[b-hebrew] Fwd: Re. re. More on verbs

James Spinti jspinti at eisenbrauns.com
Thu Dec 13 08:48:16 EST 2012

John's posts still aren't coming through...
James Spinti
E-mail marketing, Book Sales Division
Eisenbrauns, Good books for more than 35 years
Specializing in Ancient Near Eastern and Biblical Studies
jspinti at eisenbrauns dot com
Web: http://www.eisenbrauns.com
Phone: 260-445-3118
Fax: 574-269-6788

Begin forwarded message:
> ******************
> Hi Karl,
> No, I'm not talking about translation—though as George Steiner points out in After Babel, all translation itself involves interpretation. I'm thinking in the broadest possible terms, such as you trying to "interpret" what I intended and my interpreting your response. ALL communication requires interpretation, and that interpretation is somewhat ambiguous. I like Umberto Eco's approach: there are many meanings a text could have (i.e., many ways we could interpret it), but there are some meanings that would be ludicrous to attribute to it. When I approach interpreting the text, therefore, I am asking myself what the range of possible (permissible) meanings are. For the Hebrew verb, not all meanings are equally likely in a given construction (contra Andrason, who seems to presume they are all equally available!). The process of narrowing down the options comes through the long, arduous, and endless task of refining our understanding of the patterns (e.g., yiqtol rarely expresses past habitual in direct speech—just to pick a random example).
> I understand you when you describe Rolf's approach, but I don't find his approach well reasoned. Given that wayyiqtol appears 90% in past narrative, we have to ask several questions: Why is this verb form preferred for past narrative if not because it grammaticalizes past tense or perfective aspect (these are the most frequently used verb forms in past narrative in the world's languages)? If the context only determines the past tense meaning, then is wayyiqtol semantically vaccuus? How precisely do we know we are in a PAST narrative context apart from some tense indicator—which generally appears with the verb (to paraphrase Aristotle: the verb is that part of speech which, in addition to its lexical meaning, involves some element of TIME). 
> In other words, behind this approach is viciously circular reasoning that has been trenchantly criticized by linguists: how do we know that a verb form indicates a certain discourse type except that we can independently determine both verb meaning and discourse type, in which case what is the point in having the verb form signal the discourse type if we already know what type it is?
> So what happens if we follow the lead of the verb forms and assume that they MEAN something apart from simply their context (i.e., that they contribute something to the expressions in which they occur)? It leads us to question the assumptions with which we approach the text. Your example of Proverbs 31:10-31 is a great case in point. In 2005 I wrote an article on the sentence literature of proverbs (i.e., excluding chap. 1-9 and the last few chapters) and the verb forms used there (see here: http://ancienthebrewgrammar.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/cook-2005-fox-fs_genericity.pdf). One thing I learned from the vast study of generic (proverbial) sayings among linguists was that there are no apparent limitations on verb tense in such sayings. In English, however, we tend to assume proverbial expressions are present tense, but what about Boys will be boys or Never did the course of love run smooth? These are used proverbially but are not present tense. Another thing I discovered was that past-tense anecdotes are a sort of "narrative" proverb, as in Prov 21:22, which has a perfect and wayyiqtol form. I translate it as follows: A wise man went up  (QTL) to a city of strong men, and brought down (WAYY) its strong fortification. It is only our English proverbial style that leads us to interpret or translate this as present tense.
> So, looking at Proverbs 31, where do the verb forms lead us? According to my count, the passage (vv. 10-31) consists of 20 QTL forms, 9 WAYY forms, and only 8 YQTL forms and 3 PTC forms. I won't bother translating the entire passage to clarify my interpretation, but I see no compelling reason not to interpret the description (vv. 11-31) as a past anecdotal description of the woman: the QTl and WAYY forms express past temporality, while the YQTL and PTC forms express past habitual (e.g., v. 14 'from afar she would bring her food'; v. 18 'her lamp in the night would not be extinguished'). If we take seriously that the verbs might contribute something to the context, we would less often (it is always a temptation) assume we already know what the passage is about—not simply in terms of content but grammar.
> John
> http://ancienthebrewgrammar.wordpress.com/
> On Dec 12, 2012, at 4:48 PM, b-hebrew-request at lists.ibiblio.org wrote:
>> ------------------------------
>> Message: 6
>> Date: Wed, 12 Dec 2012 12:34:06 -0800
>> From: K Randolph <kwrandolph at gmail.com>
>> Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Re. More on verbs
>> To: James Spinti <jspinti at eisenbrauns.com>
>> Cc: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
>> Message-ID:
>> 	<CAAEjU0sJDdb+7FdVNcqy27=TWt9H==-FtkJQdSpTpAP6UCUhVw at mail.gmail.com>
>> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="utf-8"
>> John:
>> Since I know you?ll read this directly, I?ll name you.
>> I may have misunderstood you, but I was responding in particular to your
>> response to a previous comment where you wrote, ?Third, and relatedly, when
>> I approach the text, therefore, I ask myself: What is the possible range of
>> specific meanings for this gram given the patterns of interaction we can
>> identify between the general meaning and the various contextual factors??
>> It?s not just this sentence, but close to half your comment gave me the
>> impression that I expressed. But as I said, I may have misunderstood you.
>> Now I have a question concerning your use of the word ?interpret?, do you
>> mean translating it from Hebrew to English, or repeating the idea in one?s
>> own words? I think in Hebrew when I read Tanakh, so there?s no translating.
>> But when asked to put into my own words what I?ve read, because the
>> question is usually in English and my response also, I?ll give my response
>> in English. Or do you have a different understanding of ?interpret??
>> As for people basing their actions on the text, all too often I see them
>> using the text as pretext, that they want to do certain actions then look
>> for a text to justify their pre-chosen actions. Often that text is taken
>> out of context, or even worse a poor translation taken out of context, and
>> cannot be reconciled to the original text in its context. In fact, there?s
>> a famous theologian who became famous selling millions of books based on
>> this practice. Is this to which you refer?
>> A side issue: I think you misinterpret Rolf (or maybe I do). While I don?t
>> have access to his dissertation, his comments on line give me the
>> understanding that he thinks the Wayyiqtol is not by form a marker for the
>> past tense. However, over 90% of the time found in Tanakh it has a past
>> reference due to its context, namely a context of narrative of past events.
>> Or another way of saying it, it doesn?t grammaticalize for past tense, but
>> over 90% of the time it?s found in past tense contexts. If we don?t count
>> the past tense historical narratives, then what percentage of verbs are
>> Wayyiqtols and what percentage of them are past referent from their
>> contexts? That?s a question I haven?t seen answered.
>> As for the Wayyiqtol having a past tense grammaticalization, I look at
>> Proverbs 31:10?31 where the feminine form of it is found in verse 13,
>> 15?17, 24?25, and masculine in 28 & 31. This passage is present tense,
>> imperfective aspect from its context. Therefore all the verbs have present
>> tense, imperfective aspect meaning. None of these have past reference. How
>> many other passages are like this?
>> But I strongly disagree with Rolf that the conjugations are markers for
>> aspect, and the definition that I?ve seen him use is the same as elsewhere.
>> Yours, Karl W. Randolph.

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