[b-hebrew] Alleged "prophetic tense"

Dr. Frank Matheus post at matheus.de
Thu Dec 6 08:41:10 EST 2012

Dear Rolf & all,


could we agree in the following?


1 Tense is a deictic phenomenon as it concerns the communicational activity
of a deictic center resp. deictic community

2 Aspects are a non-deictic phenomenon as they concern the internal temporal
structure of an uttered text.


But I think we disagree in this:


3 Tenses refer  to a specific point in or certain sphere of time.


In many cases they do, but very often they don't. E.g. the English present
tense can be found in all three time stages, but no one doubts its tense
character. The main feature of a "tense" is to be deictic, i.e. to allocate
a proposition in a text, which as a whole has a time reference. E.g. in the
sentence "Tomorrow Santa Claus is coming into town" the finite verb does not
point to a specific time; this job is done by the adverb. Seen from this
angle, the verbal form ("is coming") contradicts the time reference of the
adverb, as it pretends to be part of the hic et nunc of the speaker. The
adverb overrules the tense, and so we don't sense any contradiction. The
same is true for a sentence like "Are you dating someone?" which refers to
the past and to the future, but not, as the verbal form suggests, to the
present tense.


A lot of languages don't express tense in their finite verbal forms, but
that does not indicate necessarily that these languages are aspectual - they
might as well say nothing about the internal temporal structure of a text.
Those structures arise - and here I agree with you - by analyzing the
semantic properties of a verbal phrase (which I call event structure) in
regard to its context (which is pragmatic, as someone has uttered it). But
these observations do not falsify  the deictic character of the verbal forms
of Biblical Hebrew.


I have discussed these problems in my study "Ein jegliches hat seine Zeit",
2011, KUSATU.B 1, which contains an extensive English summary.



Frank Matheus,

Lecturer of Biblical Hebrew,

University of Münster, Germany


-----Original Message-----

From:  <mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org>
b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org [
<mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org>
mailto:b-hebrew-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org] On Behalf Of Rolf

Sent: Donnerstag, 6. Dezember 2012 10:03

To: Til:

Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Alleged "prophetic tense"


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


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.


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) 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 <
<mailto:jshepherd53 at gmail.com> 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 <mailto:jshepherd53 at gmail.com> 


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