What to count (was: Hair-splitting...)

Carl W. Conrad cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
Thu Jul 15 06:55:22 EDT 1999

At 12:10 PM -0400 7/14/99, Paul S. Dixon wrote:
>I appreciate what you say.  If we follow the scientific approach
>then we will need to be aware of such considerations before drawing
>conclusions based on a numbers count alone.  Would you not agree,
>however, that in some cases a numbers count alone could yield
>significant and telling information?   If we are trying to determine,
>for example, whether the aorist tense in the indicative mood is
>increasingly assuming the functions of the perfect and pluperfect
>in the same mood, shouldn't we expect to see this reflected in
>the data?  If not, then could you be a bit more specific as to why
>not in this particular situation?  Are you suggesting the change
>in meanings of verbs could skew the data?  If so, how?
>To put it another way, if the data does not suggest this hypothesis,
>then what possible basis would we have for suspecting it?

With all due respect, Paul, you seem to be beating a dead horse on this
issue, repeatedly insisting that somehow a question like this OUGHT to be
able to be resolved by perusal of raw statistics alone in the face of
assertions by Daniel and myself that the data for which the statistics have
been gathered need to be analyzed before the conclusions can be drawn. So
let me reiterate a couple of the points that I've tried to state
previously, pointing out why ignoring these points might lead to false
conclusions from the raw data.

(1) I think that the data for perfect and pluperfect need to be examined
separately in comparison with data for the aorist, and I think also that it
is important to get data for instances of each particular verb used in
these three tenses; to the extent that the same verb is found in both the
aorist and pluperfect tenses where we can show that the aorist form is
being understood as indicating time anterior to that of the main verb, we
cannot make a simple assertion that the aorist has replaced the pluperfect:
we must say rather that the language is in flux and that many writers
prefer the aorist for indicating anterior time while some continue to use
the pluperfect in similar instances. And I frankly think--but have to wait
for analysis of significant data to be sure--that this is the case: namely,
that the pluperfect is obsolescent in the period of the GNT but not yet

(2) When I offered numbers for pluperfects in the GNT texts by groups I
tried to indicate the number of instances in each group of such verbs as
OIDA/HiDEIN, hESTHKA/hESTHKEIN, EIWQA/EIWQEIN for precisely the reason that
although these verbs have perfect/pluperfect morphological forms, they are
semantically equivalent to present and imperfect forms--their MEANINGS
refer to present and continuing past time. For that reason, instances of
those verbs in the perfect and pluperfect have to be discounted when
reading the statistics and we need to pay more attention to both the
numbers and the kinds of verbs that one can and does find in BOTH the
aorist AND in the perfect/pluperfect morphology.

The bottom line is that raw statistical data are not going to yield
meaningful conclusions unless what's being measured is homogeneous units;
where what's being measured is NOT homogeneous, distinctions of kind are
going to have a bearing upon how the statistics are read. I don't think
there's anything very profound about this, but it is what people who don't
think statistics "lie" or can be misused fail to realize.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University
Summer: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
cwconrad at artsci.wustl.edu
WWW: http://www.artsci.wustl.edu/~cwconrad/

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