[b-hebrew] Tense

Rolf rolf.furuli at sf-nett.no
Tue Dec 18 11:30:50 EST 2012

Dear Frank,

You have quoted Comrie correctly, but we should take a closer look at what he calls "such counterexamples." Two of the examples he uses are:

1) If you did this I would be very happy.

2) I just wanted to ask you if you could lend me a pound. 
Both are special cases. Example 1) refers to a potential action and 2) is a polite expression, according to Comrie. When we ask whether a language has tenses, we should analyze examples from main clauses and subordinate clauses in normal contexts and not look for hypothetical expressions or special cases. Let us make the following test: Can anyone give an example of the forms "went" and "walked" with non-past tense  in a normal context?

 Prophecies have future reference, so let us look at four examples:

 3) Isaiah 51:3:
For YHWH will comfort (QATAL) Zion; he will comfort (QATAL) all her devastated places. And he will make (WAYYIQTOL) her wilderness like Eden, and her desert plain like the garden of YHWH.  Joy and gladness will be found (YIQTOL) in her, thanksgiving and voice of melody.

In 3), there can be no doubt that the last YIQTOL must have future reference, and the same must be true with the WAYYIQTOL, because it is the action expressed by the WAYYIQTOL that causes the joy and gladness expressed by the YIQTOL. The two QATALs with future reference show that all the Hebrew conjugations can have future reference.

4) Hosea 8:10: 
Though they kept hiring (YIQTOL) people among the nations, now I will collect them (YIQTOL), and they will cause some profanation (WAYYIQTOL) because the burden of the king and princes. 

In 4), the turning point between the first YIQTOL, "they kept hiring" or "they keep hiring" is "now." After the present moment God will collect them, expressed by a YIQTOL, and "they will cause some profanation (WAYYIQTOL)". It is obvious tht the time reference of the second YIQTOL  and the  WAYYIQTOL is the same, and that reference is future.

5) Hosea 13:7-9:  
"And I shall come upon them (WAYYIQTOL) like a lion, like a leopard on the way I will keep looking (YIQTOL).  I shall meet them (YIQTOL) like a bear that has lost its cubs, and I shall rip apart (WEYIQTOL) their chest and heart. And I shall devour them (WEYIQTOL) there like a lion; a wild beat of the field will rip them apart (YIQTOL). It will destroy you (QATAL), because it was against me, against your helper.

In 5), we have a prophecy with a future setting. The actions that will occur are expressed by one WAYYIQTOL, two YIQTOLs, two WEYIQTOLs and one QATAL. This shows again that all conjugations, including WAYYIQTOL, can have future reference.

6) Mica 2:13. 
The one who breaks open (participle) the way, will go up (QATAL) before them. And they will break through (WAYYIQTOL) the gate and go out (WAYYIQTOL) by it. And their king will pass through (WAYYIQTOL) before them, and YHWH at the head of them.

In 6), we again have a prophecy with future reference, and this reference is expressed by one QATAL and three WAYYIQTOLs.

What is important in connection with these passages in relation to Comrie's words, is that they occur in normal indicative clauses, in main clauses. None of the verbs in these clauses can be viewed as special cases. Therefore I draw the conclusion that neither the WAYYIQTOL nor the QATAL represent grammaticalized location in the past (=past tense).

BTW, I have analyzed 965 QATALs with future referencece.

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli

Mandag 17. Desember 2012 18:53 CET skrev "Dr. Frank Matheus" <post at matheus.de>: 
> Dear list members,
> Karl wrote:
> Going back to the question that started this thread, don’t the number of cases where the Wayyiqtol is found in non-past contexts make it impossible to say whether or not a single Wayyiqtol standing alone refers to a past event apart from a context that indicates past tense?> 
> I would say no. As most waw-PCs (wayyiqtols) point to the past, it is the only form that indicates this time sphere by itself.  As Comrie writes: „The existence of such counterexamples to the general characterisation of the English past as indicating past time reference does not invalidate this general characterisation.“ (Comrie, Tense, 1985, 19-20). Taking up Rolf’s thesis that we do not know for sure whether the wayyiqtol expresses tense by itself, we can also assume a narrative mode, where the time reference is by itself past, but not revealed by the verb form (like the English historic present). But anyway, perceiving a single wayyiqtol-form lets us think of the past. This is not the case with a single qatal-form like אָמַ֣ר  , which can be found in a narrative mode (cf. Gen 13:14 וַֽיהוָ֞ה אָמַ֣ר אֶל־אַבְרָ֗ם  ), but might also express anteriority (cf. Gen 22:3 וַיֵּ֔לֶךְ אֶל־הַמָּק֖וֹם אֲשֶׁר־אָֽמַר־ל֥וֹ הָאֱלֹהִֽים ) which the wayyiqtol usually does not.
> Frank Matheus, University of Münster

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