Verbal Sequences

This is the second of three questions about the textbook one reader sent us recently. The first post is here; the third post will come tomorrow.


On page  r-34, bottom sentence, what appear to be so-called waw-consecutive perfect [Note that we do not use this term in BBH], e.g., ולקח יצחק ובקע, are seemingly treated as past tense since they are sequential upon חבש. You then ask students to transform into imperfects. From a traditional verbal system perspective, isn’t this confusing? The sentence as currently written is fine in modern Hebrew, but does not work as standard biblical Hebrew.



On the waw+perfect used in past temporal contexts (p. r-34): similarly, this is acceptable in Biblical Hebrew even if not very frequent. Our decision to employ waw-prefixed perfect forms that are not irreal mood (traditional “waw-conversive” forms) has both theoretical and pedagogical motivations. Such examples are problematic from the “traditional verbal system perspective” because that perspective is inaccurate. Rather, we refer readers to the theoretical basis of our treatment of the verb now published in John Cook’s authoritative (ahem) volume Time and the Biblical Hebrew Verb (Eisenbrauns, 2012).

The linguistically grounded arguments in Cook’s volume are why we eschew labels such as “waw-conversive,” etc. — our research has not found them to be linguistically defensible. For a challenging example of qatal – qatal – qatal (which, without a larger discourse context is not necessarily different than qatal – w-qatal – w-qatal, since the latter simply lacks the overt subject), see Gen 4.18.

Pedagogically, our decision to utilize a minority sequence at this point in the textbook serves our interest to provide a carefully chosen “graded” sequence towards the complete grammar picture rather than become bogged down in advanced grammar discussions in a first-year textbook.

On Word Stress

An eagle-eyed instructor asked us recently about our use of stress-marking (the ‘oleh  א֫) we use for unexpected word stress, such as a non-final syllable (i.e., the penultima) in nouns or a final syllable (i.e., the ultima) in the Irreal Perfect (weqataltí). He noted what he thought was an incorrect marking of the Irreal Perfect forms on p. 67 and r-20, 23. In other words, he rightly understand that we intended the forms as Irreal Perfects, but since we had not marked the stress on the ultima, it would naturally be read as a Real Perfect. 


My response is that the lack of ultima stress-marking on weqatalti forms is intentional. E. J. Revell (Professor emeritus, NMC, University of Toronto), published a number of studies in the mid-80s on this issue. He concluded that the position of the stress on the so-called waw-consecutive form was not tied to the semantics of the form, but to phrasal prosody. We find his argument compelling. Thus, in our textbook we chose not to perpetuate what we think to be a ghost phenomenon.

The non-paradigmatic stress-marking in the textbook follows this principle: when copying an exact biblical text, we add stress-marking on any non-paradigmatic syllable (e.g., the ultima in weqataltí) IF it is so placed in the Masoretic Text. Otherwise, we maintain the paradigm marking (weqatálti) throughout, regardless of verbal semantics. 

We recommend the following scholarship on this issue:

Revell, E.J. 

1984. Stress and the Waw “Consecutive” in Biblical Hebrew. Journal of the American Oriental Society 104 (3): 437-44.

1985. The Conditioning of Stress Position in Waw Consecutive Perfect Forms in Biblical Hebrew. Hebrew Annual Review 9 277-300.

1987. Stress Position in Hebrew Verb Forms with Vocalic Affix. Journal of Semitic Studies 32 (2): 249-71.