Re: aorist, etc. (whoops: sent it to '...digest' first)

Don Wilkins (
Tue, 10 Dec 1996 14:48:29 -0500 (EST)

At 9:43 PM 12/9/96, Mari Broman Olsen wrote:
>I am only referring to the indicative in my analysis of tense and
>aspect. It would be interesting to extend the study to at least the
>participles, since aspect seems to be preserved in participials, as
>pointed out in Bernard Comrie's book on tense (Cambridge,
>1985--there's also one on aspect, Cambridge, 1976: both good
>typological studies).
>Compare: The passengers AWAITING flight 76 proceeded to gate 5.
>With: The passengers DENIED boarding proceeded to gate 5.
>The imperfect participial allows the waiting to continue through the
>proceeding, while the past (perfective?) participial precludes that
>interpretation. The imperfect participial allows the waiting to
>continue through the proceeding, while the past (perfective?)
>participial precludes that interpretation: the denial is completed.
>Here the temporal reference arises from aspect, a phenomena that
>extends to temporal reference in languages without tense, e.g. some
>dialects of Arabic, in which the imperfective generally has present
>reference and the perfective generally past. BUt no one claims that
>these forms are therefore tenses also.

Good to hear from you, Mari. On this point (and probably on other points
outside the indicative mood) I agree with you. I am working as fast as I
can on my computer programming to devise a way to do Gramcord-style
searches on the entire Greek corpus, but for now I strongly suspect that
the present participle is capable even of extending beyond the action of
the governing verb, while the aorist is not. As to calling the aorist a
"tense" here, this is really a non-issue except semantically. For practical
purposes, i.e. to avoid confusion for students, I continue to classify the
present and aorist as tenses even outside the indicative. You can argue
that I should and could call them aspects and in effect replace the *tense*
category in parsing, but this short-changes the indicative and--probably
worse--adds one more element of confusion to coursework which is already
viewed as very difficult by most students.

>My goal in keeping such things separate is to avoid the confounding of
>grammar and content, for which Don Wilkins criticizes Don Carson. As
>I have said on occasion, the goal is to be able to say conclusively
>what the form is going to mean in the NEXT context one sees (e.g. the
>student learning Greek) and what bits of meaning we have to look
>elsewhere for.

I applaud your goal, though I think *conclusively* is idealistic, and that
you may actually be erasing the line between grammar and content,
attempting to eat your cake and have it, too.

>As for the augment, Jonathan stated my position most clearly: the
>augment had past time reference and lost it. Morphology is more
>persistent than semantics, as shown by a similar case in modern
>German: the "perfect" form now has the force of a simple past (even
>drifting toward bare perfective aspect, since one can use it with
>future time adverbials: Morgen bin ich gegangen = Tomorrow have I gone
>(am I gone). As for the time in which it happened, I am not expert to
>judge. As I wrote Don Wilkins privately today (our messages must have
>crossed in the e-mail, since I get only digest form of b-greek), my
>reading is limited to the Koine: NT and some early church fathers. My
>approach attempts to take its breadth from (continuing) study of how
>aspect and tense work cross-linguistically. A historical TLG study
>would surely be of interest, with perhaps a statistical analysis of
>the percentage of forms that were past-referring, e.g. I think Ann
>Taylor (at Penn when I last wrote her) has done similar studies on
>other constructions in Koine, particularly word order.

As you note, we have already discussed some of this, but for the benefit of
other list readers, I agree that morphology is more persistent than
semantics; not that I have verified the fact for Greek or any other
language, but it has the appearance of scientific proof. It is simply hard
for me to believe that you are right about the GNT, given the historical
development of the augment. I hope you mean "of interest" as an
understatement, though.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside