Re: 'default' aorist

Mari Broman Olsen (
Tue, 29 Oct 1996 12:40:52 -0500 (EST)

> Let me ask a hypothetical question about the default aorist then.
> If a NT writer wanted to say that someting happened in the past, and it
> was important that it happened once in the past, what would one expect?
> A Perfect? If NT authors use an aorist, does that mean we cannot say
> that they "intend" (yes, I know all the problems about intention) to say
> that the event took place completely in the past?
> Ken Litwak
> Graduate Theological Union
> Berserkely, CA
> (when not being a Java-enabled programmer)

There are always ways of making the time explicit, even the default
forms. FOr an English example, consider the unmarked present with
yesterday and tomorrow:

Yesterday I come home and find Kyrie [real name of daughter #2,
Jonathan) asleep in her crib.

Tomorrow I volunteer in Hanne's school, so I can't make a dentist
appointment for that day.

I give similar Greek examples in my thesis (I think you have a copy,
right Ken). As for 'once', the same holds true--it can be made
explicit (in fact, there is an overt morpheme marking such in
Russian). But I think we have to look elsewhere for the
time/singularity when the forms are not so marked (e.g. aorist,

As for what a writer WOULD do, there are multiple options: tense,
time adverbials, mutually understood context.... It would be
interesting to study what author's DID do on a statistical basis. I
think (know?) we would find most aorists past-referring, and most
presents present-referring. THis statistical majority may be
explained in terms of how perfective and imperfective aspect present
situations, and is a common pattern cross-linguistically
(e.g. Arabic). But, to paraphrase Roman Jakobson, we must take care
not to make the statistical preference the grammatical requirement.


Mari Broman Olsen
Research Associate

University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies
3141 A.V. Williams Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742

(301) 405-6754 FAX: (301) 314-9658