[b-hebrew] Alleged "prophetic tense"

Rolf rolf.furuli at sf-nett.no
Thu Dec 6 04:02:55 EST 2012

Dear Jerry,

Thank you for your clarification. In the last twelve years or so, I have written many posts on b-hebrew discussing Hebrew verbs. In the light of the discussion of "prophetic tense," and particularly for new members, I will reiterate some points.

The basic weakness in studies of Hebrew verbs, is the lack of distinction between semantic and pragmatic factors. In other words, is the time reference of a particular verb an intrinsic part of the verb form (semantic meaning), or is it caused by the context (pragmatic meaning). This means that we must scrupulously distinguish between "tense" (grammaticalized location in time) (semantic meaning) and "temporal reference" (conversational pragmatic implicature.

If the distinction between semantics and pragmatics is not made, PANTA REI. I am not aware of any study of Hebrew verbs except my own dissertation where the distinction between semantic and pragmatic factors are systematically made. For New Testament Greek, the only study where the distinction is systematically made of which I am aware, is the dissertations of Mari Broman Olsen." A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect," 1997. No such distinction is made in studies of verbs in other Semitic languages

We can illustrate what "intrinsic meaning" (semantic meaning) is by using the verb $IR (sing). This verb has two semantic characteristics (it is marked for these two characteristics): it is durative (continuing action), and dynamic (changing action). Regardless of temporal reference, verb form, and different contextual factors, this verb can never cease to be durative and dynamic.

Because YIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, WAYYIQTOL, QATAL, AND WEQATAL all can have past, present, and future meaning, "tense" (grammaticalized location in time) cannot exist in Classical Hebrew. I think that most scholars today will say that the verbal system of Classical Hebrew is aspectual. And here we have another basic weakness, namely, the choice of aspectual terms and the ambiguousness of these terms. L. J. Brinton. "The Development of English Aspectual systems," 1988, p. 5 lists 26 different terms that has been applied to aspect (for example: "durative; cursive; frequentative, punctual, aorist, finitive etc). Which terms should we choose in our study of Hebrew aspects?  And even more important, what does the terms we choose actually mean? What are the borders of their meaning? Those who have published studies of Hebrew verbs for the past 150 years have used many different terms, and clear definitions of the terms are in most cases lacking. There is also another important question that rarely is asked: When we choose particular aspectual terms, are they valid for all aspectual languages? In other word: Are aspects the same in all aspectual languages, for example in English and Classical Hebrew?

There is one way by which we can eliminate most of the ambiguity of aspectual terms and know whether aspect is the same in Hebrew as in other languages, namely, to start with entities that are "smaller" than the aspects.  H. Reichenbach. "Elements of Symbolic Logic," 1947 coined the terms "event time (ET)," and "reference time (RT)," and these terms have since been used together with "deictic center." These terms can be clearly defined, and therefore they are "smaller entities" compared with the aspects. The deictic center is the vantage point from which an action is viewed. It is often the present moment, but it can also be a point in the past or in the future. The term "event time" refers to the time from the beginning to the end of an action. It is non-deictic, because it has no semantic relationship with the deictic center. The term "reference time" refers to the point or area of event time that is made visible in a particular clause. Not all parts of event time is made visible, and we can say that RS intersects ET at a point or at an area. Please look at example 1).

1) Rita was singing in the garden.
 ET is the time from Rita started to sing until she stopped, and RT intersects ET at it nucleus (in the middle). Only an area in the middle of ET is made visible and not its beginning or end. Please look at example 2).

2) Rita has finished her singing.

The singing event in 1) and 2) (ET) is the same, but what is made visible in 2) is the end of the event. So, in 2) RT intersects ET at the coda.

The three mentioned fundamental parameters can be used both to describe (define) tense and aspect, because tense is the relationship between RT and C and aspect is the relationship between RT and ET. Thus, tense is deictic and aspect is non-deictic. By using ET and RT, the use of verbs in Hebrew can be analysed in three different ways:

1) The angle of focus. Does RT intersect ET before the start of the action (attempt), at the beginning of the action, including the beginning and a small part of the action, at the end of the action, or after the end (resultative state)?

2) The breadth of focus. How big area of the event is made visible where RT intersects ET?

3) The quality of focus. Are the details of the action where RT intersects ET clearly visible or not?

Because there are two aspects, the aspects of a particular language can be analyzed in six ways, and the definition of the aspects in a particular language will be seen.

I analysed all the verbs of Classical Hebrew in the light of these parameters, and the patterns that emerged were the following:  YIQTOL, WEYIQTOL, and WAYYIQTOL are semantically similar and represent the imperfective aspect, whereas WEQATAL and QATAL  are semantically similar, and represent the perfective aspect. The  WAYYIQTOL is the form which has the most uniform references: past reference: 13.539 (93.1%); present reference: 420 (2.9%); future reference: 177 (1.2%); present completed: 289 (2.0%); modal 111(0.8%). The analysis of the WAYYIQTOLs was  most interesting, because the parameters showed that the uniformity in reference was pragmatic and not semantic—the WAYYIQTOL is a normal YIQTOL with the prefixed conjunction WAW.  Without a scrupulous distinction between semantics and pragmatices, and without the use the the fundamental parameters ET, RT and C, the conclusion regarding WAYYIQTOL and the other forms could not have been reached.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli

Because there are two aspects

Torsdag 6. Desember 2012 06:23 CET skrev Jerry Shepherd <jshepherd53 at gmail.com>: 
> Hi Rolf,
> You caught me being redundant.  I learned how to do that in the "Department
> of Redundancy Department"!
> I actually knew I was being redundant when I typed it.  What I meant to
> express, and did so very poorly, was that the action is being seen as a
> whole, with little to no emphasis on the parts of the whole, or to the
> progression of the action.
> And I really would like to see your comments on the prophetic perfect as
> well.
> Thanks and Blessings,
> Jerry
> Jerry Shepherd
> Taylor Seminary
> Edmonton, Alberta
> jshepherd53 at gmail.com

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