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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Jul 8 02:38:11 EDT 2009

Dear James,

Your questions below are appropriate, so I will give a few examples. 
But for my part I think it is time to stop participating in this 
thread. I see no reason to participate in a discussion for the sake 
of the discussion, as some do, in order to get the last word. I have 
tried to concentrate on the big issues of Hebrew verbs, and for those 
interested, I think it is time to read the works of Comrie, Broman 
Olsen and myself.

The deictic center (C) is the vantage point from which an event is 
seen. It is often the present moment or the time of writing. Events 
that are not instantaneous take time, and the time from the beginning 
to the end is "event time"  (E). Because of the nature of the 
English verbal system, E is in most cases considered in relation to a 
time line. But that is not necessary, because we can speak of "a 
two-hour walk" without placing it in the past or in the future.

Communication means that the speaker or writer makes the whole event 
or a part of that event visible for the listener or reader. In order 
to make a particular part visible, aspects are used-in English the 
participle and perfect. The parameter "reference time" (R) can be 
compared to a pointing finger that points to a particular part of an 
event, either after the beginning and before the end, or at the end 
(the only two options in English). The small part of event time being 
made visible by the pointing finger is reference time (R). To say it 
in a technical way, R intersects E at the nucleus when the 
imperfective aspect is used and at the coda when the perfective 
aspect is used. Please consider the four examples below.

(1) She was walking in the garden.

(2) She has walked in the garden.

(3) #Yesterday she has walked in the garden.

(4) While she was walking in the garden, her husband entered the scene.

The form "was"  in (1) signals that R comes before C, which is the 
present moment. This means that we know that the walking-event 
factually was terminated- its end had been reached before the present 
moment. However, the writer of the clause, while signalling that the 
event is terminated, does not want to make the whole event visible 
for his audience. He points his finger at the middle of the event; 
thus R intersects E at the nucleus. There can be reasons for making 
just a part of the event visible, such as we see in (4).

Perfect can be defined as "the continuing present relevance of a past 
situation". In (2) perfect is used, and that connects the 
walking-event with the present moment. We know that the event is 
terminated, and the author's finger points at the end of the event-R 
intersects E at the coda. The two hours of the walking-event is not 
made visible, only its termination.

Clause (3) is ungrammatical because the event is not connected with 
the present moment. This example can throw some light on your view 
that "tense and aspect are cancellable to the verb system of all 
languages". I guess that if we observed people for a long time in the 
UK or the US, we would discover one or more persons who used clauses 
similar to (3); thus speaking in an ungrammatical way. The 
consequence would be that "the present relevance" of perfect was 
cancelled, and your words are justified. But we must remember that 
this is an ungrammatical use, which means that there are particular 
rules, and these are violated.

This throws light on my use of "semantic meaning". I would say that 
the English perfect (the perfective aspect) has a uniform 
interpretation-a past event is connected with the present moment. 
This is the use governed by grammatical rules, and counterexamples 
should not violate grammatical rules, but they should be found in 
normal speech situations.

The interesting question therefore is: Can we find normal uses of the 
perfect in English were R does not intersect E at the coda? In other 
words, can we find examples of perfect that signals that the end of 
the event has not yet been reached? If such examples cannot be found, 
we should accept that English perfect has an uncancellable semantic 

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>Hi Rolf,
>for the benefit of the list members can you provide a quick 
>explanation of tense and aspect as defined by your parameters event 
>time, reference time and deictic centre with a couple of example 
>sentences that illustrate the use of the tools?
>I'm fairly sure that using this same method and applying it to any 
>modern language we would find that both tense and aspect are 
>cancellable to the verb systems of all languages. The reason I make 
>this observation is that while I concede that there may be an 
>uncancellable meaning which is common to all uses of a verb form I'm 
>pretty sure that language speakers are unaware of it when they use a 
>verb form and are more conscious of the use they wished to express.
>James Christian

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