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

David Kummerow farmerjoeblo at hotmail.com
Tue Jul 7 19:11:22 EDT 2009

Hi Rolf,

> It is possible to approach the BH verbal system in many ways, by the 
> prototypical method, by discourse analysis, by a grammaticalization 
> approach, and by a method that distinguishes between semantics and 
> pragmatics.  Every method has of course its advantages and 
> disadvantages. My personal concerns relate to the lack of controls of 
> most methods, to the point where almost everything goes. One can simply 
> say without any particular data (if I understand the method correctly) 
> that "this form is non-prototypical" because it is different from the 
> majority of similar forms.  I would like to refer to some examples.

Yes, I agree. But with your approach it boils down to whether your 
definition of semantics is correct. The whole approach is dictated by this.

> The so-called "prophetic perfect" is a good example. In the 19th century 
> (and in many cases also today) scholars viewed QATAL as the perfective 
> aspect with the meaning "completed action". In the 19th century 
> scholars  ( for example A. B. Davidson) realized that many QATALs had 
> future reference.   When this was the case (I list 965 examples of QATAL 
> with future meaning-not including future perfect), the action still *had 
> to be* completed. So when it factually was not completed, it was 
> postulated that it was completed in the mind of the prophet!  This is an 
> ad hoc-explanation in order to save the definition of QATAL.  I go in 
> the very opposite direction by arguing that prophetic perfect is a 
> fiction, and that the 965 QATALs do have  real future reference.

In my opinion, Rogland has covered this ground much better. Rolf, there 
is nothing which says that a form cannot have multiple semantic 
functions -- unless you've already assumed otherwise.

> Other interesting examples of how far scholars go in order to save their 
> theory, are the writings of H. Birkeland and F. R. Blake.  For 40 years 
> until the mid-1960s Harris Birkeland was professor of Semitics at the 
> University of Oslo. He believed that WAYYIQTOL  represented past tense, 
> and I was taught that when I started my Hebrew studies. Another 
> outstanding Semitic scholar in the 40s and 50s was F. R. Blake, who just 
> as strongly as Birkeland defended the past tense meaning of WAYYIQTOL. 
> In their writings (Birkeland (1935) "Ist das hebräische Imperfektum 
> consecutiv ein Präteritum?" Acta Orient VIII; F. R. Blake (1951) "A 
> Resurvey of the Hebrew Tenses With and Appendix") they both discussed 
> the same about 125 particular WAYYIQTOLs seemingly with non-past 
> reference, and both concluded that these were not counterexamples 
> against the view that WAYYIQTOL represented past tense. What is 
> interesting, however, are their arguments. Blake argued that most of the 
> examples really had non-past reference, but they were wrongly pointed by 
> the Masoretes and were actually copulative imperfects. Birkeland 
> accepted that they were correctly pointed and by  the help of some 
> linguistic acrobatics, he took them to have past reference. Both *knew* 
> that WAYYIQTOL represented past tense, and this had to be defended with 
> all means.
>> Then this just means that you read back the meaning of the minority of
>> uses into the majority of uses. But how do we know that the semantic
>> meaning of the majority of uses wasn't in part cancelled to allow for
>> the minority of uses? How do we know that the meaning found in the
>> minority of uses is also by default to be attributed to the majority of
>> uses. Here work on frequency in linguistics would tell against your
> position as I argued in my review.
> If we are concerned with temporal reference, the situation is very 
> clear, because the deictic center and reference time is visible in most 
> verbs. The only possible candidate for tense is WAYYIQTOL, and because 
> the almost one thousand examples with non-past reference occur in normal 
> contexts and by no means can be viewed as special cases, they strongly 
> argue against a past tense interpretation. The reason for the great 
> number of WAYYIQTOLs with past reference, is the big place of narrative 
> texts in the BH, and here the verbs must have past reference.
> If we are concerned with aspect, it is absolutely wrong to speak of "the 
> majority of uses" and "the minority of uses". This is so because in most 
> verbs we simply cannot see the relationship between event time and 
> reference time, so we cannot know their aspect (one needs clairvoyance 
> to do so). Therefore we must analyze the verbs where this relationship 
> can be seen. And in these cases we see that both WAYYIQTOL and YIQTOL 
> have imperfective characteristics and QATAL and WEQATAL have perfective 
> characteristics. Here there is no majority and minority!

Rolf, I find this hardly convincing because we then say that WAYYIQTOL 
is imperfective based on these few examples and then make the assumption 
that this is the semantic meaning of WAYYIQTOL. By you own admission, 
you claim that you can only find a minority of clauses where 
imperfective characteristics may be seen. Based on this, you then say 
that the uncancellable semantics of WAYYIQTOL is imperfective -- but 
you've just admitted that can't determine this in all the other cases. I 
would think it's better to say that the semantics of WAYYIQTOL is 
imperfective in the cases you've found it to be such, but in the 
majority of cases you cannot draw this conclusion.

Still, regarding wayyo'mer in its typical use would refer to the whole 
of the following speech act, hence perfective.

> Best regards,
> Rolf Furuli

David Kummerow.

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