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

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Thu Jul 9 02:44:08 EDT 2009

Dear James,

See my comments below.

>>In order to find examples where the perfective aspect portrays
>>actions that are ongoing, and where the end is not reached, you can
>>only use the perfect participle - he has stood.

I am sorry but I am not following your reasoning. 
Please consider a) and b). We agree that from 8 
until 12 the state of standing held as in (a), 
and from 8 until 12 the action of working 
  as in (b). But remember that the aspects are not 
concerned with what actually happened, but they 
make visible *a part* of what actually happened. 
How long E lasted, and whether the person also 
"stood" after 12 o´clock is irrelevant. The point 
is that R intersects E at the coda (at 12 
o`clock). Therefore, c)  and d) are  odd and 

a) From 8 o´clock this morning until 12 he has stood on his feet.

b) From 8 o´clock this morning until 12 he has worked.

c) While he from 8 o´clock this morning until 12 
has stood on his feet, his daughter was born.

d) While he from 8 o´clock this morning until 12 
has worked, his daughter was born.

>>>Also consider the following:
>>>1) I have gone for a long time (doesn't make sense)
>>>2) I have been gone for a long time (now makes sense)
>>>3) I have known this for a long time (unlike sentence 1 this makes sense)
>>Where is the intersection of E by R in 3)?
>In 3 I would understand both the imperfect and 
>the perfect aspect being made visible as you 
>analysed the 'He has been ... ' phrase above. 
>That is to say that two features are revealed
>a) The length of time the thing has been known (perfective sense)
>b) The ongoing knowledge (imperfective sense)
>Consider also the following:
>4) I have felt this way for a long time
>5) I have had this email account for almost a year
>These emails seem to indicate that certain verbs 
>are used in the present perfect construction but 
>with a present progressive sense. The semantics 
>of the verb overrides the default sense of the 

That the person had a particular feeling for a 
long time, (and the state of feeling held for a 
long time), portrays a factual situation. But it 
has nothing to do with the aspect, i.e., where R 
intersects E. You must always distinguish between 
the event or state and what the aspect makes 
visible of the event or state. My view is that 
e)  odd and ungrammatical while f) is a normal 
English clause.

e) While I have felt this way for a long time, I 
started to consider whether my feelings where 
rooted in reality.

f) While I was feeling this way, I started to 
consider whether my feeling were rooted in 

>Conversely, consider:
>6) I have been having this email account for almost a year
>7) He has been being in the corner for a long time
>In fact, as the above examples show, when we 
>attempt to use the present progressive 
>construction with these verbs the sentence 
>sounds odd although it is possible for us to 
>extract the intended sense.
>I dare say that a similar phenomenon may have 
>happened in BH. That is to say that the 
>semantics of individual verbs could override the 
>semantics of the verb form. However, we simply 
>do not have the data required to fully test this.

Clauses 6) and 7) show that by combining the two 
aspects in English, and thus getting present 
perfect progressive clauses, you can signal 
ongoing situations by the use of "has". But still 
you have not cancelled the uniform interpretation 
of the combination of have + perfect participle. 
To do that you must give examples of these two 
forms where R intersects E at the nucleus.


When we start to study a dead language such as 
BH, we do not know what the language is like and 
we do not know exactly what we will find. But we 
need a model, on the basis of which we can study 
the language. When I started to study the Hebrew 
verb, my model built on two basic assumptions, 1) 
there is nothing special with BH compared to 
other languages. So it can be studied in the same 
way as other languages, and 2) a difference in 
form suggests a difference in meaning. I still 
think that these two assumptions are built on a 
solid ground.

Let us leave the infinite form alone at the 
moment. When I looked at the unpointed texts of 
the DSS, I saw only two fundamental verbs forms, 
the suffix forms (some prefixed with WAW), and 
the prefix forms (some prefixed with WAW). My 
first task was to find out whether there was a 
semantic difference between the forms with 
prefixed WAW and those without prefixed WAW. On 
the basis of a study of the functions, temporal 
references, and the occurrences of the different 
forms, my conclusion was that there was no 
difference, and BH has only two finite verb forms 
(conjugtions) . The next step was to look for the 
meaning of the two BH conjugations, and how could 
that be done? I will use two English examples.

Suppose that English was the dead language we 
studied; We knew its vocabulary but we were 
working to find the meaning of the verbal system, 
and we were to consider g) and h). From the 
vocabulary we see that there is a reach-event in 
connection with a peak. The clauses are similar 
except some characteristics of the verbs- "was 
... ing" versus "has ... ed".  There is nothing 
in the two clauses that can tell us where R 
intersects E, so what should we do? We should 
look for examples of similar verb forms in our 
corpus, where the intersection of R and E is 
visible, and see if these can be given a uniform 
interpretation. I have found such a uniform 
interpretation of was + present participle and 
has + perfect participle, and therefore I think I 
have a good reason to extrapolate these 
interpretations and conclude that g) signals that 
the end was not reached at C, while the end was 
reached  in h).

g) She was reaching the peak.

h) She has reached the peak.

Then what about the theoretical setting for the 
analysis above? Because I know that semantic 
meaning does exist (e.g., the telicity of phrasal 
verbs), I refuse to accept David Kummerows 
categorical dictum that uncancellable meaning 
cannot be found because it does not exist. This 
is in my view linguistic anarchy. When I started 
my study I did not know whether uncancellable 
meaning existed in the BH conjugations, but I 
studied the systems in order to see if uniform 
interpretations were possible. Then to your 
concern, the possibility that "the semantics of 
individual verbs could override the semantics of 
the verb form".  This concern has some relations 
to DK's standpoint, because it focuses on the 
possibility that a uniform interpretation can be 
cancelled by counterexamples. Because it is not a 
categorical standpoint, it deserves to be 
considered. How? By looking for examples in the 
BH text. But we should be careful in our 
interpretation of the BH examples. So far, you 
have given several examples of a combination of 
the imperfective and perfective aspect, but these 
examples do not blot out the semantics of English 
perfect, that R intersects E. at the coda. (BTW 
The two aspects cannot be combined in BH, so that 
languge is less flexible.) My point, therefore, 
is that we should not stop drawing conclusions 
regarding the Hebrew verbs because of the 
*possibility* that we will find something that 
cancels our conclusions. And we should not 
believe that our conclusions are weak, because 
there is the *possibility* that they can be 
canceled. Until it is demonstrated that our 
uniform interpretations do not hold, we should 
stick to them.

>James Christian

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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