Language Variation & Change workshop

April 5, 2024 | 3:30PM

The Workshop on Language Variation & Change will be having its first meeting of the quarter this Friday, April 5, from 3:30 to 5:00 PM to hear Andrew Zulker present a talk titled “The Enigmatic Verbal System of Biblical Hebrew: Refining the Diachronic Account” (abstract below) about the historical reconstruction of a unique verbal form in Biblical Hebrew. 

For those who can’t attend in person, you can join us via Zoom (Meeting ID: 984 4311 4913, Passcode: 318835).

As always, please visit the LVC website for more information about the workshop and our schedule this quarter.


The Enigmatic Verbal System of Biblical Hebrew: Refining the Diachronic Account

The Biblical Hebrew verbal system has been described as an “enigma” (McFall 1982). On the surface, there are two basic forms: a prefix conjugation, traditionally called the “Imperfect,” and a suffix conjugation, traditionally called the “Perfect.” By itself, the prefix conjugation normally has a future, habitual, or modal sense, whereas the suffix conjugation most often refers to single events in the past (the exact semantic values of each form are a matter of ongoing debate). When immediately preceded by the conjunction w- ‘and’, however, the semantic values are reversed: the prefix conjugation refers to single events in the past, while the suffix conjugation has a future, habitual, or modal sense. In the case of the prefix conjugation, the reason for the apparent semantic “conversion” has been largely clarified, by comparative evidence indicating that there were historically two prefix conjugations with distinct semantic values. For the suffix conjugation, however, there can only be one etymon. This talk will present new research that builds on the view that the semantic value of the suffix conjugation with w- originated in conditional sentences, and will show how phonological developments, semantic shifts, word order phenomena, and a special use of w- all conspired to produce the verbal system’s unusual configuration.