Abba Is Not Daddy.

Back in 2006, frequent commenter Paul sent me an obit for biblical scholar James Barr which made him sound quite interesting; I meant to follow up but never did, and now Henry Wansbrough’s TLS review of Bible and Interpretation: The Collected Essays of James Barr, Volumes I-III has the same effect. His first book, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), apparently revolutionized the field; this appreciation by Larry Hurtado says:

The Semantics of Biblical Language was Barr’s first major publication, and it has been judged to have initiated “a reconstruction of descriptive biblical linguistics” (Arthur Gibson, Biblical Semantic Logic, 2nd ed., Sheffield Academic Press, 2001, p. 3). Beginning with a criticism of then-current superficial contrasts between “Hebrew thought” and “Greek thought”, Barr then introduced some key principles of modern linguistics. The broad thrust was to challenge traditional etymology-based studies of words and the free use of alleged word-equivalents in other Semitic languages (e.g., Ugaritic) to supply meanings to unusual Hebrew words in the OT. […]

The basic points that Barr sought to make were, at the time of his book’s appearance, not well understood among biblical scholars. Sadly, I fear that this remains the case. Too many scholars (and so their students) still take an approach in which Hebrew or Greek words are treated as having fixed meanings, and so understanding texts is essentially a process of totting up a suitable dictionary meaning of all the words of their sentences. It is still news to many that the fundamental semantic unit is not the “word” but the sentence, and that “words” (lexical entries) acquire a specific meaning when deployed in sentences. Likewise, scholars often still don’t understand that word-constructions often take on their own meaning that is not the sum of the parts (e.g., “hot dog” isn’t the sum of the meanings of “hot” and “dog”!).

I thought I’d reproduce here a short excerpt from Wansbrough’s review that gives an idea of the kind of thing Barr did:

Two examples may introduce Barr’s careful work and method. Every Christian in the pew knows that Jesus addressed God with affectionate intimacy, but important precision is given by the essay “Abba is not ‘Daddy'” (Volume Two). The highly respected and influential German scholar Joachim Jeremias had argued that Jesus’s Aramaic address to God — Abba — was the equivalent to “Daddy”. By detailed philological work Barr shows that Jesus’s address to his Father expresses a mature relationship of adult, rather than childish, affection. Secondly, literate Christians are normally told that a fresh Greek word, agape, had to be coined to express the novel Christian concept of self-giving love; it derives from the precious expression of unbreakable family love, a specifically Hebrew concept. In fact Barr shows that each element in this claim requires adjustment. The Greek word agape occurs overwhelmingly only in one book of the New Testament — the First Letter of John — and there is nothing especially biblical or Hebrew about it. In the comparatively frequent Old Testament usage, the word does not necessarily designate self-giving love, but is frequently used, alongside other words, for erotic and even illicit love.

God bless careful philologists! Too bad the book costs hundreds of pounds/dollars, but such is the world we live in.

Comments

  1. Anyway, the noun may have been fresh in Septuagint times, but the underlying verb, saith WP, “goes as far back as Homer, translated literally as ‘affection’, as in ‘greet with affection’ and ‘show affection for the dead.'”

  2. FWIW, “The Semantics of Biblical Language” is available in paperback on Amazon for $29.98.

    (I think I read this some years ago.)

    George

  3. Far too much! I haven’t paid over ten bucks for a book in ages. Besides, while I’m sure it’s brilliant, it’s not exactly at the center of my interests these days; I might check it out of the library sometime.

  4. “I might check it out of the library sometime”

    If I read it, and I think I did, I would have gotten it from a library.

  5. David Eddyshaw says:

    This is noble work, and I wish it were better known among those to whom it is most relevant. Good theology can never result from bad scholarship.

    As one of probably a smallish subset of LH readers who regularly listens to sermons, I have to say that my heart sinks whenever the preacher starts talking about the Greek word (always just the single word) underlying a translation. Even good preachers almost always then betray exactly the language-as-dictionary fallacy complained of here.

    The only Hebrew word I have heard subjected to this treatment for some years is “shalom”; without fail the preacher will go on to say that it means much more than “peace”, but also implies “wholeness.” Every time.

    I live in mingled hope and dread that some day I will hear a sermon which makes a great song and dance about the original sense of an Aramaic word (other than “abba”, anyway.)

  6. David Eddyshaw says:

    The problem (come to think of it) is seriously exacerbated by defective theories of translation which have acquired canonical status among some pious folk, to the effect that the same word in the original language should always be rendered by the same word in translation. There are entire Bible translations, into English at least, which adhere scrupulously to this fundamental misunderstanding.

    The translators of the Authorised Version explicitly rejected this doctrine, happily.

    To be fairer to those who have had the thankless task of leading me on the right path in their sermons, a fairly common tactic among the more industrious is to consult a concordance to find out what the Greek word seems to mean in other contexts, which is assuredly a big step in the right direction.

    I’ve always been annoyed by the Abba = Daddy thing. Possibly it is because I feel a proprietary interest in the word “Abba”, said in family legend to be my own first utterance, addressed to an Israeli friend of my mother’s …

  7. Owlmirror says:

    Every year around Father’s Day, Steve Caruso posts about how Abba does not mean Daddy (apparently, that particular holiday brings out the heirs of Jeremias’ claim):

    http://aramaicnt.org/2014/06/14/brace-yourselves-abba-does-not-mean-daddy/

  8. Owlmirror says:

    I live in mingled hope and dread that some day I will hear a sermon which makes a great song and dance about the original sense of an Aramaic word (other than “abba”, anyway.)

    Three articles that I found interesting on Caruso’s site which discuss the original sense of the Aramaic:

    http://aramaicnt.org/articles/the-lords-prayer-in-galilean-aramaic/ (abba/daddy, “daily bread”, bread, and ḥoḇ as meaning both “debt” and “sin”)

    http://aramaicnt.org/2013/02/02/sermon-on-the-mount-or-the-plain/ (טוורה/ṭaurāh can apparently mean either mount or plain (I assume the Cornish “tor” is a very false friend, and that the Aramaic is (probably) cognate with צור ))

    http://aramaicnt.org/articles/he-who-lives-by-the-sword/ (סייף as meaning both “sword” and “end”)

  9. To help put Greek ἀγάπη in context, and as an item of interest for Language Hat readers, I would just like to note the excellent derivational history and Proto-Indo-European etymology for Greek ἀγάπη provided fairly recently by Georges Pinault (Revue de philologie 65, 1991, p. 199ff). The chronology of attestation indicates that ἀγάπη (known no earlier than the Septuagint?) is a deverbal formation from the earlier-attested (in Homer and tragedy) verb ἀγαπάω “welcome someone to whom protection or hospitality is owed”. In Pinault’s analysis, this verb would itself be a denominal formation (a virtual Proto-Indo-European *m̥ǵh₂-peh₂-ye/o-) from an Indo-European *m̥ǵh₂-peh₂- “(one) protecting greatly, offering great protection”, composed of the elements m̥ǵh₂- “great” (the zero-grade of the same PIE form that in the full grade became Greek μεγα- “mega-”) and peh₂- “to protect”. Pinault evokes such Vedic collocations as mahi śarma “great protection”, mahi varūtham “great shelter”, uru varūtham “wide shelter”, and śarma saprathaḥ “extensive protection” in support of this interpretation. (Alain Blanc (Chronique d’étymologie grecque 5) would make a slight adjustment to this etymology after noting that PIE root nouns like peh₂- are usually enlarged by a *-t- in Greek when used as the final member of a compound—hence we would expect an Attic-Ionic *ἀγαπής, *ἀγαπητ- and a verb *ἀγαπήτω or the like. Blanc proposes that in pre-Greek sentences of the form *m̥ǵh₂ peh₂- “protects… greatly”, with adverbial use of *m̥ǵh₂, the collocation mǵh₂ peh₂-… underwent univerbation, first to an athematic verb *ἀγαπᾱμι, and was then thematized by some process to the attested forms ἀγαπάζω and ἀγαπάω.)
    I hope all the html tagging worked above, by the way.

  10. Sorry, I meant to write “and a verb *ἀγαπήσσω or the like”–however a verb might be made from the earlier stem *ἀγαπᾱτ-…

  11. A recently encountered example of theology based on, well, something that looks like etymology if you squint, from a Turkish pop-theologian who I won’t name because the ideas are far from original to him. The Turkish text is followed by my translation (which ironically might well be inaccurate, but at least I admit my uncertainty after studying the language for only a couple years):

    Âmîn İbrahimi şeriatların ortak şiarıdır. Musevî, İsevî ve Muhammedî davetin aynı ilahi kökten neşet ettiğinin hoş bir belgesidir. Kelimenin Eski Mısır inancında en büyük Tanrı’ya ad olarak verilen “Amon”dan ve kadîm Hind inançlarında varlık var edilmeden öncesindeki “kün/ol” emrinin mukabili olan “om”dan geldiği iddia edilmiştir. Kelimenin kökeninin nereye dayandığının hiçbir önemi yoktur. Kaldı ki, kelimenin kadîm geleneklerle irtibatı, İslâm’ın insanlıkla yaşıt olduğu ve insanlığın değişmez değerlerini temsil ettiği hakikatini teyit etmektedir. Tüm dini geleneklerin özüne inildiğinde vahiyden bir pırıltıyla karşılaşmak kimseye şaşırtıcı gelmemelidir.

    “Amen” is the mutual recognition-word of the Abrahamic religions; it nicely documents that the faiths of the followers of Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad originate from the same divine summons. It has been claimed that “amen” stems from “Amon” which is the name of the greatest god in ancient Egyptian religion, and from “om” which is the counterpart to the first command before creation, “kun!” (“be!”), in ancient Hindu beliefs. It’s not important where the word comes from. The point is that the word’s relation to such ancient traditions proves that Islam is as old as humanity and represents humanity’s timeless values. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to encounter a glint of revelation in the depths of all religious traditions.

  12. But if we believe in wrathful dispersion, etymology ought to be part of theology.

  13. One of my biggest biblical translation peeves is the “thou shalt not kill” passage (Dt 5:17) which is often asserted by fellow liberals as divine authority against the death penalty or war and by conservatives against abortion. The Hebrew word used is רצח ‘ratsach.’ In the context, is better translated as ‘murder’ (illegal or unjustified killing), not the more general ‘kill.’ However, some translations, including the JPS, do use ‘murder.’

  14. Patrick Taylor: Thanks very much for that ingenious etymology! I was going to ask if there was any other evidence for the zero-grade of that root, but it seems Latin magnus is taken to be from *m̥ǵh₂-nós. I’d say it falls into the “plausible but not compelling” category, since laryngeals and zero grades leave such ambiguous evidence behind.

  15. “Too many scholars (and so their students) still take an approach in which Hebrew or Greek words are treated as having fixed meanings, and so understanding texts is essentially a process of totting up a suitable dictionary meaning of all the words of their sentences.”
    And here’s the kicker: this is true of the general public as well. I wish that when some day in the far, far future I finally kicked the bucket (or shake my krpce, as the Slovak idiom goes), one of my accomplishments will include making people realize that language is not just a big bag of words.

  16. Hat: there’s evidence for the zero grade in Greek itself. The name Agamemnon, if coined at a later time, would have been coined as Mega-memnon.

  17. Trond Engen says:

    Could the vowel alteration in Germanic be due to levelling of a paradigm with zero grade in some forms? ON/OSw mikit/mykit, ODa mikit/meket, Eng. much

  18. Trond Engen says:

    Greek agathos “good”, might be < "great(ness)", I guess.

  19. Hat: there’s evidence for the zero grade in Greek itself. The name Agamemnon, if coined at a later time, would have been coined as Mega-memnon.

    Again, plausible but not compelling.

  20. J.W. Brewer says:

    I got a Hebrew-translation complaint in a sermon just this morning, namely the contention that the famous I AM THAT I AM would be better rendered “I will be who I will be.” I don’t have any means of judging the issue, having no Hebrew (and this priest knows Hebrew reasonably well, almost certainly better than he knows Greek), but I do know that Biblical Hebrew lacks an explicit morphosyntactic future tense, meaning the translator has to guess from context and I suppose can often be second-guessed.

  21. J.W. Brewer says:

    I got a Hebrew-translation complaint in a sermon just this morning, namely the contention that the famous I AM THAT I AM would be better rendered “I will be who I will be.” I don’t have any means of judging the issue, having no Hebrew (and this priest knows Hebrew reasonably well, almost certainly better than he knows Greek), but I do know that Biblical Hebrew lacks an explicit morphosyntactic future tense, meaning the translator has to guess from context and I suppose can often be second-guessed.

  22. . . . the contention that the famous I AM THAT I AM would be better rendered “I will be who I will be.”

    The passage as it appears in the Hebrew bible: אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה ehyeh asher ehyeh.

    The first and last words can only be rendered as ‘(I) will be’ in modern Hebrew. (I don’t think they can mean anything else in biblical Hebrew, despite the verb tense issue). The personal pronoun needn’t appear because that form of the verb is masculine singular (and future). The middle word, depending on context, can be a preposition, a pronoun or an adverb meaning ‘as to, regarding’; ‘who, which, that’; in order that. With various combining forms it can also mean whither, wherever, from and similar. So the best rendering in English, in this context, would be ‘who’.

    Note that אֶהְיֶה is a form of the verb ‘to be,’ irregular in many languages. With a small change it becomes the verb ‘to have:’ היה לי ספר Haya li sefer I had a book, though literally it’s ‘To me there was a book.’

    Note also the form of the tetragrammaton, יהוה, whose diacritics vary depending on who’s placing them (Hebrew diacritics were developed in early Byzantine times; a Torah scroll has none.): יֱהֹוָה or יַהוֶה, the former traditionally pronounced* Yehowah by the Roman Catholic church and the latter pronounced Yahweh by Protestant churches. (*Jews traditionally don’t pronounce the word as it’s written, substituting אֲדֹנָי Adonai (my Lord — though that’s technically a dual or plural form of adon, lord) — which just happens to use nearly identical diacritics as the Catholic pronunciation.

    Says Wiki: Many scholars propose that the name “YHWH” is a verb form derived from the biblical Hebrew triconsonantal root היה (h-y-h), which means “to be”, “become”, “come to pass”. It has הוה (h-w-h) as a variant form, with a third person masculine y- prefix. It is connected to the passage in Exodus 3:14 in which God gives his name as אֶהְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh), where the verb, translated most basically as “I am that I am”, or “I shall be what I shall be”, “I shall be what I am” or “I will become what I choose to become”, ” I Will Become whatsoever I please”. יהוה with the vocalization “Yahweh” could theoretically be a hif’il (causative) verb inflection of root HWH, with a meaning something like “he who causes to exist” or “who gives life” (the root idea of the word being “to breathe”, and hence, “to live”) or “He causes to become”. As a qal (basic stem) verb inflection, it could mean “he who is, who exists”.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    A future interpretation makes no sense at all in the context in Exodus. I can’t imagine why God would tell Moses to say that he was sent by “He will be” rather than “He is.”

    The Biblical Hebrew imperfective is frequently used in a timeless present sense.
    The Book of Proverbs provides as many examples as anyone could possibly ever want.
    “A wise son makes his father glad.” 10:1.
    Jouon’s grammar deteminedly calls the form “future”, but that scarcely does justice to the actual facts in the Biblical language. Personally I think it’s bizarre terminology , and causes a good deal more confusion than illumination.

    Job, Ch 1 vs 5: “thus Job did continually” uses the imperfective of “do.” That’s just the first example I thought of. You can find others wherever you look.

    I wonder if (like “abba”) this is a case where people are erroneously imagining that modern Israeli Hebrew is a safe guide to Biblical usage.

    It’s sometimes seemed to me to be unfortunate in this matter of aspect that firstly, the original poster children for aspect as a verb category were the Slavonic languages, which certainly have in-your-face aspect but in quite a few respects a rather atypical system (eg no perfective present), and secondly that a lot of the seminal modern Western analysis of Biblical Hebrew was in German, which language happens to grammaticalise aspect particularly little – not at all in some dialects, in fact.

  24. Maybe the intent of the passage is best expressed by an abstract noun: isness, the quality of being without reference to time. So God is everywhere (in the past, now, and in the future). Connect it to the notion of having, inherent in the root, and you can also get to God is everything. My guess is that the passage was meant to be enigmatic from the get-go.

  25. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Paul Ogden:

    Could well be (by the way, my slowness in posting meant it look like I was taking issue with you, but I hadn’t seen your post at that point.) In fact, whatever the name means, it certainly isn’t “He is (currently) existing.”

    Mind you, the Septuagint translators seemed to think that the form was best rendered as a Greek present; admittedly the Hebrew they spoke was a good few centuries younger than that of the writer of Exodus (and their translation practices are sometimes a bit … odd), but I still think their feeling in the matter is likely to be more reliable than a twenty-first century gentile preacher’s … (or a nineteenth or twentieth century grammarian’s, come to that. Or mine.)

  26. David Marjanović says:

    A future interpretation makes no sense at all in the context in Exodus. I can’t imagine why God would tell Moses to say that he was sent by “He will be” rather than “He is.”

    Well.

    German, which language happens to grammaticalise aspect particularly little – not at all in some dialects, in fact.

    Most dialects and the standard, for a not very wide definition of “standard”: this progressive aspect is a distinctly western form.

  27. Of course, it’s a secondary fallacy that “Biblical Hebrew” was a well-defined language anyway. The books written in Hebrew were set down over the better part of a millennium, and later writers’ lack of understanding of some of the texts they had inherited is quite evident. To take a specific example related to “Abba,” there is the form and etymology of the name “Abraham.” The name was probably extant in two different forms in different folkloric sources, and the redactors responsible for Genesis included a story about him changing his name to reconcile this. They also provide a meaning for his name, which appears to be spurious; they knew that “Abraham” meant something to do with fatherhood, but the precise etymology was no longer discernible.

  28. David Eddyshaw says:

    @David Marjanović:

    If the supposed etymology of Yahweh is correct, the form itself shows that it is masculine. Otherwise it would be Tahweh. I hope I haven’t initiated some new heterodoxy by coining the word … probably someone else got there long before me.

  29. David Eddyshaw says:

    @David Marjanović:

    I meant that standard German grammaticalises aspect (partly) in the past tenses. (Ich sah/Ich habe gesehen.) Not in the many dialects (and Yiddish) that don’t have the old preterite forms any more. Even there you could object that it’s a tense difference primarily rather than an aspect difference, I suppose.

    I was greatly helped in my own understanding of aspect by learning two of the local languages in West Africa, Hausa, and (particularly) Kusaal. West African languages quite typically have a primary morphological distinction in verbs between perfective and imperfective, with imperfective the marked form both morphologically and semantically, like English and Japanese (basically the opposite of Slavonic.) The unmarked “perfective” is often used in the present, typically with “performative” meanings for dynamic verbs and stative meanings for stative verbs, like the “simple” present of English (“He shoots! He scores!” – “I thank you” – “I love you”) all of which has parallels in Biblical Hebrew.

    Kusaal has a beautifully transparent system which cleanly separates time reference, aspect and current relevance; it took me a while to realise that the difficulty I had with the system was largely occasioned by the comparative opacity of my own language.

  30. Re הְיֶה אֲשֶׁר אֶהְיֶה (Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh)

    There are no tenses (in the sense of time of an event) in biblical Hebrew. The verbs in this phrase are imperfect (i.e. the action has not been completed). This is what Gesenius (Hebrew Grammar) has to say:

    “There are only tense-forms (Perfect and Imperfect . . .) besides an imperative , two Infinitives and a Participle. All relations of time , absolute and relative, are expressed either by these forms or by syntactical combinations.”

    So, depending on context the phrase could be translated into English as present or future. However, here, the future makes no sense. So, I think, the better translation of the imperfect is present “I am who I am.”

  31. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Brett:

    Biblical Hebrew is actually surprisingly uniform, to a degree which in fact rather surprising; the most parsimonious explanation being that a lot of the material has been worked over and made more uniform by later redactors. There certainly are cases where said redactors have misunderstood; an interesting case is the enclitic particle written “m” recognised by modern scholarship from Ugaritic, which is found in old poetry and misinterpreted in our Bible texts as they currently appear as plural -im and so forth.

    I think this is actually a slightly different issue from the interpretation of old personal and place names, though. You find stories more or less fanciful about the origins of proper names in all sorts of cultures (Old Irish literature is full of them.)

    There is a difference though, broadly speaking, between an older sort of presumably pre-exilic Biblical Hebrew and a later sort. Relevant to the particular point about aspect is that the use of participles at the expense of the imperfective increases with time, as in Aramaic, ultimately indeed leading to a state where the old imperfective really is basically just a future tense.

  32. David Eddyshaw says:

    @GeorgeW:

    I agree with you (of course), but this is actually a matter of lively debate, and Gesenius is by no means the most recent contribution to it. The matter is complicated yet further by the fact that Hebrew certainly changed eventually into a language where the verbal system was more reasonably characterised as organised by tense rather than aspect, and at least the start of this process seems to be there in the Bible.

  33. “If the supposed etymology of Yahweh is correct, the form itself shows that it is masculine.”

    In spite of some modern attempts otherwise, I think it is clear that the Israelites thought of God as masculine. I guess, one could claim grammatical gender since there is only masculine and feminine with no neuter possibility. Since there are also terms such as ‘father’ referring to God, I suspect there was also a biological association as well.

  34. J.W. Brewer says:

    FWIW the sermon I heard was not by a 21st century gentile preacher, because not a gentile. Although I believe he started studying Hebrew in a semi-autodidact sort of way in Soviet-ruled Moscow circa 1970, so perhaps he would have had access to more reliable instruction on grammatical subtlety had he been a gentile student in a less oppressive environment. Although the LXX approach was lurking in the background of the sermon since pretty much every one of the icons of Christ around the church has ὁ ὤν (from the LXX’s rendering ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν) worked into the halo, as is traditional. In any event it sounds like he was taking one side in an existing exegetical controversy as opposed to simply having developed an idiosyncratic view in a vacuum.

  35. This is interesting. I heard the abba = “daddy” thing from a friend once, and I explained to him why it didn’t make sense; but I hadn’t realized that it was such a widespread belief.

    I suppose I’m glad that someone put in the effort to carefully debunk it with proper philological methods, but the claim has so little behind it that it almost seems like overkill to do so.

  36. Owlmirror says:

    FWIW the sermon I heard was not by a 21st century gentile preacher, because not a gentile.

    I don’t understand this usage of the term “gentile”, unless you’re elliptically implying that he was a convert from Judaism to Russian Orthodox.

  37. J.W. Brewer says:

    Under an atheist regime where most people are secular, I’m not sure that someone who gets baptized while in possession of identity papers saying “Jewish” rather than “Russian” (or “Buryat” or “Estonian” or what have you) in the “nationality” box is “converting from” anything, but such a person would not be a gentile. It was a common enough thing among young dissidentish intellectuals from ethnic-Jewish backgrounds during the last few decades of the Bolshevik Yoke that there’s a book-length study of it (which I haven’t gotten around to reading) called Doubly Chosen: Jewish Identity, the Soviet Intelligentsia, and the Russian Orthodox Church, by Judith Kornblatt, published by U. of Wisconsin Press. It being a small world, the only amazon customer review of the book is by Christopher Culver, who I am guessing is the fellow of that name who occasionally comments here.

  38. the Slavonic languages, which certainly have in-your-face aspect but in quite a few respects a rather atypical system (eg no perfective present)
    That’s a bit of a broad brush – what you describe is true of e.g. Russian and Polish, where the morphological prefective presnts have come to denote the future tense, but it’s not true of e.g. Old Church Slavic, where the perfective presents still function as present tenses (non-progressive and non-habitual).

  39. David Eddyshaw says:

    @Hans: Fair point, and very interesting in itself. I gather South Slavonic systems are more complicated than Russian, too. (Which includes OCS historically, I suppose, come to think of it.)

    I think the major difference of the Slavonic system(s) from the sort you find in many other languages is not so much individual supposed gaps but markedness; many if not most have imperfective aspects as the more marked, so that the “perfective” is really more of a “not-imperfective.” Slavonic seems to be basically the reverse. You obviously know more about it than me; what do you think?

  40. Yes, normally the imperfective is described as the unmarked aspect in the Slavic languages I have studied. If you go into more detail, the picture becomes more complicated (as it always does); e.g. looking at individual categories, I’d argue that in the imperative in Russian, the perfective aspect is the unmarked aspect.

  41. Well, normally positive imperatives (“Do it!”) are perfective, while negative ones (“Don’t do it!”) are imperfective; I’m not sure that means the perfective aspect is unmarked.

  42. “Do it!” is semantically perfective (if such thing even exists) in a sense that the request is usually understood to make something done, not only to make an effort. But “do” is, as any verb in English, not marked for perfection, you need a participle for that, or am I missing something? In Russian, you say “сделай это” (собери, отнеси, прочитай, whatever) as well as “делай это” (собирай, относи, читай), but imperfect imperative often has exactly the same meaning as a perfect one. Depends on context. You might think that if the meaning is to accomplish something then the perfect verb is usually used, but I am afraid that it is exactly the situation where logic and intuition might not quite work.

  43. But “do” is, as any verb in English, not marked for perfection, you need a participle for that, or am I missing something?

    I was talking about Russian, just using “do” as a filler verb. I thought “сделай это” (again, using делать as a filler verb) was considerably more common than “делай это,” but I defer to your knowledge.

  44. Hat, but that’s exactly what I am saying. I do not have any “knowledge” and I feel like intuition is not enough in this case.

  45. Well, perhaps someone who knows more will weigh in. It’s an interesting question.

  46. David Eddyshaw says:

    Classical Greek distinguishes in positive imperatives between “present” (i.e. imperfective) and “aorist” (the perfective version) with a perfect imperative too, even, because this is Greek and it has to be at least twice as complicated as Latin …

    Smyth’s grammar says that the present imperative implies continuance and the aorist simple occurrence, but I must say his examples aren’t all that convincing, and the choice looks rather as if it reflects the semantics of the particular verb as often as not rather than being a very significant contrast.

    Present
    “Honour thy parents” “Tell the whole truth” “Offer the horses to them”
    Aorist
    “Look towards the mountains” “Give the horses to us”

    especially with the horse-transactions. Dunno. YMMV.

    Christian preachers keen to wow their congregations with their Greek are prone to make much of this supposed contrast: “khairete” “rejoice” being a favourite. Personally I’m not convinced that rejoicing at a single moment in time is quite what I would call rejoicing in any case … (satori 悟 perhaps?)

  47. David Eddyshaw says:

    Come to think of it, Greek has the aspect-markedness the same way round as Slavonic. And I think Vedic Sanskrit. Old Irish too, with ro-. I suppose it’s the original Indoeuropean thing, with Slavonic once again showing impressive fidelity to the old ways (I am still properly awed by the formidable continuity shown by the Russian word for “fuck”, with its exact cognate in Sanskrit… LH is educational.)

    Although … morphologically, the aorists are typically more basic, with “present” (i.e imperfective) stems being derived with suffixes, nasal infixes and so forth. Maybe that is a relic of an even older state of affairs where the “perfective” was the unmarked aspect, in the West African and English manner.

    West Semitic, too, presumably switched over (in the opposite direction) in this at some prehistoric stage, given that the perfective flexion seems to be historically an innovation based on an older stative construction, suggesting that at some point it was a marked form semantically as well as morphologically.

  48. David Marjanović says:

    If the supposed etymology of Yahweh is correct, the form itself shows that it is masculine.

    …I wasn’t trying to argue against that. ~:-|

    I meant that standard German grammaticalises aspect (partly) in the past tenses. (Ich sah/Ich habe gesehen.)

    It doesn’t; those forms mean exactly the same. Which one to choose is fully governed by stylistic criteria: 1) choose one tense for your narration and stick to it; 2) the preferred tense for written narration is the simple past (ich sah); 3) consecutio temporum – if the narration is in the present and you need to talk about something that happened before the plot, you have to resort to the compound past (ich habe gesehen), if the narration is in the simple past, you have to choose the pluperfect (ich hatte gesehen).

    In speaking, those kinds of German that haven’t lost the simple past seem to generally prefer it because it’s shorter, except probably for rare irregular verbs.

    English uses the cognates of these tenses to grammaticalise aspect. In German, the consecutio temporum might be the last remnant of that, or it might be imported wholesale from Latin (with the traditional cringeworthy equation of the simple past with the Latin imperfect).

    the Russian word for “fuck”

    Not just Russian – it’s all over the whole family.

    morphologically, the aorists are typically more basic, with “present” (i.e imperfective) stems being derived with suffixes, nasal infixes and so forth

    PIE is reconstructed as having verbs that were “root presents” (imperfectives), “root perfects” (statives) and “root aorists” (perfectives), with the other “tenses” (aspects) being derived for each verb; but I don’t know if any one of these categories is noticeably more common than the others.

  49. PIE is reconstructed as having verbs that were “root presents” (imperfectives), “root perfects” (statives) and “root aorists” (perfectives), with the other “tenses” (aspects) being derived for each verb; but I don’t know if any one of these categories is noticeably more common than the others.

    For what it’s worth, LIV counts 204 root presents against 265 root aorists, so while there is a slight preponderance for aorist (=perfective) roots, it’s not a sufficiently significant preponderance for stating that perfective once was the default aspect of the root. (And they count 17 stative roots, but my Impression is that the Rix-Cowgill stative is a different beast from what you call “root perfects”.)

    On Russian imperatives: what I mean is that the default (except for some verbs, like идти “go”) is the perfective imperative, and the imperfective imperative has specific connotations (negation, general advice as opposed to concrete command, etc.).

  50. But negation isn’t a “specific connotation.” It’s like saying the default state of a door is open rather than closed (or the reverse); since it has to take both positions, how is one the default?

  51. Negation is definitely more marked than non-negation in every language I know of. As for the door, there are lots of ways to be open and only one way to be closed.

  52. But negation isn’t a “specific connotation.” It’s like saying the default state of a door is open rather than closed (or the reverse); since it has to take both positions, how is one the default?
    Well, that’s a question you can ask about every situation of marked vs. unmarked – any act can be expressed as perfective or imperfective, so why is one the default? As far as I can see, it works by looking at a sufficient number of doors and fining out what is the default you notice, and it may be different for different doors in different houses (= different categories in different languages or Subsystems of a language).
    Plus what Jon Cowan said – negatives are normally more marked, in that they, besides additional negating morphems, often show other morphological and syntactic deviations from positive statements.

  53. (LH, of courseyou’re right on “special connotation” – I tried to be too succinct and to put everything I wanted to say in one word that wasn’t meant to carry all that semantic load.)

  54. Fair enough, and I guess we’re basically in agreement.

  55. David Marjanović says:

    Negation is definitely more marked than non-negation in every language I know of.

    Reportedly, the past tense in Tamil is an exception where negation is marked by dropping a word (I forgot which one).

  56. Apparently, the Dravidian zero negation descends from a situation in which the tense-marker was replaced by a negation-marker; in effect, there were four tenses: present, past, future, and negative. The modern standard Dravidian languages no longer have zero negation, though it remains in literary Tamil. It is an extreme case of the process by which negation is redundantly marked and then the original overt negator is dropped, as in French je ne suis pas > je suis pas.

  57. David Marjanović says:

    I see, thanks!

  58. Should it be mentioned that “abba” (father) is a Sumerian word as well?

  59. The modern standard Dravidian languages no longer have zero negation, though it remains in literary Tamil.

    Can you give an example of it remaining?

  60. SFReader: it’s a papa-mama word.

    Fisheyed: I don’t have any handy, sorry. Most of the people who write on zero negation are interested in the theoretical question of “affirmation marked, negation unmarked” (in fact, though, there is no marker of affirmation, it’s simply that the tense marker is lost) and have minds too pure to be violated by brute facts.

  61. On the subject of comparing Hebrew to Greek words: Some years ago, I was told that “Good evening” in Hebrew is “Erev tov”. If “erev” means something like “darkness”, I can’t help wondering if there is a connection to the Greek word έρεβος (“erevos”), meaning “deep darkness”, an ancient word still understood and used in Modern Greek. Actually, in ancient times, darkness was personified by a deity called Erebus. I know Greek is an Indo-European language, whereas Hebrew is a Semitic one, but geographical proximity could account for some shared meanings. On the other hand, it could be a happy coincidence. Any ideas?

  62. Erebus is likely linked to another better known Greek geographical term


    Europe – from Latin Europa “Europe,” from Greek Europe, which is of uncertain origin; as a geographic name first recorded in the Homeric hymn to Apollo (522 B.C.E. or earlier):
    “Telphusa, here I am minded to make a glorious temple, an oracle for men, and hither they will always bring perfect hecatombs, both those who live in rich Peloponnesus and those of Europe and all the wave-washed isles, coming to seek oracles.”
    Often explained as “broad face,” from eurys “wide” (see eury-) + ops “face,” literally “eye” (see eye (n.)). But also traditionally linked with Europa, Phoenician princess in Greek mythology. Klein (citing Heinrich Lewy) suggests a possible Semitic origin in Akkad. erebu “to go down, set” (in reference to the sun) which would parallel orient. Another suggestion along those lines is Phoenician ‘ereb “evening,” hence “west.”

    I think both Erebus and Europe are borrowings from Semitic languages (and specifically from Phoenician language)

  63. Hebrew erev, ‘evening’ comes from an older Semitic verb, ʕrb, meaning ‘to go down’, from an older meaning ‘to enter’. The Greek word έρεβος comes from an Indo-European word, h₁regʷ-os, meaning ‘darkness’. Both Hebrew and greek independently changed the pronunciation of the b sound to a v sound under some circumstances from the old language to the modern one.
    It’s been suggested that ʕrb did enter Greek elsewhere—in the name Εὐρώπη, i.e. ‘the western land’, but the phonetic match is not great.

  64. Jay Jasanoff and Allan Nussbaum discussed and debunked the ἔρεβος – ערב theory, along with many other such proposals of the clueless Martin Bernal, in Word Games.

  65. Oh god, is that Martin Bernal? אױ/οἴ!

  66. That etymology is much older than Bernal. I learned it long ago and am glad to be disabused of it.

  67. ἔρεβος is just too obviously Indo-European. As Jasanoff points out, the noun has exact cognates (also es/os-stem neuters) all over the place, from Vedic rájas- to Gothic riqis, all meaning ‘dark, twilight’ (cf. also the second element of Old Icelandic ragnarøkkr). My personal suspicion is that the related Greek adjective, ἐρεμνóς (< *h₁regʷ-nó-), is cognate to Latin niger < *nigro- < *rigno- < *(h₁)reg(ʷ)-nó-, with the regular raising of *e before *gn. I know, metathesis is always risky, but coronal soronants — sorry, sonorants — are particularly prone to it. Anyway, the /b/ is an inner Greek development and can't have anything to do with older Semitic *b by any stretch of the imagination.

  68. Piotr, what do you think of the supposed Semitic origin of Εὐρώπη?

  69. As you say, the formal match is poor. It’s of course possible that a Semitic name underwent a folk-etymological distortion in Greek, but if so, the restructuring would have obscured the evidence of borrowing beyond recovery. As for Astour, suffice it to say that I wouldn’t buy a second-hand etymology from a bloke who says Greek ἔρεβος “most certainly” comes from Akkadian.

  70. That etymology is much older than Bernal. I learned it long ago and am glad to be disabused of it.

    Right, I shouldn’t have implied Bernal was its originator, only one of its more etymological-ass-from-elbow-not-knowing propagators.

  71. Do we even know that Semitic speakers used any form of ʕrb to refer to Europe or any part thereof? The etymology would be a lot stronger if this usage were actually attested.

  72. David Marjanović says:

    The paper by Jasanoff & Nussbaum is such a delightful read! I won’t spoil the ending 🙂

  73. Yes, I remember being thrilled when the book came out and I read that thorough demolishing of Bernal’s idiotic ideas. Don’t miss this letter to the NYRB responding to Bernal’s whining: “Both prominent Egyptologists and Indo-Europeanists judge Professor Bernal’s linguistic method to comprise little more than a series of assertive guesses, bordering on the fantastic.”

  74. My favorite Bernal statement, silly etymologies aside, is where he attributes neglect of Africa to Romanticism’s preference for cold climates. Oh right, I said, Paul et Virginie, Atala, “Kennst du das Land,” etc. etc. etc. One of my main impressions of Bernal is that he just didn’t realize how provincially English an academic he himself was.

  75. David Marjanović says:

    Bernal invited himself to contribute to a volume of responses to his work? …Strange.

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