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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Wed Jul 8 03:34:19 EDT 2009

Dear Yitzhak,

As a description for my students I can say with reference to a 
particular text: This text  is narrative.  Yet the text may contain 
verbs in succession with past reference, direct speech and other 
forms of speech.
When I speak of "narrative" where verbs per definition have past 
reference, I speak of texts where each verb follow another verb in 
consecution without breaks.

We are now deviating from the central issue, and I see no reason to continue.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>On Tue, Jul 7, 2009 at 11:49 AM, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>>  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.
>Dear Rolf,
>While I accept Crystal's definition, I think one has to separate between
>past experience and past reference.  David Crystal himself knows
>about "past reference" but he does not use the term here.  Therefore,
>it is inaccurate to attribute to Crystal agreement that the narrative
>has past reference.  Also, in the sentence you quote above, verbs are
>not discussed at all.  So it is also inaccurate to attribute to the verbs
>past reference.
>Specifically, Comrie explicitly says (Tense, on p. 62-63 that I provided
>in the earlier message) that a narrative may make use of relative
>present time reference: "...[We] have claimed that the meaning of
>of the English present participle is relative present time reference ...
>thus the present participle in narrative sequence is interpreted as
>simultaneous with the current reference point defined by the next
>verb/event in the narrative sequence."
>>  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.
>Comrie could have taken the easy way out and said that because
>the present participle is used here in a narrative, we cannot tell its
>meaning and we must look for other examples.  But he did not.  He
>evidently believes the meaning can be discerned even though we
>have a narrative before us.  Anyway, Comrie does not say that a
>narrative verb has past reference, but rather that a narrative verb
>may have non-past reference.
>>  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.
>I don't see that.  Comrie says that normally non-past reference verbs
>maintain their time reference even in narratives.  You seem to suggest
>that somehow they must gain past reference because they are in
>The link from before:
>>>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.
>Again, Comrie does not say that any verb form in narratives "*must*"
>per definition have past reference.  I don't know where you are getting
>this because Comrie seems to say quite the opposite.
>>>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
>Could you elaborate?  Could you give an example of where Comrie does
>say a verb must have past reference if it is used in narrative?  Why does
>Comrie go to this whole explanation of justifying his belief in a pure
>relative present reference of the participle in a narrative context if he
>thinks that the verb has past reference in a narrative context regardless
>of its intrinsic verb form?
>>>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?
>Actually, I think it is fallacious and dangerous to do otherwise.  You can
>suggest particular meanings for Hebrew verb forms but without native
>speakers you have no way to know if that is indeed what they intend.
>If a certain use of the verb in a hypothetical unattested case is acceptable
>or not.  At least, if you have a cross linguistic comparison from another
>living language you can go ahead and show that it is possible to have
>had such an interpretation.  Knowing that something is possible but not
>knowing if it is right is slightly better than not knowing whether it is
>possible or right.  Furthermore, if there are no cross linguistic
>comparisons with living languages you have essentially a large ad-hoc
>assumption regarding Hebrew.  It is all very unsound.
>>  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
>>  meaning.
>And if you have such widespread attestation, it is all the more important
>to show these phenomena in Arabic, Neo-Aramaic and Ethiopic.  Otherwise,
>it suggests that you are reading into the dead languages things that are
>not there -- that whereas in the living languages speakers exist to tell
>you when you're wrong, in the dead languages, without speakers, there
>is simply no one alive to tell you you're wrong.
>I note that some of the same concepts were raised by Peter Kirk 10 years
>I am retracting my issue with the use of imperfective in narrative.  But I
>see no place where Comrie suggests that verbs lose their tense/aspect
>in a narrative.  Everything I read in Comrie goes against this assertion.
>Yitzhak Sapir
>b-hebrew mailing list
>b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org

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