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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.

September 22, 2008

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)