Re: FYI Hebrew not tenseless

From: David Moore (
Date: Mon Oct 23 1995 - 15:11:37 EDT

On Mon, 23 Oct 1995, Vincent DeCaen wrote:

> I noticed that Porter and others appeal to tenseless Hebrew, etc, to
> make the case cross-linguistically viable. let's be clear: Hebrew is
> not tenseless. it became tenseless in the early 1800s under pressure
> from Indo-European studies. basically, Indo-European began supposedly
> from a simpler tenseless system and developed "tense"; fortunately for
> the Romantics, only the Aryans managed this feat, while the rest of
> the world languished in cognitive inferiority, including those
> backwards Orientals (who by right needed to be colonized and pillaged:
> can't make a train on time because they speak tenseless languages,
> and all that).
> the archaeology of tenseless analyses is fascinating, but depressing.
> anyway, two points.
> 1. what makes Hebrew different is a) it has no "perfect"/anterior
> (like most languages, including some European ones like Russian) and
> b) its selection of aspectual privative (cf. Olsen) is imperfective
> (perfective defaulter) vs European perfective (imperfective defaulter).
> the irony is that languages like Greek are in the tiny minority on
> most "parameters".
> 2. the model for Hebrew and Arabic in the 1800s is the foundation for
> tenseless analyses throughout the world, and by simple osmosis is in
> every textbook on TMA. it's simply that the analysis has become
> detached from the theory and motivations of those German Romantics.
> it's easy to show that the aspectual analysis of Hebrew is
> descriptively if not empirically inadequate.
> BTW, I assume a strong claim for Universal Grammar: essentially all
> languages are the same except for the setting of "parameters". I
> assume that TMA systems are essentially the same except for the
> setting of aspectual parameter(s). the major difference is the
> aspectual selection of privatives that Olsen devotes so much space to.
> for what my two-cents is worth.
        I sent out a recent post referring to Hebrew as practically
tenseless before I read my mail. When I opened my e-mail folder, your
post caught my eye right away. You say Hebrew is not tenseless, but you
haven't given any instances to show that tense can be a factor in Hebrew.
I'm supposing you have some in mind.

David L. Moore Southeastern Spanish District
Miami, Florida of the Assemblies of God Department of Education

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