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

Daniel Riaño danielrr at mad.servicom.es
Fri Jul 16 06:53:08 EDT 1999

Paul Dixon wrote:
>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?

	In my opinion, there are too many variables to trust in raw numbers
alone: some of such variables have been already pointed out: defective
verbs, periphrastic constructions, different nuances of meaning, very
different levels of language, etc. What I am suggesting is not that the
quoted statistics may not be really indicative of the changes in the verbal
system: rather, what I suggest is that methodologically we can not trust
such statistics before proceed to a much more detailed analysis of, at
least, a significant part of the corpus.
	There is another sense in which you can not rely on the statistics
I gave "per se" for such an study: The volume of the corpus is very
different from author to author, and that makes absolute numbers useless:
you have to rely on percentages, but you can not use the chi square test
with percentages. Therefor, in order to test if the differences are really
significative, you must calculate (roughly) the instances of aorists and
perfects in a corpus that is exactly the length of the NT. Moreover, you
must study and compare the differences in the use of aorist and perfects in
every book of the NT: if you find the differences between two given books
of the NT are greater (??) or approximately the same as the differences
between one of the NT books and, for instances, the Attic authors, then you
can not explain the differences only in terms of linguistic evolution (I am
not suggesting that such is the case: what I say is that you must control
the validity of the experiment with such techniques).

Daniel Riaño Rufilanchas
Madrid, España

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