(gnomic) These two positions don't even seem close

CWestf5155 at aol.com CWestf5155 at aol.com
Mon Aug 28 16:10:12 EDT 2000

n a message dated 08/28/2000 1:50:31 AM Mountain Daylight Time, 
ButhFam at compuserve.com writes:

 >Some issues that I have with Wallace/Fanning can be illustrated with just
 >example: the Gnomic.  Wallace lists the Gnomic as a category for the
 >Imperfect, Aorist, Future and Perfect.  The question is: why did a natural
 >language user select or prefer any one of these tenses for the Gnomic in a
 >given situation, or indeed, why would the language convey the Gnomic in
 >tenses.  All they have done is describe the fact that all of these tenses 
 >appear in gnomic semantic contexts.
 "Why?" is a good question. 
 One answer is that 'gnomic' is a very abstract animal. I would expect
 'gnomic' to present systemic jumps by its very nature, similarly to the way
 a compass works around the north or south pole. 
 At the north pole EVERY direction is 'south'. At the gnomic pole any tense
 might touch. The choice of any Greek tense at the gnomic pole might relate
 to things other than measured by the compass (position of the moon,
 weather, health, sun, sunspots, something not normally used for calculating
 direction when walking in forest.)
 Said another way around, gnomic is not a good place to be organizing a verb
 system, probably in any language. (The same is notoriously true of 'being'
 verbs across languages.) As regards a Greek debate, gnomic can be brought
 in at the end and will be able to fit. >>


I'm going to do a hit and run (post and run?) response, because to be a good 
contributor, I would need to spend a lot of time that I'm trying to ration.  
While aspect has something to do with my area of focus, I don't want it to 
dominate my participation.  Sometimes it feels like jumping into a bottomless 
pit when I get involved in the aspect discussions.  

But briefly, I picked Gnomic as a category because it was listed as a 
category in virtually every tense, but I could have mentioned Iterative, 
Progressive, Perfective, Iterative, Future or Conative--any of the categories 
that are shared between say the Present and the Perfect/Aorist/Imperfect.  

I find the charge that the semantics of lexis and context are transported 
into the meaning of tense in these cases very convincing.  How do you know 
that a present/future/aorist/imperfect/perfect/future is gnomic?  Because of 
the formal tense markers?  Obviously not.  You know it is Gnomic because of 
context.  So what does the formal tense marker(s) contribute to the meaning?  
If all you can say is that a given verb is a Gnomic Aorist, you have said 
nothing at all about what the tense has contributed to the meaning, you have 
only described what you have derived from the context.  

I'm not trying to build a system on the Gnomic, but a system should be able 
to account for these occurances and be able to determine what the tense 
contributes semantically.  

<< By the way, everyone has appreciated Porter's contributions even if they
 don't buy the absolute system. 
 That is the way good scholarship works.  >>

Yes, and Stan would agree with this statement about scholarship 
 If he stimulates discussion, I think he feels that he's done his job.  And 
discussions on aspect and the integration of some consideration of aspect 
into so many systems probably can be credited to Porter and Fanning.

As far as the issue being settled or closed, I think that your reports on the 
demise of Porter's system are grossly exaggerated.  The system appears to be 
more alive and well now than ever before, if I go by the discussion it 

One reason that the acceptance of the system flounders in some people's mind 
is that it is based on a complex linguistics system, which really has to be 
assimilated to fully appreciate his argument (I know that you know this 
Randall, I'm just including it for anyone else who may be hanging in reading 

I respect the fact that you don't buy the total package, but you do buy the 
fact that aspect plays a role.  And both Fanning and Porter had rebuttals for 
each other--I found Porter's rebuttal of Fanning more convincing than 
Fanning's rebuttal--and I think that Carson's analysis of the two rebuttals 
mentioned earlier agreed more with Porter.  I know that others that are more 
impartial than I did not have the impression that Fanning won the day.

I'll read any response with full attention and respect, but I intend to make 
one more reply to Clayton and then keep quiet for awhile.

Cindy Westfall
PhD Student, Roehampton

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