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

K Randolph kwrandolph at gmail.com
Thu Dec 13 15:08:05 EST 2012


Something’s wrong with your email system, need to get it fixed or replaced.
I moved to gmail for b-hebrew discussions because my old system was broken
(since fixed).

On Thu, Dec 13, 2012 at 5:48 AM, James Spinti <jspinti at eisenbrauns.com>wrote:

> Begin forwarded message:
> ******************
> Hi Karl,
>  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).
But sometimes it does, therefore that should give anyone pause that Yiqtol
refers to future tense.

> 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)?
That’s the wrong question. The question instead should be “How is this
conjugation being used, and how does it support the message conveyed?”

Not all languages grammaticalize for tense or aspect, rather time
references are carried by the context. Chinese is one example. And I speak
it … well … the Cantonese variety.

Is it not a mistake to assume that conjugations must necessarily refer to
time references—either tense or aspect? When Randall Buth was posting on
this list, he insisted on a third choice—mood—but are not even these three
choices too restrictive? In what category does ‘intent’ fit? How about
‘continuation’? These are two of the semantic ideas carried by the Yiqtol
conjugation. It also carries subjunctive, a recognized mood. Context tells
which semantic idea to expect.

> If the context only determines the past tense meaning, then is wayyiqtol
> semantically vaccuus?
No way! You just need to look for its semantic meaning in different areas.

> 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).
Generally, in many languages, appears with the verb, but not in all

> 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?
This is what appears to me what you are doing.

> 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.
Talk about a difference in reading, “A wise (man) raises up a city of heros
and bosses a refuge that is trustworthy.”

> 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.
To me this looks like circular reasoning—you start with the presupposition
that the verbs used here are grammatically past tense, leading to the
conclusion that this section is a past tense description of a great woman.
Therefore this is evidence that the verbal conjugations grammaticalize for
past tense.

I look at the message of the book as a whole: it is, as its name states, a
book of “Rules” that are good to follow for good living. As such, it is
timeless—present tense, imperfective aspect. It has a few passages that are
in past reference used as illustrations, but as a whole, timeless.

The same is true of the passage of Proverbs 31:10–31.

Only afterwards did I look at the conjugations of the verbs, in which in
this passage I find 22 Qatals and 18 Yiqtols. There are a few places where
an implicit “to be” is assumed. Yes, I’m reading an unpointed text in
pre-Babylonian Exile font.

I don’t know what you linguists and grammarians call what I’m doing, but I
start with the message that it tries to impart, then look at how do the
various parts of the language support that message. That’s how I came to
the conclusion that the conjugations—Qatal and Yiqtol—code for neither
tense nor aspect.

> John
> http://ancienthebrewgrammar.wordpress.com/
Karl W. Randolph.
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