SBL Paper: Paul Korchin on the Pseudo-Cohortative

You may know Paul Korchin’s name from his dissertation on markedness in the Canaanite and Hebrew verbal system. He delivered a paper in the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section which I found interesting.

In Biblical Hebrew 1st person verbs we sometimes find cohortative forms where we would expect a nonvolitive meaning. For instance, in parallel passages 2 Kings uses the cohortative form אבואה, while Isaiah uses אבוא:

2Kg 19:23  וְאָב֙וֹאָה֙‭ ‬מְל֣וֹן‭ ‬קִצֹּ֔ה

And I reached its farthest lodge

Is 37:24 וְאָבוֹא֙‭ ‬מְר֣וֹם‭ ‬קִצּ֔וֹ

And I reached its farthest peak

There are 94 examples of such pseudo-cohortatives compared to 527 normal volitive forms in the Hebrew Bible. Korchin categorizes these into five categories – expression, conveyance, perception, locomotion, and impact – suggesting that they share the feature of action away from the deictic center. Note that since this phenomenon always occurs with 1st person verbs, the deictic center is always the speaker.

Korchin’s argument is that the pseudo-cohortative forms are the result of a natural process of grammaticalization whereby a hypernym is reanalyzed as a ventive or itive affix. A hypernym is a word whose semantic range fully encompasses a second word (or set of words), the hyponym(s). The usual test for a hypernym-hyponym relationship is the “is a” clause:

A puppy (hyponym) is a dog (hypernym).

In the case of the pseudo cohortative, the hypernym would be to go הלך. Korchin suggests that the process may have begun with “get up and go” compounds such as:

Gn 43:8 וְנָק֣וּמָה‭ ‬וְנֵלֵ֑כָה

Let us get up and go…

Unfortunately, this part of his paper became a bit confused so I couldn’t follow exactly how he saw the process unfolding. On the one hand he seemed to be arguing that the affix grammaticalized directly from הלך by phonological reduction, on the other hand he implied that a reanalysis of the cohortative -â affix as a ventive took place.

I was also disappointed that he did not address the argument that what we have with the pseudo-cohortatives is actually hypercorrection by scribes who are misanalyzing the wayyiqtol as waw + volitive form. For 2nd and 3rd person this is the jussive, for 1st person it is a cohortative. Note that the examples are overwhelmingly from books considered to be LBH. In Qumran Hebrew this becomes the normal form.

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4 Comments on “SBL Paper: Paul Korchin on the Pseudo-Cohortative”

  1. John Hobbins Says:

    Hi Pete,

    Have any reviews of Korchin’s dissertation come out? I haven’t read any.

    I like your explanation better – misanalysis through assimilation of a primitive form to a later standard form, modernization if you will. Note, however, that a wayyiqtol (waeqtol) is not involved. Weeqtol has become weeqtola (or vice-versa!), with word stress retained on the o.

    Perhaps you are assimilating the weeqtols in Isa 37 / 2 Kgs 19 to waeqtols. All or most translations do. My working hypothesis is that qatal – weeqtol sequences are constructions in which the qatal (Isa 37:24a.25a) is a matrix clause of past tense narration, and the weeqtol is modal, a kind of purpose clause (37:24b.25b). I would on the other hand revocalize utehi in 37:26 to a wattiqtol.

    As for Korchin’s five categories of the volitive, wow, where does that taxonomy come from? The notion that the core idea involves movement away from the center is oh so metaphorical. Compare Pss 3:8 (a waeqtala!) and 4:7.

  2. Florin Lăiu Says:

    How do you evaluate Waltke’s and O’Connor’s (Syntax, 1990: 544) statement about pseudo-cohortative?
    “In about ninety cases the waw-relative occurs with the pseudo-cohortative, principally in the parts of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah where the narrative is in the first person, and rarely elsewhere. This is not necessarily a late feature of the language: it is not used by the postexilic writer of Chronicles, but it is used by the earlier Deuteronomist (cf 1Ch 17:8 with 2 Sam 7:9). Moreover, it is not found in Zechariah 1–8 or Esther, both of which are post-exilic.”
    Thanks.

  3. Florin Lăiu Says:

    Regarding the use of pseudo-cohortative, Waltke and O’Connor (1990: 563 fn 2) quote Revell (1988:422) saying, “It seems … likely that the use of the [-ah] affixed form with waw consecutive reflects the fact that this form was perceived [in LBH] as the equivalent, in the 1st person, of the short imperfect form in the 2nd and 3rd person.”
    My questions: When disappeared the true cohortative, or more precise, when it probably disappeared from the colloquial Hebrew?

  4. Peter Bekins Says:

    Florin, It has been a long time since I have looked at this issue.The idea I expressed in the post is not about a loss of the true cohortative, but misanalysis of the narrative forms. So to answer your question, I am not sure. The “true” cohortative occurs in LBH texts, but it has disappeared for the most part within Qumran Hebrew (see Qimron 1986) and does not seem to be a feature of Mishnaic Hebrew, so I would assume it is in the process of disappearing during the late Second Temple period.


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