Archive for June 2008

Congrats to Ed Cook

June 27, 2008

I just saw that Ed Cook, who is connected with HUC here in Cincinnati largely due to his work on the Comprehensive Aramaic Lexicon, has announced that he has taken a post at the Catholic University of America in DC


Kouwenberg, N.J.C. Gemination in the Akkadian Verb. Studia Semitica Neerlandica 33. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1997.

June 26, 2008

Kouwenberg challenges the consensus introduced by Goetze’s influential article, namely that the D-stem is primarily a denominative stem (it is used to create new verbs from nominals). He allows that Goetze was correct to be suspect of the idea that somehow doubling of the middle radical denotes “strengthening” of the basic meaning of the verb, since such arguments were unsophisticated in his day; however, modern linguistic study seems to have confirmed that the intuition of the classical grammarians was actually correct.

As Goetze outlined, the D-stem seems to have three basic functions: intensive-plurality, causative-transitivization, and denominative. The assumption of 19th and early 20th century grammarians was that the D-stem was a derivation from the G-stem and that intensification was the primary function. This led to the causative meaning since intensity could imply that the agent made someone else perform the action (see Brockelmann’s 1908 grammar, p. 509, as well as GKC et al). Note that Poebel argued similarly, but put plurality as the primary function of the stem, suggesting that the gemination is a remnant of reduplication of the whole root and in many languages reduplication is used to express plurality.

Kouwenberg argues that there is a clear relationship between gemination and plurality (be it habituality, durativity, or plurality of the subject or object) which he labels iconic. The Semitic languages are iconic in general as meaning is built very predictably from the combination of roots and patterns. The simpler patterns tend to correspond to simpler meanings, while more complex patterns correspond to more complex meaning. Roots are extended either (1) by means of affixes or (2) by reduplication (in whole or part), vowel lengthening, or gemination.

Of the second class, reduplication obviously corresponds to plurality while vowel lengthening doesn’t seem to have any inherent meaning but is used generally to mark a contrast between two forms. Gemination seems to be somewhere in between, but in analyzing relevant Akkadian forms with gemination, Kouwenberg concludes that they overwhelmingly reflect plurality. Thus, gemination seems to be closely related to reduplication.

For instance, the function of the parras nominal form seems to be largely to serve as a plural for simple adjectives denoting dimensions, and the same holds for many purrus forms. Gemination also marks plurality in many verbal forms such as the Gtn used for iteration, frequentativity, and plurality. The D-stem of transitive verbs are also used frequently to underline plurality of the object. Lastly, the present-future iparras seems to have grammaticalized plurality into a tense form.

Goetze was correct to note the relationship between the stative and the D-stem, however Kouwenberg argues that it has nothing to do with Goetze’s three categories (durative, perfect, and passive). These are merely descriptions of the semantics of particular verbs. Rather, the D-stative purrus should be seen as an adjective used originally to refer to inherent qualities and to underline plurality.

In the Semitic languages, especially seen in Neo-Aramaic, it is common to derive new verbal forms from ajectives and infinitives. Cross-linguistically, verbs deriving from adjectives with the meaning “to be X”, “to become X”, “to make X”, or “to cause X” are the most common category. Even in English, where there is no real “causative” marker, there are examples such as “to lengthen”, “to cool”, etc.

In Akkadian, almost all common simple adjectives have a derived purrus form, and most also have a D-stem with a factitive function. The case of transitive verbs can also be related to the adjective. Interestingly, highly transitive verbs tend to have a corresponding verbal adjective much more frequently than verbs with low transitivity. The frequency of use of a D-stem with a given verb correlates with the frequency of the occurrence of its verbal adjective. Thus in both cases, the D-stem began as a denominative form derived from the adjective. As this form spread, however, the D-stem clearly became derived from the G-stem.

Goetze, Albrecht, “The So-Called Intensive of the Semitic Languages,” JAOS Vol 62, No 1 (March, 1942): 1-8.

June 24, 2008

The normal arrangement of the verbal paradigm in Semitic grammars was inherited from the Arabic grammarians. They used the 3ms perfect fa’ala form (Hebrew פעל) as the base stem (I), since it had no affixes, and assumed that all other stems were derived from it. The Arabic grammarians described the function of the II stem as “intensification” or for expressing “plurality” (also called “frequentative”). Analogous forms are found in the other Semitic languages (ie Heb. piel, Arm. pael, Akk. D-stem). In all cases, grammarians seem to have assumed the primary “intensive” function of the stem from Arabic. However, Goetze laments that exactly what “intensification” means is poorly understood. Further, Semitists recognize that the stem has other functions, but they attempt to derive them from the assumed original meaning based on what Goetze calls the “romantic notion” that somehow doubling of the middle radical symbolically strengthens the meaning of the base stem. Goetze suggests instead that the function of the form should be determined by a synchronic analysis of its usage. Surveying Akkadian, he finds that the D-stem  actually has more in common with the stative than the base stem (G-stem), and he suggests that the original function of the stem was as a denominative.

The Arabic-Hebrew grammarians had already realized that the intensive-frequentative force of the II-stem only applies to one group of verbs. These can be divided into both transitive (Ia) and intransitive (Ib) forms such as: (Ia) qāṭal “to kill” / qiṭṭel “to massacre” and (Ib) rāqad “to leap” / riqqed “to dance”. In a second group the stem has a causative-factitive force, that is it results in transitivization. If the verb is already transitive (IIa), it becomes doubly transitive (ie causative): lāmad “to learn” / limmed “to teach”. If the verb is intransitive (IIb), it becomes factitive: gādel “to be big” / giddel “to make big”. Note that a causative verb causes action while a factitive causes a result. The last group of verbs the grammarians recognized are denominatives – that is verbs derived from a noun.

The Akkadian verbal system differs from West Semitic in that there is no qatala perfect form and no distinction of fientive from stative verbs throughout the paradigm (ie qāṭal but qāton and kābed). On the other hand, Akkadian has an independent stative form, paris, which obviously has some relationship with the West Semitic stative (cf Akk. šalim, Arb. salima, Heb. šālem “he is well”). This Akkadian form is obviously of nominal origin, being a predicate adjective. Thus, there are two basic sentence types in Akkadian The nominal-descriptive sentence uses paris as the base verbal form, while the narrative-action sentence uses iprus. Goetze suggests that the best way to understand the D-stem is not necessarily in relation to the active verbs, but to the stative.

The Akkadian stative can be broken into three groups: (1) The durative stative which denotes an inherent quality of a person/thing, šalim “it is well” or rapaš “it is wide”. Whenever a verb occurs in a stative of this type, the corresponding iprus form is resultative, išlim “he became well”. (2) The perfect stative which denotes a condition which resulted from the subject’s action, šakin “he has placed (something)”. In some cases this can be used with an intransitive verb, in which case it denotes rest after motion – wašib “he is seated”. (3) The passive stative denotes a state which results from another, unspecified, agent. This is always used with transitive verbs.

Interestingly, the use of the D-stem seems to correspond well with these three categories. Thus (1) durative –  šalim “he is well”, šullumum “he makes healthy”; (2) perfect – labiš “to have put on (clothes)”, lubbušum “to make someone to be clothed”; (3) passive – ziz “is divided (ie an estate)”, zuzzuzum “make (somebody) divide (an estate)”. The difference between the D- and G-stems in (3) is very slight, in the G the emphasis is on the action performed while in D it is on the effect. As the use of the D-stem seems to correspond so closely to the stative, Goetze concludes that the D-form is derived from the G stative. Further, since the stative is basically a nominative form, the primary function of the D-stem seems to be as a denominative. That is, if the stative is basically an adjective, the D-stem denotes “to make something/someone what the adjective indicates.”

However, there are some active verbs which in the D-stem do not seem to be related to the stative, for example ruqqudum, “to dance”. These verbs tend to express continuous action, and seem to be the counterpart for group (Ib) in West Semitic. Normally in Akkadian such action is expressed by the -tan- infix. Goetze suggests that the continuity is not related to the t, which is normally reflexive, but to the n. He thus suggests an older Gn form that was related to the Gtn just as the G is related to the Gt. The doubled middle radical is thus a result of assimilation of the n, and not gemination. These forms were assumed by the D paradigm, but they should be considered only quasi-D and not impact the understanding of its basic denominative function.

LEO Online German Dictionary

June 20, 2008

I have been working through a long German article this past week (which incidentally takes up almost the exact thesis I was considering for my dissertation) and I thought I would share a tool I have found invaluable – the LEO English-German dictionary. The front page is a little busy, but just type your word into the search box and you will get a wealth of information beyond a simple gloss. What I love are the idioms and common expressions as well as the example sentences which help you get a feel for the range of the word. Some technical terms have been missing, especially religious ones, but there is a forum where you can post your word to get help if you are really stuck.  

The complicated morphology of the Semitic binyanim

June 16, 2008

Writing my section on morphology, I spent some time thinking about the nature of the binyanim in the Semitic languages. Namely, to what extent are the binyanim derivational and to what extent are they inflectional?

In short, derivation is the process by which the addition of an affix to a base morpheme creates a new word, either by giving a new meaning or shifting the lexical category. For instance, in English the suffix -er can be applied to a verb to create a noun meaning “one who does X”. Thus paint + -er > painter, “one who paints”. Another example is the use of the suffix -ize to change a noun into a verb, item + ize > itemize.

In contrast, in inflection an affix is used to to indicate grammatical information about the base morpheme, often called the stem. The type of information marked includes gender, number, case, tense, aspect, etc. Thus the plural marker -s in English is inflectional, not derivational.

In biblical Hebrew, we usually learn the binyanim in the section on verbs so that we memorize them in the verbal paradigms together with person, number, tense/aspect, strong and weak forms, etc. Because we associate them so strongly with verbs, I think most students consider the binyanim to be inflectional. In fact, when we parse a verb we give binyan along with all the other inflectional information. However, the binyanim are really derivational in nature. That is, they are part of the system in Semitic to build new words. This can be seen partly by the fact that generally Hebrew verbs do not appear in all of the possible binyanim.

The difference between drinking and causing someone else to drink has to do with the meaning of the verb, not its grammatical category. Dr Kaufman stressed this in class and urged us not to translate the hifil as “to cause X”, but rather to find an appropriate English verb in order to stress the lexical nature of the binyan. Of course, there is not always an appropriate verb. “To feed” is the causative of “to eat”, but what is the causative of “to drink”?

Arabic has several stem forms beyond Hebrew. Most interesting is probably the IX stem which is used with stative verbs denoting the inherent possession of qualities, such as color or physical defect, in order to express “to become X”. Thus, for instance, if the root ḥmr = ‘red’, iḥmarra = “to become red.” The rare XI stem has the same function, but is only limited to colors. This form lengthens the medial vowel of the IX form, thus iḥmārra.

Now, here is where inflection and derivation begin to blur. Is “to become red” really a new lexical meaning, or is it an inflection of aspect? That is, “to become” is really ingressive, a category of aktionsart or, as some call it, “lexical aspect”. With certain types of verbs in certain syntactic contexts, the binyanim may give Semitic languages an option for expressing aktionsart by varying the lexical nature of the verb. For example, in biblical Hebrew, the niphal may also have an ingressive sense when describing the subject as coming into a particular state.

This is still derivational in nature, but over time the process of grammaticalization (simply put, shifting a word/form that primarily has a lexical function to a grammatical one) may shift a binyan from a lexical derivation to an inflection of tense/aspect/mood. There are two possible examples from Akkadian.

The first example is the perfect iptarras in Akkadian. This form had always puzzled me since it is identical to the Gt form. However, it is common for a passive form to be grammaticalized into a perfective inflection. Thus, it makes sense that the Gt passive has been incorporated into the Akkadian TMA system as a perfect.

The second, and more complicated, is the iparras present-future form, which Akkadian shares only with Ethiopic and other modern South Semitic languages (yənäggər). The normal present-future form in Semitic is derived from *yaqtulu. Note the doubled middle radical in the Akkadian form, similar to the D-stem or piel. Could these forms be unrelated innovations in Akkadian and South Semitic which have grammaticalized the lexical meaning of multiplicity/repetition into a tense form? That is, repetition first shifted to progressive aspect before finally becoming a present-future tense?

Smith, Mark S. The Origins and Development of the Waw-consecutive. Harvard Semitic Studies 39. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1991.

June 16, 2008

As the title indicates, this monograph is concerned with a diachronic look at the waw-consecutive in the Northwest Semitic languages (NWS), that is the wayyiqtol and weqatal forms of biblical Hebrew. Smith studies a wide array of evidence from the Amarna letters, Ugaritic, Hebrew inscriptions, Hebrew Bible, and Qumran Hebrew. He is interested both in the origins of the waw-consecutive forms and their development over time as they begin to drop out of regular usage in the various dialects.

The discovery of the Amarna texts provided comparative evidence that has all but solved the enigma of the wayyiqtol form. Bergsträsser’s reconstruction has been generally followed by most scholars. At one point, NWS had a preterite *yaqtul and a present-future *yaqtulu. With the loss of short final vowels, these two forms fell together. Thus the preterite *yaqtul form was generally lost in Hebrew apart from some forms of poetry. The function of the preterite *yaqtul was taken over by *qatala which caused the verbal system to realign. No longer were the main forms *yaqtul preterite, *yaqtulu present-future, and *qatVl stative, but *qatala past and *yaqtulu present-future. However, the *yaqtul preterite was preserved in restricted environments where it was prefixed by waw. Bergsträsser suggested that Hebrew then developed a weqatal form on analogy to the wayyiqtol form.

Moran has argued that since the *qatala form developed from the stative, *qatVl, it can be characterized as timeless in its earliest history. He provides many examples of the form in the Amarna letters that seems to refer to a future time-frame. These can be broken into three categories 1) *qatala in independent clauses; 2) protases of conditional/temporal sentences; and 3) apodoses of conditional sentences. All but one of the 123 independent uses are statives. Further, the use of *qatala in conditional clauses seems to reflect a wider Semitic tendency to use past-tense forms (I would say perfect forms) in such contexts. Arabic, Ethiopic, and biblical Hebrew all use *qatala in conditional sentences, while Akkadian uses the *iqtul form. Smith therefore suggests that the use of waw + *qatala to express future in independent clauses is an extension of its use in conditional clauses as an analogy to the development of wayyiqtol.

There is a relative lack of the *yaqtul preterite in the Ugaritic prose texts, suggesting that it was already obsolete in the spoken language. Similarly, there are no clear examples of a weqatal form in the Ugaritic literature apart from conditional sentences. While the preserved preterite *yaqtul appears in many Semitic languages, the relationship of wayyiqtol and weqatal seems to be developed solely in biblical Hebrew prose.

The wayyiqtol form appears in several first millenium inscriptions spanning Hebrew, Moabite, Aramaic, and the Deir ‘Alla inscription. Thus it seems to be a shared feature of several first century NWS dialects. In many of these examples it is clearly being used as the main narrative tense similar to biblical Hebrew prose (see the Mesha Stone for example). However, the contrast of the few wayyiqtol forms with numerous perfects suggests that the form is already beginning to become obsolete by the 9th century in Old Aramaic and during the 6th century in Hebrew. As expected, the weqatal form is only found in Hebrew inscriptions.

In studying the biblical evidence, Smith distinguishes between narrative material and direct discourse, the implication being that direct discourse more closely reflects the spoken dialect while narrative reflects the more conservative literary dialect. Indeed, direct discourse shows a wider variety of verbal forms including freestanding verbal forms and participles as main verbs in main clauses. Rendsburg has gone so far as to argue that the use of the wayyiqtol in direct discourse is a scribal intrusion and that the consecutive tenses were not used in the spoken dialects. On the other hand, Blau has argued that the consecutive tenses were a regular feature of spoken Hebrew. Literary Hebrew merely restricted the options. MacDonald has taken a middle position, suggesting that consecutive forms were a feature of higher social dialects and formal speech.

The use of consecutive tenses seems to have fallen off in the post-exilic period. This is most apparent in Esther and Ezra, where wayyiqtols are used, but freestanding perfects are also conspicuous in the narrative. Nehemiah and Daniel show the same tendency, though their first person narrative borders on direct discourse. The influence of direct discourse on the literary language may help explain the gradual disappearance of consecutive forms.

Finally, studying the language from Qumran, Smith suggests that where consecutive forms are used they are archaic, or imitative of biblical style. However in the texts analyzed (CD, Pesharim, 1QS, 1QSa, 1Qsb, War Scroll, Temple Scroll, and 4QMMT) the consecutive forms clearly outweigh freestanding verbal forms. However, the analysis is complicated by the mix of genres and possible influence of other dialects on the language of the scrolls.

Dobbs-Allsopp, F.W., “(More) On Performatives in Semitic” ZAH 17-20 (2004-2007): 36-81.

June 5, 2008

A performative utterance is one in which the uttering of the sentence does not describe or report an action, but is itself part of the action. Performatives are mainly part of social conventions and rituals such as greetings, vows, blessings, etc. Explicit performatives tend to be expressed by first-person-singular present tense verbs. For example, “I hereby name thee the Queen Elizabeth.” However, Dobbs-Allsopp notes that non-explicit performatives can occur as well, “The court finds the accused not guilty.”

Performativity is a function of pragmatic discourse context, and Dobbs-Allsopp further argues that it must not be confused with verbal semantics. That is, there are no “performative perfects” in Biblical Hebrew if by that term we mean that a possible semantic meaning attached to the perfective form is performativity. Rather it is the context and the linguistic and social conventions that are king. Thus, it is better to understand that it is convention to use a perfective (suffix conjugation) when making an explicit performative statement.

An important example of the performative occurs in Gen 15:18:

Gen 15:18 בַּיּ֣וֹם הַה֗וּא כָּרַ֧ת יְהוָ֛ה אֶת־אַבְרָ֖ם בְּרִ֣ית לֵאמֹ֑ר לְזַרְעֲךָ֗ נָתַ֙תִּי֙ אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֔את

On that day, the Lord made a covenant with Abram saying, “To your seed I hereby give this land…”

Notice how the perfective form is glossed as a present to reflect English convention. This passage reflects the language and ideology of a royal land grant (See M. Weinfeld JAOS 90(1970)), and the covenant ceremony is obviously a symbolic and ritual act. Especially important is the fact that the passage narrates the dialogue rather than being a mere record of a legal transaction. It is thus a representation of the legal act of granting itself.
It is clear from 15:7 that the land has not yet been given to Abraham, and from 15:18 that it will not be given to him, but his descendants. However, if YHWH merely meant to inform Abram that he will be giving the land in the future, one would expect the imperfect as in Gen 12:7:

Gen 12:7 וַיֵּרָ֤א יְהוָה֙ אֶל־אַבְרָ֔ם וַיֹּ֕אמֶר לְזַ֨רְעֲךָ֔ אֶתֵּ֖ן אֶת־הָאָ֣רֶץ הַזֹּ֑את

And the Lord appeared to Abram, and he said, “to your seed I will give this land”.

The transfer of ownership and actual act of possession do not need to be simultaneous to be legally binding. Thus, the covenant ceremony of Genesis 15 is not a simple promise to be granted to Abraham’s descendants at some time in the future, but it is itself the legal granting of the land.

While the use of a first-person-singular present-indicative-active is not essential to a performative utterance, its use is not accidental. Performatives are events and they are characteristically self-referential, thus it makes sense that explicit performatives make use verbs in the first person. In English, the word “hereby” further marks self-referentiality and helps pragmatically to mark a performative utterance. Dobbs-Allsopp argues that in Hebrew כֹה “thus” may sometimes function similarly, as in the phrase “thus says the Lord”.

Why then are performative statements disposed toward present-active-indicative forms (or perfectives in Semitic and Slavic)? German and English tend to grammaticalize tense in the verbal morphology. Tense is a deictic category, meaning it relates a situation temporally to a deictic center which is usually the time of speaking. Since performatives are at the same time utterances and actions, they can be conceptualized as occurring precisely at the time of speaking.

Aspect, on the other hand, is not a deictic category and is concerned not with the temporal location of a situation, but its internal contour. There are commonly two categories of viewpoint aspect: perfective and imperfective. Described simply, a perfective form is used to describe a situation as a single whole with both endpoints in view, while an imperfective form makes explicit reference to the internal temporal structure of the situation without reference to the beginning or end. Since performatives are conceptualized as punctual situations, ie an action that begins and ends at the moment of speech, they naturally lend themselves to perfective aspect. Thus languages that mark aspect by verbal morphology have a strong tendency to use perfective forms for the performative.

Interestingly, Koine Greek tends to use an imperfective form for performatives. However, this seems to occur because the imperfective aspect form is commonly used neutrally as a present tense form and is therefore unrelated to aspect. On the other hand, Polish, which is an aspect based language, uses both the perfective and imperfective forms for performative utterances. In tense based languages there can be no such variation since performatives must be located temporally in the present. Dobbs-Allsopp thus suggests that the use of the performative in Semitic is significant for understanding the development of the Biblical Hebrew verbal system. If the suffix conjugation is used for performatives, then it cannot be said to grammaticalize past tense, but it must be primarily an aspectual form.

In contrast to the classical use of a perfective, Qumran Aramaic and Classical Syriac prefer the participle for performatives. This suggests that Aramaic verbal system has undergone a significant shift from a binary aspect-based language (perfect/imperfect) to a tripartite tense-based language (past/present/future) where the perfective form has become a past tense form, the imperfect a future, and the participle is used for present tense.

A similar re-alignment of the verbal system occurs in post-classical Hebrew where the participle also begins to be used for peformatives:

1 Chr 29:13 וְעַתָּ֣ה אֱלֹהֵ֔ינוּ מוֹדִ֥ים אֲנַ֖חְנוּ לָ֑ךְ

And now, our God, we thank you.

This suggests that a similar shift from a verbal system that grammaticalizes aspect to one that primarily expresses tense is occurring in ancient Hebrew. Dobbs-Allsops finishes the article by discussing the difficulties in identifying performatives, and he devotes a lengthy section to the prostration formula found in letters in Ugarit and the other peripheral Akkadian dialects.