Linguistics and opposite conclusions
jonathan.robie at datadirect-technologies.com
Sun Oct 27 15:24:36 EST 2002
At 10:41 PM 10/27/2002 +0300, Iver Larsen wrote:
>I'll have to confess that I have only skimmed through Porter's book a long
>time ago, but it would surprise me if he would talk of a "default tense" in
>general. I cannot imagine any language having a default tense.
I confess to having the same lack of imagination, mostly.
But it's a little more plausible when you think of 'default' as a synonym
for 'unemphasized', or 'unmarked' as many linguists prefer to call it. In
some genres, this is quite plausible. For instance, consider Porter's
treatment of historical narrative in Idioms of the New Testament:
When a Greek speaker narrated events, the Aorist,
used alongside the Imperfect, formed the basis for
carrying the narrative, with the historic Present
used for selecting processes for emphasis (the
most heavily-marked Perfect was available as
I'm quite certain that this is true for some passages and perhaps generally
true for some writers. But I'm not at all convinced that the way Mark's
historical narrative uses tenses for emphasis in the same as the way as
Luke's historical narrative. In some passages of historical narrative, I
find that an Aorist feels more emphasized than a Present, and vice versa.
At least for the common tenses, I don't think that tense forms
grammaticalize emphasis. Think of English - a switch to past or present
tense can be used for emphasis, but that doesn't mean that past or present
tense by itself establishes emphasis.
I'm also not convinced that tense forms grammaticalize emphasis for the
less common tenses. Consider the following example in English:
I missed the meeting, since I had I not known that my watch was
In the above sentence, is the second clause more emphatic than the first
clause because it uses a less common verb form? As I read Porter, it should
be. To me, the first clause feels more emphatic. I have seen Porter use the
frequency of verb forms as a metric for markedness in several places, but I
do not recall any place where he gives empirical evidence that it is a good
metric for markedness.
Is anyone aware of good work on this question?
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