Mk 10:21

Mike Sangrey mike at
Wed Aug 30 18:16:24 EDT 2000

clayton stirling bartholomew <c.s.bartholomew at> said:
>  How can we go about testing the notion that "the present tense
> involves foregrounding?" Can this notion be falsified? If not, why
> should we accept it? 

> If you can test the proposition "the present tense involves
> foregrounding" then there must be some independent means of
> determining what is in the foreground and what is in the background of
> a discourse. By independent, I mean some means that is not connected
> with verb marking.

> The only way I can see to test this proposition is to look in high
> level semantic structure of the discourse for information about what
> is in the foreground and what is in the background.  You must begin by
> presuming that you can obtain reliable indicators of foreground and
> background in the semantic structure COMPLETELY INDEPENDED of verb
> marking before you can run your test on the present tense. 

This assumes semantic sugar.  In other words, the language has built-in
features which are distinct but carry the same information.  While I'm
not adverse to such things (DNA, I think, and formal computer languages
both have these features for error correcting purposes), I don't think it
safe to assume their existence.  I fear over time we would end up with
`foreground aorist', `foreground perfect', etc, as one seeks to explain
discrepancies where the two features are out of sync.  Of course, this
out-of-syncness may indicate what I suggest next.

Clay admits the semantic sugar problem by saying:
>  If this is the case, then you have essentially admitted (implicitly)
> that the high level semantic structure of the discourse contains
> adequate information for determining what is in the foreground and in
> the background. 

I think a better hypothesis to postulate would be to show that when
an author wants to CANCEL the foregrounding performed by the present,
the author makes that explicit by using some mechanism.  That is, there
are multiple features associated with a verb-form; one or more of these
features may be canceled by higher level semantic or pragmatic elements.
Mari Olsen did this with tense (right Rolf?--I haven't coughed up the
$80 for her book <cough, cough>).  I don't have the insight needed to
know what these elements might be, but it seems to me that this is a
viable means to discovery.

After having written the above, I read Cindy's reply.  So, it seems
to me her discussion of contouring of the planes of discourse fits
this cancellation model.  She says, "[p]rominence at that level often
involves a confluence of markers", so I would assume that these various
markers shape the foregrounding of the present.  These markers would be
catalogable and consistent if the hypothesis is true.

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