default aorist

Mari Broman Olsen (
Tue, 29 Oct 1996 18:05:14 -0500 (EST)

Mark writes:

Granted that the use of temporal markers is going to make it clear
what time frame the writer is referring to, but I think Ken's question
still stands (at least for me!)... does the aorist in the indicative
not regularly (some say usually) indicate the past time frame for the
activity, and if this is a consistent pattern, then can the tense be
said to be truly unmarked?

Mari says:

Yes. If you want to distinguish semantics (uncancellable meaning of a
form) from pragmatics (meaning in context, cancellable), which I
consider quite important (not to mention a significant portion of my
research programme). The statistally prominent meaning (e.g. that 85% of
aorists are past referring, according to Carson, 1993, an intro to the
Porter/Fanning debate) has erroneously (not by Carson, I hasten to
add) been mistakenly represented in the semantics of the lexical or
grammatical category under consideration. Other conflicting
interpretations are relegated to pragmatics, without a clear descmatics
operates on, and is constrained by, the semantics. You want to be
able to lay out what IS in the very next aorist you find what you have
to look further for.

Here's a question you might have asked (though it's a research
programme for someone else: what about the diachronic shift, from
past-referring to atemporal. How does that happen, and what can one
say about it (Carl?).

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

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