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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Jul 7 14:28:41 EDT 2009

Dear Karl,

The final word is not said regarding Hebrew grammar and Hebrew verbs. 
We must keep in mind that there was no Hebrew grammar in the days of 
the Masoretes, and the grammatical suggestions that have been 
presented in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century all are built on 
induction-and induction can be tricky.

I do not think you should approach Hebrew grammar by asking whether I 
am right or wrong. In any case, you will not have a basis for any 
answer before you have carefully studied my dissertation and 
considered a great part of its examples. What bothers me most in many 
studies of Hebrew verbs is the arbitrariness of many of the 
conclusions. Things are stated without arguments, and the readers of 
grammars and textbooks  simply have to believe the statements.

To come to grips with Hebrew grammar, I see two important paths to follow:

1) Consider for yourself whether you want to use a method where you 
have to account for a lot of factors at the same time (i.e., 
discourse analysis) or whether you want to study the smallest 
possible parts of the language, one at a time (semantic meaning 
versus conversational pragmatic implicature).

2) Try to get a clear understanding of the fundamental properties 
"deictic center," "event time," and "reference time" and how these 
can be applied to Hebrew verbs. To achieve that, I suggest that you 
study B. Comrie (1976) "Aspect" and (1985) "Tense".  Here you will 
find a fundamental introduction that will be of great help. Comrie is 
seen as a linguistic authority. However, you should keep in mind that 
he has been severely criticized for his confusion of aspect and 
Aktionsart, or rather his lack of distinction between aspect and 
Aktionsart by numerous linguists. So after you have read Comrie, you 
need something by which you can adjust your ideas regarding the 
fundamental aspectual properties. This you can do by a careful study 
of the dissertation of M. Broman Olsen, that I previously have 
referred to. Her discussion of the fundamental properties are 
excellent, the best discussion I am aware of, and she points out the 
weaknesses of Comrie's discussion in a rather simple way.  After 
this, you will probably have the right basis for the study of the 
Hebrew verb. The best way to learn the basics, as I see it, is first 
to read Comrie, and then throw away the 20-30% where he errs, and not 
just to Read Broman Olsen without having read Comrie.

There are some tense-less languages in the world, but no languages 
that are not concerned with time, past, present, and future. So, you 
cannot approach BH by throwing out time altogether. What you should 
do is to ascertain what it means that tense is the relationship 
between the deictic center and reference time, and that aspect is the 
relationship between event time and reference time, and then apply 
this to BH.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Right now I cannot say that you are right or that you are wrong.
>I question whether or not the Biblical Hebrew verbal conjugation
>system had a time element at all. Even your modified aspectual system
>still retains a time element. That's what I question. I could be
>As I previously admitted, before joining this list, I had given very
>little thought to Biblical Hebrew grammar, concentrating on lexical
>For example, before Randall Buth joined with his question, I had never
>considered the grammar for simple, declarative statements concerning
>ongoing events. As far as I have seen so far, he's right that the
>Yiqtol is not used for those sentences. However, his conclusion that
>the noun/pronoun plus participle is the default construction for those
>sentences is belied by the finding that at least one such sentence has
>that construction referring to the future and that the Qatal is often
>used for present, ongoing events. The Yiqtol seems to be used for
>optitative, subjunctive, interrogative and other such uses.
>Like you, when I studied Hebrew in class, I was taught that the Hebrew
>conjugation system necessarily includes time; whether tense as in
>modern Israeli or aspect with its completed, point time action vs.
>incompleted, continuing time action. One of the nice things about
>being largely self-taught is that I don't have to argue with experts,
>rather I can deal with the text directly without that distraction, but
>it also means that I could be very wrong.
>Thanks again for resending your definitions.
>Karl W. Randolph.
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list