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Re:SV: orion The "tenses" of DSS Hebrew

Greg Doudna wrote:

>Rolf, could you elaborate on your distinction between past
>meaning and past tense?

>> tense (e.g. past meaning versus past tense). Apart from my own mag. art
>> thesis I am not aware of any study of Hebrew verbs which systematically
>> has
>> differentiated between past meaning and past tense.

Dear Greg,

Bernard Comrie defines "tense" ("Tense" 1985, Cambridge University Press, p
1) as "the grammaticalization of location in time". Past tense is for
instance a part of the semantic meaning of words such as "went" and
"bought" Participles can be used with past meaning as well, but their past
meaning is only conversational pragmatic implicature. Tense is deictic
while time and aspect are non-deictic.

About 90 per cent of the wayyiqtols in the  MT have past meaning while 10
per cent have non-past meaning. The important question is: The past meaning
of the majority, is it semantic or is it just pragmatic? To investigate
this I take the principle stated by P.H. Grice as a point of departure:
"Semantic meanings may not be canceled without contradiction or reinforced
without redundancy."

It is often taken almost for granted that a form (wayyiqtol) which to such
a great degree is used with past meaning must code for past tense, and the
10 per cent with non-past meaning must be exceptions or be due to genre or
whatever. An illustration from lexical properties (Aktionsart) may suggest
that such majority- arguments are dubious indeed. One of the first things I
teach my students, is the importance of differentiating between stative and
fientive verbs. But given Grice's principle, it can be shown that stativity
is not a semantic property of verbs at all but is conversational pragmatic
implicature. Properties such as durativity, dynamicity and telicity can
never be cancelled in verbs marked for them, but stativity can be
cancelled. Just think of  (MD with the meaning "stand" versus "rise" or ML)
with the meaning "fill" versus "be full".

Present tense is almost never marked in languages. It is therefore possible
to use a privative tense model of (+past) and (+future). Forms which are
not (+past) may have both future, present and past meaning, but this is due
to conversational pragmatic implicature. The property (+past) is on the
other hand semantic and cannot under any circumstances be cancelled. (The
word "went" is for instance still a past tense even though it is used in an
irreal conditional clause. My task therefore, is to find out whether any
Hebrew verb form codes for (+past) or (+future), i.e. whether (+past) or
(+future) is a part of the semantic meaning of the form.

As I see it, there are two obstacles which have prevented several earlier
studies to reach sound conclusions: (1) What have been investigated, are
narratives, and poetry and other texts have been viewed as unreliable as a
means to find the meaning of verb forms. There are reasons to believe that
this view should be reversed, that the very strong linguistic convention in
Hebrew as to how a narrative should be expressed is a real obstacle for the
study of verb meaning, rather than other texts without such strong
conventions. The whole corpus must therefore be scrutinized. (2) The use of
modern linguistic principles and tests are scarce in the study of Hebrew
verbs. It is interesting to see how very fine scholars reach the same
(preconceived) conclusions on the basis of diametrically opposite view of
data. The
Norwegian scholar H Birkeland discussed in a long article in 1935 125
wayyiqtols which had been suggested by some to have non-past meaning. His
conclusion was that the context definitely showed that all except one or
two were true preterits. F. Blake discussed in 1951 115 examples (mostly
the same ones), and his conclusion was that the context definitely showed
that they were non-past, and therefore they must have been wrongly pointed
by the Masoretes.

The same kind of prejudice is seen in scores of studies after the days of
Birkeland and Blake. What does not fit the theory is quickly explained
away. I do not claim that the 10 per cent of the wayyiqtols that seemingly
have non-past meaning, prove that wayyiqtol is not semantically a
preterite, but they *may*
show that. Given Grice' s principle, the (+past) of a preterit can never be
cancelled. Therefore the 10 percent of the wayyiqtols with apparently
non-past meaning must be thoroughly studied. To uphold the view that
wayyiqtol is preterite, it must be shown by sound linguistic arguments that
the non-past meaning in each case is due to special circumstances which
after all do not cancel its (+past) meaning. If such arguments cannot be
given in a reasonable number of cases, the conclusion must be that the
extensive use of wayyiqtol in past contexts is due to conversational
pragmatic implicature.

The same kind of reaoning can be used regarding all the yiqtols with past
meaning, and all the qatals with present and future meaning. My view is
that a scrupulous differentiation between time and tense is mandatory to
reach a sound conclusion as to whether tense is grammaticalized in
Classical Hebrew or not.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

For private reply, e-mail to Rolf Furuli <furuli@online.no>
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