[B-Greek] Is Greek Present a tense? Was Verbal Aspect theory -- misgivings
furuli at online.no
Mon Nov 17 15:45:22 EST 2008
Thank you for answering my post.
>On maanantai 17 marraskuu 2008, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>> For the moment I will leave future alone and ask if we in English
>> have a verb form that only codes for the past, thus, being a preterit
>> (grammaticalized location in the past)? My answer is that English
>> simple past is such a form; it is not an aspect. Comrie (1985:20)
>> discusses a possible counterexample, such as "If you did this, I
>> would be very happy," and concludes that this is a special case,
>> because it is an expression of politeness. An important point here
>> is that a verb form deserving the label "past tense" would always
>> portray events occurring before the deictic center, except possibly
>> in special cases that linguistically can be explained as such. And
>> contrariwise, if a reasonable number of a verb form portrays events
>> occurring before, after, and contemporaneously with the deictic
>> center, that form is not a tense.
>> In contrast with English simple past, English simple present portrays
>> events occurring before, after, and contemporaneously with the
>> deictic center, and therefore it cannot be a tense. My example "So
>> Paul works all yesterday to finish." is not a special case, but
>> ordinary English.
>It escapes me why "Paul works all yesterday to finish" is ordinary English
>and "If you did this, I would be happy" is a special case.
I always am on thin ice when I speak of "ordinary
English," because I am not a native speaker
(perhaps I should have said "good grammatical
English" in contrast with "ungrammatical
English"). Regarding these examples I build on
Olsen, Crystal and Wolfson. Comrie's point, in
which I agree, is that if we claim that
particular clauses are special cases, we must
point to some linguistic characteristic that make
them special cases; just to say they are special
cases is an ad hoc proposition. In connection
with Greek imperfects, there is no doubt that
counterfactual conditionals are special cases.
And similarly, Comrie's example is a
hypothetical condition, which linguists would
accept as a special case.
But what about the clauses that you call
"historical present"? This is a term that
includes many different kinds of clauses. One
common denominator of these is that reference
time in each verb occurs before the deictic
center; more broadly speaking: the actions occur
before the deictic center. From a linguistic
point of view, these clauses can only be
accepted as special cases if we can show a
linguistic characteristic in which they differ
from other similar clauses expressed by Greek
present. if we cannot do that, the claim is
tautological, such as: "Greek present has an
intrinsic non-past reference, and therefore,
present clauses with past reference are special
cases." So please, show with linguistic arguments
how the socalled historic present clauses differ
from similar non-past clauses. If this is not
possible, my suggestion that Greek present is
tenseless (but not timeless) stands.
In Hebrew we have a similar situation that I view
as tautological. The form YIQTOL (imperfect) is
viewed as non-past. However, of the 13,619 cases
in the Hebrew Bible I have analyzed, I have found
1.027 (7.5%) examples with past reference. How
can these "anomalous" examples be explained? They
represent "durative past," is the explanation.
But what is "durative past"? First of all, the
expression is a misnomer, because durativity is
an Aktionsart term. Verbs such as "sing" and
"run" are marked for durativity, and they will
always be durative, regardless of aspect or
temporal reference. The term is actually an ad
hoc term used to explain examples that should not
be there (YIQTOLs with past reference). And
interestingly, some of these "durative past"
verbs has an instantaneous force, as shown in the
grammar of Joüon/Muraoka.
>> For the sake of discussion, I make the following proposition:
>> 1) Greek present portrays events occurring before, after and
> > contemporaneously with the deictic center; therefore present has no
> > tense and represents only the imperfective aspect.
>I would say that there are only special cases when the present tense refers to
>the past, and therefore it is a tense. The special cases are 1) historical
>present, 2) expression of a past event continuing to the present, 3) general
>(timeless) sentences can include the past.
>> 2) Greek imperfect only portrays events that occur before the deictic
>> center; therefore, imperfect represents past tense combined with the
>> imperfective aspect.
>Agreed, except for the special cases (counterfactual conditionals). They exist
>here just as well as with the present. So, where is the difference between
>the imperfect and the present as far as tense is concerned?
Rolf Furuli Ph.D
University of Oslo
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