The relevance of tense and aspect in Semitic Languages: The case of Hebrew and Arabic

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This article presents an introduction to the verbal system of the Semitic languages and an historic account of the research on the verbal system of Hebrew as a background to the main subject of the paper: the verbal system of Hebrew and Arabic.At variance with the common view that these systems are based on aspect, we propose that Biblical Hebrew and – to a large extent – Arabic have a relative tense system. Although this is not a new notion it introduces the foreground/background distinction in this context, as well as the concept of marked and unmarked verbal forms as an explanation of the mysterious verbal system of Biblical Hebrew.<br />The notion of aspect is, however, not discarded. Its use in modern written and spoken Arabic is dealt with at the end of this article.


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