Piel and Whatnot

Found this portion of Arnold and Choi’s A Guide to Biblical Hebrew Syntax really interesting:

Traditionally the Piel has been considered intensive in meaning. Older grammars defined the idea as ‘to busy oneself eagerly with the action indicated,’ and even associated the doubling of the second radical of verbs in Piel as an outward expression of this intensification.(1) However, in light of today’s deeper understanding of Semitic languages generally, we can no longer refer to the Piel as basically and primarily intensive.(2)…The Piel frequently expresses the bringing about of a state. Thus, the Piel focuses on causation and the outcome of the action, though with a patiency nuance rather than an agency nuance (as in Hiphil). The foregrounded interest is not the event that happens to the subject, but rather the condition attained by it. It is for all practical purposes an adjectival causation predicate. Jenni’s important study proposed a basic distinction between the Piel and Hiphal as the difference between imposition of a state (adjectival) and the imposition of process (verbal).(3) So using as an example the verb חיה (‘live’ in Qal), the Piel is ‘to cause to be alive,’ whereas the Hiphil is ‘to cause to live.’

Choi and Arnold, 42-43

What made me think as I read this is how much we take for granted that languages work similarly. They do in many areas. But with any language there are things which are second nature to native speakers which can be totally foreign to non-native speakers. As interesting as Choi and Arnolds section is on the Piel more ink will be spilt on what the Piel in fact meant in Biblical Hebrew. Praise the Lord for men who devote their lives to spilling this ink so that we can have our assumptions challenged about the text. The text is never just text. We need informed (read something like “right”) assumptions about it to get to sound conclusions and sound applications.

(1) Kautzsch 1910, 141; and see Blau 1976, 52; Bauer and Leander 1991, 323-29; Martin-Davidson 1993, 136-37. The view that the doubling of the middle consonant is unassociated with intensification may need be reconsidered in light of recent linguistic work on iconicity, that is, the iconic nature of language (cf. Kouwenberg 1997).
(2) The Piel in recent decades has been recognized as the key to the Hebrew verbal system. Albrecht Goetze opened the discussion to new approaches with his famous survey of the Akkadian D-stem (1942, 1-8), and subsequently the significance of his work for the West Semitic languages was investigated by Earnst Jenni (1968). For useful surveys of these developments, see Waltke and O’Connor 1990, 354-59; Fassberg 2001, 243-44. For caveats on Goetze’s arguments, see Kaufman 1996, 281-82.
(3) Jenni (1968), and see also Lambdin 1969, 388-89. For dissenting voices, see Joosten 1998 and Fassberg 2001, 243-44.


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