Stability and change in the Hebrew verbal system: The case of qatal and qotel

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The paper studies the nature of the interplay between viewpoint aspect and tense in the temporal systems of Modern Hebrew and Biblical Hebrew, focusing on the suffixed verb form qatal and on the participial verb form qotel common to both. The examination of these temporal systems is couched in a neo-reichenbachian framework, taking the categories of viewpoint aspect and tense to consist of relations between temporal intervals (also known as the “two dimensional theory of tense”). It follows from this framework that viewpoint aspect and tense are encoded in any given temporal system, and languages differ in whether they contrastively mark tenses and/or aspects. When only one of the categories is morphologically marked, it is assumed that the other marks a default value. In the current context, it will be shown that viewpoint aspect properties of the verbal forms remain essentially unchanged over the two periods: qotel expressed, and still does, imperfective viewpoint aspect, with some characteristics of a progressive, whereas qatal expressed, and still does, a default viewpoint aspect that is interpreted as perfective according to the lexical aspectual properties of the underlying VP. In contrast, the properties of the tense categories in the systems have undergone a significant change: in Biblical Hebrew, the category of tense, in these particular forms, but possibly also more generally in the system, mark only a default value where the two temporal intervals, R and S, are not ordered in any specific manner, but rather present a temporal overlap; in Modern Hebrew, the category of tense contrasts temporal values, where R and S are clearly ordered with respect to each other: overlap, precedence. It will be suggested that this state of affairs is correlated with the (im)possibility of the forms to express narrative progression. Given that narrative progression involves update of R, this is not possible when the temporal relation between R and S is one of general overlap, blocking R progression. In Biblical Hebrew, narrative progression is achieved via the sequential w-forms, which have later disappeared from the system.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)32-64
Number of pages33
JournalBrill's Journal of Afroasiatic Languages and Linguistics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2021


  • Biblical Hebrew
  • Default viewpoint aspect
  • Imperfective
  • Modern Hebrew
  • Perfective
  • Viewpoint aspect

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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