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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Jul 7 04:49:04 EDT 2009

Dear Yitzhak,

Communication is not always easy, and either I have not expressed my 
points clearly enough, or you have misunderstood something.

The points I tried to convey were:

1. Verbs in real narratives must per definition have past reference 
(not past tense). David Crystal (2001) "Dictionary of Linguistics and 
Phonetics" has the following definition: "A narrative is seen as a 
recapitulation of past experience in which language is used to 
structure a sequence of (real of fictitious ) events". So Crystal 
agrees that narrative verbs have past reference.

2. There may be properties of the narrative sequence itself that can 
not be ascribed to the verbs. The consequence of this is that while a 
narrative verb has past reference, it need not have an intrinsic past 
tense. No one would for example say that the infinitive absolutes 
that are the narrative verbs in Phoenician have an intrinsic past 
tense. I would say that in BH it is basically the prefixed 
conjunction WAW to the prefix verbs that signal the past reference 
and not the verb form itself; "She did that, and she did that, and 
she did that.

Both points above accords with Comrie's views.

>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.

No you are wrong

>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.

The arguments above are very dangerous linguistically speaking. Each 
language must be analyzed in its own right, and it is fallacious to 
analyze dead languages in the light of living ones. There are more 
than 20 different analyses of perfective and imperfective aspects, so 
which one should we choose?
As for a cross-linguistic analysis, we have exactly the same 
phenomena in Aramaic, Ugaritic, Phoenician, and Akkadian as in 
Hebrew, the same verb form can be used with past, present, and future 

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Yitzhak Sapir
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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