I got the opportunity to study the distribution and usage of verbs in Biblical Aramaic this semester. My study began as an attempt at a discourse analysis of Biblical Aramaic. This task was a bit over my head but it became an analysis of verbal usage in Dan. 2:4-3:30. The analysis was limited to 75 verses because, I only had one semester and it was only part of my workload. But it was an interesting project that forced my reading level of Aramaic to increase a lot and forced me to deal with syntax in a way I never had before. 

My basic conclusion supports the thesis of Michael B. Shepherd in “The Distribution of Verbal Forms in Biblical Aramaic,” JSS 52, 2 (Autumn 2007): 227-244. I commend his article to anyone interested in Biblical Aramaic or in discourse linguistics. His thesis is that “the qetal [or perfect] is the primary verbal form for narrative, and the yiqtul [or imperfect] is the primary verbal form for discourse” (242). My study, essentially substantiated his argument with the added observation that this thesis does not fully take into account the qatil [or participle], which is used differently in narrative and discourse. Below is the conclusion to my paper, I may post the whole paper after I get comments back from my professor.


After surveying the findings of our analysis we can confirm that Shepherd’s thesis is substantially correct. The qetal pattern is clearly the predominant narrative tense and the yiqtul is the predominant discourse tense in BA. However, it is not as easy as that. The qatil needs to be understood as a main verbal pattern. Thus we posit that BA has three main verbal tenses: the qetal, the yiqtul, and the qatil. 

The qetal is the predominant narrative tense but it is helped out by the qatil to introduce direct speech and function as both a primary narrative verb and as other parts of speech (adjective, etc.). The yiqtul is the predominant discourse tense but it is helped out by the qetal to portray past tense in both communication levels 2 and 3. The yiqtul is also helped out by the qatil in direct speech to portray present tense.

The qatil is the most versatile verbal pattern in BA. It functions as a major narrative tense reflecting past action and it functions as a major discourse tense reflecting present action. It is not helpful to classify the qatil as present, as is often done, because it functions predominantly as past tense in narrative and present tense in discourse. The qatil pattern is perhaps the pattern that would be the most revealed by further studies of this kind. It seems to be the pattern that is most affected by its place in the larger sections, i.e., narrative or discourse. What we can conclude in this study is that more work must be done here. The patterns observed by Shepherd seem to hold true in general but more work must be done, especially in the area of the qatil pattern if we are to better understand the verb forms of BA.