Sivan, Daniel, “The use of QTL and YQTL forms in the Ugaritic Verbal System” Pages 89-103 in Past Links: Studies in the Languages and Cultures of the Ancient Near East, IOS 18. Edited by S. Izre’el, I. Singer and R. Zadok. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998.

For this volume dedicated to Anson Rainey, Sivan applies Rainey’s approach to the Semitic verbal system to Ugaritic. In short, following Moran’s study of the Canaanite reflexes in the Amarna letters, Rainey describes the verbal system primarily as tense-based rather than aspect-based. Generally, the qtl (suffix conjugation) forms express the past while the yqtl (prefix conjugation) is used for present-future.

The qtl form normally expresses past tense in both poetry and prose. In addition, it can also be used for the present tense. This is usually with an intransitive verb, but also some times with transitive verbs. For instance:

rbt ˀilm l ḥkmt “You are great [rabbatā] El, indeed you are wise [ḥakamtā]” (KTU 1.4 V, 3)

ṯn dbḥm šnˀa bˁl ṯlṯ rkb ˁrpt “Two sacrifices Baal hates [šaniˀa], three the Rider of the Clouds” (KTU 1.4 III, 17-18)

The qtl is also sometimes used as an optative to express wishes and requests:

ˁm ˁlm ḥyt “May you live [ḥayêtā/ḥayîtā] forever!”

Also with precative lū/la:

l yrt b npš bn ˀilm mt “may you go down [lū/la yarattā] into the throat of the son of the gods, O Môt” (KTU 1.5 I, 6-7)

Lastly, in result clauses qtl forms preceded by waw expresses the future. For example:

w hm ẖt ˁl w lˀikt ˁmk “and if the Hittite attacks (lit goes up), then I will send [wa-laˀiktū] to you” (KTU 2.30, 17-18)

In respect to the prefixed yqtl forms, Rainey has argued that these forms express tense, rather than aspect, and that there are two modes – indicative and injunctive. In the indicative, the so-called “short” form yqtlØ (ie without suffixes) expressed past tense while the “long” yqtlu form (with final short vowels) expressed present-future as well as continuous action in the past. In the injunctive mood the yqtlØ form is a jussive while the yqtla is volitive. Both modes also have an energic form, yaqtulun(n)a for the indicative and yaqtulan(n)a for the injunctive.

Because the Ugaritic script does not generally express vowels, it is often difficult to distinguish the “long” and “short” forms (which only differ by the presence of a final vowel). The diagnostic forms are third waw/yod (eg 3ms long form yabniyu but short form yabnî), final aleph (there are three aleph signs which distinguish the vowels a, i, and u), and the long yqtlu forms with final nunation (3mp taqtulūna, 2fs taqtulīna) though the existence of energic forms complicates the problem.

An example of the short form as a past tense:

yˀip lḥm d ḫmš “he baked [yapˀî (third-yod form, note that the /ˀi/ is used when aleph closes a syllable)] bread for the fifth (month)” (KTU 1.14 IV,11)

An example of the long form as present-future:

ˁd tṯṯbn ksp ˀiwrkl w ṯb l ˀunṯhm “(they don’t have a feudal obligation) until they return [taṯaṯībūna/tuṯaṯībūna] Iwirkallu’s money, then they will return to their feudal obligation” (KTU 3.4,16-19).

However, there are some cases in which the short yqtlØ form seems to be used for present-future. These are final waw/yod verbs in which the final tripthong (iyu) has contracted.

tgl ḏd ˀl w tbˀu qrš mlk ˀb šnm “She turns [taglû] to the dwelling of El and she comes to the abode of the king, the Father of Years” (KTU 1.3 V, 7-8).

Finally, Sivan notes that the alternation of qtl and yqtl within a verse using the same verb is a feature of Ugaritic (as well as Hebrew) poetry.

knp nšrm bˁl yṯbr bˁl ṯbr dˀiy hmt “may Baal break [yaṯburu] the wings of the eagles, Baal broke [ṯabara] their pinions” (KTU 1.19 III, 8-9)

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5 Comments on “Sivan, Daniel, “The use of QTL and YQTL forms in the Ugaritic Verbal System” Pages 89-103 in Past Links: Studies in the Languages and Cultures of the Ancient Near East, IOS 18. Edited by S. Izre’el, I. Singer and R. Zadok. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1998.”

  1. Andrew C Says:

    I just read Edward Greenstein’s contribution to the book Biblical Hebrew in its Northwest Semitic Setting (eds. Fassberg and Hurvitz) and it looks like Greenstein disagrees with Rainey/Sivan – at least as their arguments pertain to a yaqtul form. From his chapter “Forms and Functions of the Finite Verbin Ugaritic Narrative Verse,” (pgs. 75-102), Greenstein argues that the data cited in favor of an Ugaritic yaqtul form don’t actually make the case and that instead Ugaritic only attests yaqtulu and qatala finite verbal forms.

    Have you had the chance to read Greenstein on this? If so, I’d be interested in what you think. I know that the Grenstein essay has a later publication date than that of Sivan, but do you know if Sivan (or Rainey for that matter) has responded to Greenstein? I’d be interested in seeing what they think about his treatment of III-y apocopation and forms with a final /-n/ as well.

  2. Peter Bekins Says:

    Andrew, I have read Greenstein’s article, but it was a while ago and I didn’t take any notes. This seems to be a long-standing disagreement, see Greenstein’s brief review of Sivan’s Ugaritic Grammar (JAOS 117.3 1997) in which he spends half of the ~1 page review on this topic. I am not sure if Sivan has responded directly to Greenstein’s arguments, perhaps someone else can chime in with some bibliography?

    The problem is that sometimes the short form is used for present-future rather than past. Sivan explains these as long forms in which the final tripthongs have contracted. Greenstein argues that all the supposed short forms could be the result of such contraction, so there goes evidence of the yaqtul preterite. I assume he does the same for final /-n/.

    My problem is then how is the verbal system working? How can a yaqtulu form be used both in present-future and simple past tense situations where it doesn’t seem to be expressing anything aspectual? I will have to go back and read Greenstein again to see how he deals with the system as a whole.

  3. Andrew C Says:

    Thanks Peter. That’s helpful. I’ll take a look at the review of Sivan. I also need to go back and read through Rainey’s articles in Hebrew Studies. Greenstain interacts a lot with those.

    I believe that he wants to take the QTL-YQTL verbal forms in Ugaritic completely out of the tense/aspect discussion and instead cast them in terms of discourse analysis. He’s got a quote in the conclusion:

    “In all variations of QTL-YQTL parallelism it is fairly clear that there is no difference in tense or aspect between the two verbs – they generally refer to the same activity and to the same time frame. [EG footnotes his disagreement with Sivan here] Their usage is therefore not a simple default selection, predetermined by tense or aspect. It is rather a manipulation of two contrasting forms – prefixed and suffixed – in order to produce shifting sets of oppositions that serve a variety of discourse and rhetorical functions: foreground vs. background, narration vs. spoken discourse, the pragmatic indication of a change in speaker or scene, textual coherence, and pattern variation.” (pg. 101)

    This is intriguing to me since I’ve been befuddled lately by the trickiness of Semitic finite verbs. (I just want them to act more predictably in tense like English!) Because of my wrestling with trying to grasp this stuff, EG’s approach is appealing. He seems to take the conversation down a different path. But at the end of the day, I have to confess being far too inexperienced with this stuff to say anything definitive or to come down on one side of the fence or another with any confidence!

    I also need to try putting more of these approaches to work on the texts and see where they lead. I haven’t spent enough time actually putting the theories into practice via actual analysis. I’m sure that will help clarify some of this.

  4. Carl P Says:

    How can Rainey argue that yqtl- forms are marked for tense and not aspect, but then go on to argue that yaqtulu is used for present-future (i.e., present and future) as well continuous past? How could this be a tense-marked form???

  5. Peter Bekins Says:

    Carl, I was going to get to this later. I don’t know how yaqtulu as continuous past is supposed to be a tense. Further, I don’t know how qatala can be a tense marked form either when it can be used for both past and present, the controlling factor obviously being the semantics of the verb. But see my next post as to why he argues this way.


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