SBL Paper: John Cook on the “waw”- verbal forms

John has written before on the use of the labels “waw-consecutive” and “waw-conversive.” In this presentation he made a similar case that the waw really has nothing to do with the semantics of the wayyiqtol and weqatal forms and thus should be dropped from our terminology. He suggests that the wayyiqtol form could be better labelled “Narrative Past” and the weqatal “Irreal Perfect.”

The connection of wayyiqtol to an earlier yaqtul short preterite form is quite standard now, though John did discuss the stress pattern and unreduced -aCC- at the beginning. This could either be clitic doubling (a la Lambdin, my preference) or the remnants of some phonologically reduced morpheme such as אז then.

As implied by his label Irreal Perfect, John connects weqatal to modality. First, it is quite common for perfective forms to be used as modals across the Semitic languages, and in fact it is the perfect qatal which is used in the conditional clause in Biblical Hebrew. He also noted that Revell and his students have found that modal verbs (imperfect, jussive, cohortative, imperative)  consistently occur in V-S order in Biblical Hebrew.

This leads John to propose a basic word-order opposition of Real (SV) : Irreal (VS). Obviously wayyiqtol is also V-S order, which led DeCaen to argue that it is also modal, though he stretched the definition of modal a bit. John, on the other hand, suggests that grammatical words often trigger inverted word order which is the case here with either the waw or the phonologically reduced morpheme -aCC- if it indeed comes from אז or something similar.

While I agree with John about the origins of wayyiqtol and weqatal, I am not completely sure about the word-order explanation at this point. This would assume that Classical Biblical Hebrew has drifted to SVO word-order as the standard, leaving VSO available for modal constructions (I’ll have to find Givón’s article and re-read it). However, consistently across NWSemitic narrative we find waw + verb  (wayyiqtol in OA and Moab, waw + qatal in Aramaic and post-biblical Hebrew) as the narrative tense. As Tarsee Li has argued, this suggests that verb-initial constructions are iconic for sequence (note I did not say they mark sequence). We expect the narrative clause to be the basic unmarked form, and it is consistently V-S. Of course, this could be a relic in BH that is maintained only in the high literary language.

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3 Comments on “SBL Paper: John Cook on the “waw”- verbal forms”

  1. Calvin Says:

    Pete, have you had the opportunity to look at Rob Holmstedt’s JSS article from earlier this year? In it he discusses much the same thing as John, though perhaps from a slightly different angle. Holmstedt also has a section in his dissertation on word order. I find the idea of Hebrew as an SV language and triggered inversion rather attractive, primarily because it has a great power to explain what we see in the Hebrew Bible–at least in my opinion.

    • Peter Bekins Says:

      No I have not, I have been focused on my dissertation lately. What bugs me is that I tend to associate inverted word order with subordinate clauses, so how can the standard narrative clause have inverted order? I need to read more broadly on word order before I make up my mind.


  2. So, is there now some credible scholarship behind the idea that the Hebrew “and” has nothing to do with Hebrew’s use of tenses? If so, this means that Robert Young was way ahead of the curve when in 1898 he published his Literal Translation of the New Testament with a preface denouncing the “Waw Conversive” as a fiction. Although I’ve no formal training in Hebrew, the way some people used the Waw Conversive did seem a bit arbitrary.


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