Temporality and the Semantics of the Biblical Hebrew Verbal System
Abstract: This dissertation investigates the semantic factors behind the temporal meanings of the Biblical Hebrew (BH) verbal forms. Four different forms are studied, viz. qotel, yiqtol-L, qatal, and yiqtol-S. On the basis of comparative and historical linguistic studies, qotel and yiqtol-L are classified as originally progressive forms, whereas qatal and yiqtol-S are classified as originally resultative ones. Since there is a tendency in BH to use the progressive subgroup for future meaning and the resultative subgroup for past meaning, a key to understanding how temporality is expressed in this language is to understand the meaning of the progressive and the resultative verbal types.In critical dialogue with modern typological linguistic research, a unified theory of aspect and tense is developed. The theory defines the meanings of the progressive and resultative verbal types in terms of a distinct kind of aspect, called “stage-based aspect”, and describes how tense meanings arise through reanalysis of these aspectual meanings, a process called temporalization. It is argued that progressive aspect is a basic meaning in qotel and yiqtol-L, and that resultative aspect is basic in qatal and yiqtol-S in its so-called “consecutive” form, wayyiqtol. The study investigates various verbal usages, showing where the stage-aspectual meanings are invariant and where they have been overturned as a consequence of temporalization.Another major question concerns the semantic difference between the forms with shared aspectual meanings. On the basis of the semiotic theories of Bühler and others, it is suggested that yiqtol-L and yiqtol-S (here: yiqtol) are distinguished from qotel and qatal with regard to their appeal function. Full appeal function characterizes utterances that prompt the listener to immediate action. Verbal forms available for this function in BH are qatal and qotel, as well as the imperative. By contrast, the appeal to action in utterances employing yiqtol is invariably non-existent, or mitigated. Hence, reduced appeal function is a semantic feature of yiqtol. This feature may explain why temporalized meanings are especially favoured by yiqtol, since non-present meaning is one among several factors that reduce the appeal function of an utterance.
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