[B-Greek] Time and Reference

Rolf Furuli furuli at online.no
Tue Nov 4 05:17:36 EST 2008

Dear Randall,

I do not intend make this a long discussion. We have been over this 
before - many years ago. I wrote my first post in order to ask you to 
define your use of the word "time" - this you have not done. I also 
wrote to show that  there are others than McKay/Porter/Broman Olsen 
who speak of aspects instead of tenses.

>And predictably I respond:
>a 'timeless' Hebrew verb system mispredicts --
>because you cannot say maHar with a non-sequential
>suffix-tensed verb, or with a vayyiqtol.
>Those carry features of pastness within their tense-aspect.
>MaHar goes with a prefix tense verb, veqatal, or participle.
>A binary verbal system (actually quad-nary+, with a parallel
>sequential system)  by nature must be complex, and is normally
>multi-valent. See the short syntax of the Hebrew verb in
>"Selected Readings with 500 Friends", available thru our website.
>Back to Greek:
>You can't use a future-marked Greek verb in the same clause with
>And calling the E- AYKSHSIS (augment) 'remoteness' is playing
>a shell-game with words. The AYKSHSIS was 'past' to the Greeks,
>and we have ancient speakers of the language to back that up.
>Their perception, not ours. Emic, not Etic.
>Etic listings of things can (but do not need to) confuse outsiders.

You cannot draw any conclusions regarding tense and aspect in a 
language on the basis of what users of the language DO NOT DO, i.e., 
particular verb forms are not used with particular time adverbials. 
There are several restrictions not related to time in the use of verb 
forms, and there are several linguisitc conventions as well. What you 
should do is to analyze the real use of verb forms in the particular 
language (WHAT PEOPLE ACTUALLY DO), and then see what you find. 
Evidence from existence is much better than evidence from 
non-existence, which actually do not exist. Regarding Hebrew verbs, I 
found that any verb form could be used with past, present, and future 
reference, and therefore I conclude that tense is nonexistent.

>Human languages are used by humans, which means that rhetorical
>effects can break absolute categories. 'Timeless' analyses are
>the result of absolutist claims on a language, because 'time' is the
>only measurable entity in a verb system. "Aspect" is a 'subjective'
>marking, in the sense that one can refer to the same event as 'he was
>coming home' and 'he came home', (and in some languages even
>'he will come home' referring to the past).
>So even when it can be shown, for instance, that the 'historic present'
>Greek construction is intended as aoristic, and therefore it is also a
>rhetorical usage conflicting with an absolute-aspectual analysis,
>it is ignored by absolute-aspectualists.

I do not think anyone would say that Bernard Comrie makes "absolutist 
claims". Yet in his book "Tense". 1985:51 he writes regarding the 
Burmese language: "What Burmese shows, then, is a language where time 
reference per se is not grammaticalized, i. e., there is no tense."

I dispute your example above regarding "coming home", because, in my 
view, in English the participle represents the imperfective aspect 
and the perfect represents the perfective aspect. Simple past is not 
an aspect but only a tense. The clauses "He was coming home."  and 
"He has come home." are mutually exclusive. In English the perfective 
aspect portray completed actions and the imperfective aspect portray 
uncompleted actions, but not so in Greek and Hebrew.

I am still not sure how you use the word "time," because it seems 
that you contrast it with aspect. I would say that aspect is 
language-specific, i.e., its nature may differ in different 
languages. But there are some universal parameters that can be used 
to illuminate the nature of aspect in the different languages. These 
parameters must be subsumed under the concept "time," used in its 
normal (general) sense, and they are "event time" and "reference 
time". In order to fully distinguish between tense (grammaticalized 
location in time) and aspect, we need to introduce a third parameter, 
namely, deictic center (the point from which an event is seen).

According to my definition, tense represents deictic time, and it is 
the relationship between (or, function of) reference time and the 
deictic center. Aspect on the other hand, represents non-deictic 
time, and is the relationship between (or, function of) reference 
time and event time. On the basis of the three mentioned parameters 
we can find the true nature of the aspects and possible tenses in any 
aspectual language (BTW,Norwegian does not have aspects). Please note 
that I have rejected the old metaphors "seen from the inside" and 
"seen from the outside, as well as the Aktionsart terms "durative" 
and "punctiliar," which has nothing to do with aspect.

Your error, as I see it, is that you do not distinguish between 
deictic and non-deictic time.

>Randall Buth, PhD
>randallbuth at gmail.com
>Biblical Language Center
>Learn Easily - Progress Further - Remember for Life

Best regards,

Rolf Furuli Ph.D
University of Oslo

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