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.