- the lexical
meaning of a word is one thing, is reference is another. We may use
the word NP$ as an example. The core of the concept signalled is a
living creature (in BH never a spirit or a ghost). The same is true
in Akkadian, but in Ge'ez, modern Hebrew, and Arabic the root may
also refer to an invisible spirit. In different contexts NP$ can
refer to living animals, living humans, to life, to the right to
live, and even to a carcass (a dead soul that once was living). All
these different *references* are allowed by the concept in the Hebrew
mind and they do not represent new lexical meanings.
Verbs are used to signal actions and states, and in order to make
visible all the subtleties of a particular action, more complex
signals must be used. Each verb also signals a concept in the mind,
and apart from verbs where two original roots have fused, the verb
concept is sometimes "smaller" than the "noun concept. Each verb has
a particular Aktionsart (or state): some are uncancellable and others
are not. Different factors, such a
singularity/plurality/definitenness/indefiniteness of the verbal
arguments (subject and object) and adverbials can be used to signal a
modification of the Aktionsart. A verb clause may refer to this world
or to other possible worlds (being modal), and in Hebrew, this can be
signalled by morphological means, by word order, and by the context.
There are also other subtleties that can be made visible, such as the
functions of subject and object relative to the action -active,
passive, reflexive, causative etc. these are expressed by the stems.
The native speakers of BH were interested in the time of the actions
relative to the present moment, and this they could construe on the
basis of the context, while most modern languages have tenses that
are morphologically expressed.
Then we come to the aspects. My view is that the imperfective and the
perfective aspect can be compared to peepholes through which
different parts of the action are made visible. This means that
aspects do not generate any new meaning, but they make visible
something that already is there, and keep the rest invisible. Thus,
the other words of the clause made visible a part of the concept
signalled by a substantive, and the aspect made visible a particular
part of the verb action. In my presentation these "peepholes"
function on three planes:
1) The angle of the focus. This depends on whether reference time
intersects event time, a) before its beginning (conative) action), b)
including the beginning and a small part of the action (ingressive),
c) progressive (action viewed after the beginning and before the
end), d) egressive ( a part of the action and the end implied), and
e) resultative (the focus is on the resulting state).
2) The breadth of the focus. This depends on the area of E that is
intersected (and made visible) by R (a small part, a bigger part, or
the whole of E).
3) The quality of the focus. This depends whether the details of a
part of E is made visible or not.
It is obvious that most of the lexical meaning and the meaning of
verb clauses is pragmatic, i.e., the meaning can be construed on the
basis of the context. The minds of the native BH speakers could
ascertain these different meanings, but it is much more difficult for
us who try to ascertain the BH meaning on the basis of induction.
On the basis of the nature of meaning in BH, most of my dissertation
deals with conversational pragmatic implicature. However, in order to
communicate in an understandable way, there ought to be some fixed
points that do not change. Otherwise we would have linguistic
anarchy. Therefore, in my work with my dissertation I was looking for
semantic meaning (uncancellable meaning). Such a meaning was not
found in the temporal references of the verbs. I found no tense in
the system, while a claim of WAYYIQTOL representing past tense, is
tantamount to saying that it has a semantic meaning. In connection
with the three different planes of the aspects I was also looking for
semantic meaning; I was looking for characteristics of the
imperfective aspect that was not found in the perfective one. I found
two basic similarities and four differences. And in my analysis these
differences constitute semantic meaning.
Above I have outlined my view of meaning, and let us continue. As
you said in one post, meaning has changed and will change over time.
But that is not necessary for all kinds of meaning. When I speak of
"semantic meaning," this is a synchronic property. On the basis of my
study of the texts of BH, I see some characteristics that I view to
be early and later. But I see no evolution in the meaning of the
verbal system. So, after a careful diachronic study I have a basis
for treating the BH verbs as if they were synchronic.
Broman Olsen has refined the definitions of event time, reference
time and deictic center compared with Reichenbach and Comrie, and I
find that her discussion of tense and aspect in the English verbal
system is superb- better than anything else I have seen. However, she
assumes that the aspectual properties found in English, namely
"incomplete" and "completed" are universal, and here I disagree with
Therefore, the understanding of the principles and definitions is
language dependent, and your understanding seen below is related to
Hebrew. Let us start with English. I take the participle as the
imperfective aspect and the perfect as the perfective one. In my
view, the aspects represent semantic meaning, i.e., uncancellable
meaning. The uniform interpretation of the participle used as a verb
is ongoing action (the end is not reached) and the perfect signals
completed actions (the actions are terminated). Examples of
participles expressing completed action and perfects expressing
ongoing action are rare and almost nonexistent, and as long as such
can be explained as special cases, that does not blot out the uniform
I define tense as a "grammaticalization of location in time," which
means that simple past in English has a uniform interpretation.
There are exceptions to this, and these are more numerous than in the
case of the aspects, but these exceptions can be explained as special
cases as well.
In Hebrew there are no tenses, so a great part of what is semantic
meaning in English is lacking. The Hebrew aspects can not be defined
as uncompleted and completed. Thus, the semantic meaning of English
is lacking in the aspectual realm as well. So, what basically remains
of semantic meaning in BH are verbs with an uncancellable
Aktionsart, durativity, dynamicity, and telicity, and a few
differences between the perfective and imperfective aspect.
Everything else represents pragmatics. I have advocated that temporal
reference can change but not "tense" in the technical sense of the
word. the uses of the BH aspects are very diverse, but there are some
properties that do not change.
University of Oslo
>as far as I understand Rolf's work he claims that both tense and
>aspect are cancellable. That was the whole point of his providing
>refined definitions of imperfect and perfect aspects.
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