Could This Be the Most Pretentious Semitic Philology Footnote of the 21st Century?

…because if not I’m just gonna keep adding to it ‘ti it is.

[10] Joosten 2002’s arguments, based on the theory of Kuryłowicz 1973 that tense is the first axis of opposition in all verbal systems, would imply that archaic Hebrew could not have had a preterite-imperfective-anterior system. But it is based on the extremely powerful assumption that no system lacking morphological tense-marking can have morphological aspect-marking. There are at least two serious objections to this assumption. The first is that it does not consider widely-known counterevidence, such as the best-documented early stage of an ancient Semitic language, Old Babylonian, in which a preterite iprus ~ durative iparras ~ perfect iptaras opposition is widely recognized (e.g. Huenergard and Woods 2004). Second, it proposes to confirm Kuryłowicz’s theory with an examination of the very system under dispute (2002:52), which runs the risk of an obscurum per obscurius explanation, since two centuries of scholarly debate have not brought agreement on this patter (for an important example of the continuing debate see Pardee 2012 with n23). At the risk of attempting to cut a large and old Gordian knot with a single quick blow, I would question how scholars as careful as Joosten and Pardee, with precisely the same data set and the benefit of 200 years of scholarship from Gesenius to Driver, can continue come to flatly opposite conclusions about the entire CBH prose verbal system. And I would suggest that the solution lies in the fact that ancient Semitic deixis, both spatial (cf. the frequent lack of a morphological distal-proximal (“this” vs. “that”) distinction, e.g. in Hebrew, Aramaic and Akkadian demonstrative pronouns) and verbal, tends to rely more heavily on implicature than the Indo-European languages from which all of these scholars from Gesenius and Driver to Joosten and Pardee derive their categories. The knot would then lie in the unavoidable pragmatics of implicature: precisely because of their linguistic and analytical competence, these scholars will necessarily produce comprehensive and consistent readings of the (from an Indo-European viewpoint) always morphologically under-indicated tense and aspect of CBH.


2 responses to “Could This Be the Most Pretentious Semitic Philology Footnote of the 21st Century?”

  1. johncookvw says :

    I don’t find it too pretentious, but maybe because I mostly agree. I take it you’ve seen my reply to Joosten 2002 in JANES 2006, in which I addressed the problematic assumption of Kurylowicz (rehearsed in my 2012 Time and the Biblical Hebrew Verb). May I ask what the Pardee 2012 source you cite is?

  2. sethlsanders says :

    Thanks so much, John–coming to this more from epigraphy and biblical lit I’m not as up on recent typological work as I should be and your piece is invaluable. The Pardee article is “The Biblical Hebrew Verbal System in a Nutshell” in Fs. Huehnergard

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