The Historical Present qātēl in Biblical Aramaic

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Alexander Andrason
Vuyisa Gysman
Hans-Christoph Lange
Martinus van Renssen



This article offers a typologically-driven and corpus-based analysis of the historical present (HP) “active participle” qātēl in Biblical Aramaic. The authors argue that qātēl instantiates the HP category quite neatly and provide three main arguments. First, qātēl complies with the definition of a progredient/propulsive HP that emerges from crosslinguistic literature: while, in its prototypical use, qātēl expresses some type(s) of present, it may also be employed in narrative to introduce past perfective events. Second, when used as an HP, qātēl exhibits functions that are consistent with tendencies attested across languages: stylistically, the HP qātēl is often associated with expressivity, mirativity, and dramatism, while discourse-pragmatically, it is predominantly related to the progression (rarely, the climax) and atomization of the plot. Third, most other properties exhibited by the HP qātēl also harmonize with the behavior of HPs observed in linguistic typology; these concern types of clauses in which the HP qātēl appears, and subjects and verbs used. Overall, the HP qātēl can be viewed as a highlighting narrative device—subjective although linguistically constrained.

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