Discourse, Verbal Forms, and Clarification

Although the book of Ezekiel is not exacty narrative, there are significant limitations on the amount of materials focused on discourse analysis in poetry from a grammatical perspective instead of primarily a rhetorical analysis. Hence to look at discourse analysis from a grammatical perspective, I’ve picked up the following tome related to narrative: Roy L. Heller’s Narrative Structure and Discourse Constellations: An Analysis of Clause Function in Biblical Hebrew Prose (Eisenbrauns, 2004).

Although I am fascinated by Hebrew and grammar and so forth, most of what I read related to these things isn’t exactly exciting. Yet, after reading only a few pages of his book, I realized how much I was going to appreciate reading this. I’ve already seen that he’s giving me language for things that I’d intuitively understood but not quite clarified. [1]

I’ve studied enough languages to know that each language has different means to convey different nuances through verbs. Choosing not to name a verbal form as imperfect, a word that has significant connotations in other languages (most notably Greek) is one manner of not assuming beforehand what the verb is conveying. Yet, the question remains of what things ought to be named and what exactly is being conveyed with the verbal forms of Hebrew, a language whose changes over time are not entirely clear. And in poetry and prophecy, the mixture of wayyiqtols, weqtls, yqtls all seem to run through each other – and through past and future, complete and incomplete. Even though I’ve been following somewhat the theories of Nicacci (and so forth) in terms of verbal concepts, what was most clear in my head was that there was a lot of confusion.

Heller is helpful in giving languagex to the discussion, pointing out the different nuances that Hebrew verbs are expected to convey. Even the naming of certain things assumes a certain meaning, not only in the use of the term imperfect for the yqtl form but also in things like how the naming of the waw on a wayyiqtol matters. Naming it a waw conversive assumes a temporal perspective to verbs and naming it a waw consecutive assumes more of a aspectual perspective (4). Heller’s providing a clear explanation to many things that others simply assume is a helpful clearing up of the things that I had sensed previously, in paying attention to the verbal discussions, but had never quite sorted out.

I look forward to reading further in his text and thinking further about verbal forms. And close to the top of my list is : The blog בלשנות and his discussion of the semitic verbal system.

[1] I have to admit that Heller won me over already with his comments on Lambdin. I learned Hebrew with Lambdin’s Introduction to Hebrew, and in that class I did receive a solid foundation for understanding discourse. Yet, in the opinion of most of the class, Lambdin’s explanations are often convuluted and unclear, an opinion that my former Hebrew professor assumed had more to do with the students taking Hebrew than Lambdin. Heller, however, backs up my own suspicions: he points out on page 2 that Lambdin ‘s explanations of different types of disjunctive clauses were not only unclear, but subjective – something I remember hearing (and sharing) a lot of complaints about as a student..


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