[B-Greek] Aubrey on remoteness as tense?

Michael Aubrey mga318 at yahoo.com
Tue May 12 16:07:54 EDT 2009

A few thoughts:

1) I sincerely thank you for providing your thoughts on this issue. I was 
definitely wondering what you think.

2) I want to make it clear that I prefer Tense terminology rather than the 
Spacial terminology - for the same reason that you stated with your 
agreement with Huddleston:

> I must agree with Huddleston, 'remoteness' doesn't explain why English
past refers to the past and not the future.  Ditto for Greek.

Absolutely. I'm with you 100%. And that's why I prefer the Tense 
Terminology and its why I wrote the post and quoted Huddleston in the first

With that said, I would consider you comment about the infinitives:

> Secondly, I must ask if 'remoteness' helps explain an aorist infinititve from
a continuative infinitive (PARATATIKON), TO AKOYSAI from TO AKOYEIN?
It doesn't do it for me.

I don't think its very relevant. Those who hold to the remoteness view place
its semantic value in the augment prefix, which the infinitive doesn't have. So
remoteness, regardless of perspective, isn't going to do it for anyone on the 
issue of infinitives
3) Regarding what I meant when I said I wanted to keep Tense terminology
 separate from Aspect terminology that basically means that the terms 
Aorist and Present are not helpful. An Aorist verb is +Past tense and 
+Perfective aspect, but that is only true in the Indicative Mood. In the
infinitive, subjunctive, optative, and imperative forms, an Aorist is only 
+Perfective aspect. Likewise, a Present verb is +nonpast/present tense
and +Imperfective aspect only in the Indicative. Elsewhere a Present verb is
 only +Imperfective aspect. For that reason I do not consider Aorist and 
Present to be helpful grammatical terms. They are nice cover labels for a 
mood paradigm, but they don't work for actually describing grammatical 
properies. That's basically what I mean - a nice and "short" explanation.

4) I agree with you, Dr. Buth, on your rejection of how Porter does things.
But I definitely do not think that Porter is representative of everyone who
uses the "remoteness" terminology. Porter has a habit of using technical
terms in highly unusual ways. But when I read Dr. Decker's work or Dr.
Campbell's work, I don't see what I see with Porter. On a practical level,
if you went through their work and replaced the Remoteness/Proximate
terminology with Tense terminology, I highly doubt you would see any
difference. Its something I've already done on a small scale.

To conclude then, we're in significant agrement with each other. And to be
perfectly honest, that fact has a lot to do with what you've written in the past.
I don't think that remoteness is the best terminology for the verb - even if it 
was "clear why remoteness as such should select past time as opposed to 
future time when interpreted temporally" (Huddleston), the very fact that Huddleston and 
Lyons (Semantics, vol 2, 819-820 - I'm convinced Porter's view originated from
Lyons here) discuss remoteness in terms of factuality and counterfactuality 
and thus within the realm of modality/mood should make us suspicous of using
the term to describe the Greek indicative system.

But with that said, with the exception of Porter, I would consider it mainly
a terminological issue that results in much of the same conclusions
about what the text itself actually means.

Mike Aubrey

From: Randall Buth <randallbuth at gmail.com>
To: Michael Aubrey <mga318 at yahoo.com>; B Greek <b-greek at lists.ibiblio.org>
Sent: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 11:39:29 AM
Subject: Aubrey on remoteness as tense?

Michael Aubrey made some interesting statements on remoteness as
a metaphor for tense and asked a question or two about it. It does
provide a nice pause for thought, and hopefully a brief response.
I'll bring in the relevant pieces below

>What we need to start seeing in the tense discussion is what Steve
Runge describe in an SBL session on word order in Hebrew:
“The hallmark that made the Buth/Holmstedt presentations work was
each of them understanding the other’s theoretical framework”
(his emphasis). The unfortunate irony here, is that Dr. Buth has been
one of the more vocal speakers (at least on B-Greek) against the
terminology of remoteness/proximity and has not seemed to have
recognized the difference in perspectives from which Dr. Decker or
Con Campbell have approached the issue. I would be curious as to
why that is. Personally, I lean toward the tense terminology, partially
because of the reasons delineated in point #1 above – with the caveat
that I would prefer to separate Tense terminology from Aspect
terminolgy instead of conflating them together>

First, on the term 'remoteness' being used for 'past tense', Aubrey
quoted a lengthy discussion from an English grammar dealing with
contrafactual constructions. Fortunately, Aubrey included a summary
comment by that author Huddleston:
[ Huddleston]
> my own view would be that we do need to recognise distinct senses of
the past tense, for it is not clear why remoteness as such should select
past time as opposed to future time when interpreted temporally (we do
not say He was here yesterday, is here now and was here tomorrow).>

I must agree with Huddleston, 'remoteness' doesn't explain why English
past refers to the past and not the future.  Ditto for Greek.

Secondly, I must ask if 'remoteness' helps explain an aorist infinititve from
a continuative infinitive (PARATATIKON), TO AKOYSAI from TO AKOYEIN?
It doesn't do it for me. A person could always take a label and define it
to fit, (farthfetched example: Hebrew has 'red' verbs and 'blue' verbs)
but the label 'remoteness' does not transparently line up with

Thirdly, I think I agree with Aubrey, keeping tense terminology as tense
and aspect terminology aspectual. I'm not sure what he meant, but I
surely agree that Greek has indicative time and tense terminology
should be used rather than redefine something else like 'remoteness'
and then add time to the definitions and restrictions, which Porter,
Decker, Campbell wouldn't want to do, anyway.

Fourthly, why should I care whether Greek students recognize time in
the Greek verb, or why would I object to people who reject time in the
Greek verb? Maybe, to quote the quote of me above, because I
understand the other side and have concluded that it's absolute time
rejection is WRONG. With Hebrew word order, I can generate other
positions out of any starting point. One simply adds some ADHOC
flipping rules at the appropriate place (which is what Holmstedt did).
The analogy with Porter fails, though, because Porter doesn't add
the appropriate time rules. Consequently, things get a bit inside-out:
"historic presents" with aspect-only-ism are alleged to be good,
expected examples of open-ended aspect when in fact they are the
opposite. They are pragmatic, purposefully surpising examples of
aspect against expectations and against the situation. Which is
pragmatically true about their time reference, too.  In discourse,
where everyone else talks about 'foregrounded' aorist verbs in
narrative with 'backgrounded ' imperfective verbs, the "Porter"
camp seems to talk about backgrounded aorists and
foregrounded presents. So I recommend that students neither
use nor learn the "aspect-only" framework. Let them learn tense,
let them learn aspect, and when they are ready to learn about the
scholarly world of Greek studies, let them learn all about secondary
literature discussions. And of course, I recommend that the student
start to learn by using a language, seeing it used and using
appropriate structures in appropriate contexts.

In fact, I think that an aspect-only person could cure themselves
if they would communicate only in Greek for a significant period of
time and either examine their output or examine their unspoken
constraints. They would experience the all pervasive nature of Greek
aspect AND they would learn of temporal constraints in the 'real world'
system {ie. indicative]. This is probably wishful, naive thinking, but I
actually believe it. (I've been telling bibilcal studies people for thirty
years that Greek is the true 'aspect'-prominent language, not Hebrew.
But that was a another debate, usually about Hebrew, and in far-away


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


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