Fwd: Complexity

john at research.haifa.ac.il john at research.haifa.ac.il
Fri Mar 18 06:27:23 UTC 2011

But this is another example of how it isn't clear what it means to be
'more complex'. The Biblical Hebrew tense/aspect system distinguished
between verbal forms which have almost completely fallen together
morphologically but maintained radically different functions (not
just the 'imperfect' but also the 'perfect') by having one occur only
in clause-initial position prefixed with va- (and) and the other
occur only in non-clause-initial position. As someone who has worked
with this language a lot and gotten used to it, it isn't at all
clear to me that this system is more complex than the one that
preceded it. More typologically unusual, certainly. But why is it
more 'complex' to make a distinction by prefixing a conjunction than
by suffixing an agreement/tense-aspect marker?

Quoting Tom Givon <tgivon at uoregon.edu>:

> I am forwarding a note from A. Gianto, SJ, a noted Semiticist.  He is
> not on the list but I think his post is relevant.  TG
> ============================
> -------- Original Message --------
> Subject: 	Complexity
> Date: 	Thu, 17 Mar 2011 16:35:20 +0100
> From: 	A.Gianto <gianto at biblico.it>
> To: 	Tom Givon <tgivon at uoregon.edu>
> The TAM system in Biblical Hebrew (BH) is a good example of a
> grammaticalization process that adds complexity to a previous system,
> Aramaic, though stemming from the same system as BH, took the opposite path.
> The development of the "prefix conjugation" in BH (generally called
> "imperfect, yixtov 'he writes'; cf. Arabic yaktub-u) is a strategy to handle
> the confusion resulting from the loss of final short vowels /a,i,u/ at the
> end of a word in a previous stage. Comparative evidence (cf. Arabic) suggests
> that the prefix conjugation in this earlier stage had at least four forms,
> i.e, 3masc. sg.  imperfect: yaktub-u, narrative yaktub-ר (=zero); jussive:
> yaktub-ר, optative yaktub-a. (The narrrative and jussive have the same form
> but they have a complementary distribution.) When the final short vowels
> dropped, the forms risk to get confused with one another and their special
> use got compromised.  In Hebrew, yixtov<  *yaktub<  *yaktub-u was generalized
> as the imperfect form in BH. This is a grammaticalization process that
> introduces complexity rather than simplifying the situation. But the story
> goes on. The narrative yaktub-ר, however, still looked very much like the
> imperfect. To deal with this, BH only allows the narrative yaktub-ר to stand
> in the first-position - and to "seal" this constraint, a conjunction wa- was
> prefixed to it, hence the form wayyiqtol ("converted imperfect") is always
> clause initial.
> The old optative yaktub-a took another path. When the final vowel -a was
> dropped, it became yaktub, making it too similar to the imperfect. The
> strategy taken is interesting. The optative paradigm gave up its 2nd and 3rd
> persons. But the sg and pl of 1st persons got stabilized into what BH grammar
> calls "cohortative" 'ektva: and nektva: 'I/we wish to write'.
> At the beginning Aramaic took a similar path, i.e, generalizing the old
> imperfect into just one form yixtuv<  *yaktub<  *yaktub-u. The old narrative
> *yaktub disappeared and its function was taken over by the so-called
> narrative participle. Unlike BH, the old optative formally did not survive
> and the category became no longer operative in Aramaic. All kinds of wish are
> now expressed either by the imperfect or jussive.
> The skeletal picture above shows how two closely related languages like BH
> and Aramaic took opposite paths. BH opted for an ever complex
> grammaticalization, Aramaic, so to speak, reduced the grammaticalization
> process to the basics.
> Gus

This message was sent using IMP, the Webmail Program of Haifa University

More information about the Funknet mailing list