Re: Mari Broman Olsen (nee Mari Broman)

Don Wilkins (
Wed, 11 Dec 1996 01:29:30 -0500 (EST)

Let me preface everything by saying that Mari and I have had a couple of
private conversations, but I have not yet read papers she is sending me.
Also, when I originally said that I had asked her about her background for
Greek but she was busy at the time, I regret that I did not say it in a
better way. I did not mean to suggest that she was in some way avoiding a

At 3:48 PM 12/10/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
. . .
>I think that Mari makes precise, provable claims, and that is half the
>battle. For instance, she agrees with others that the sense of the word
>interacts with the tense to determine time reference, but she also says
>precisely what she means by that, classifying words by their time sense with
>a simple system that makes sense. My feeling is that Mari has offered much
>better proof for her claims than did Porter, for instance, and is much more
>precise about her claims than the descriptions I find in any Greek Grammar.
>We can prove her right or prove her wrong based on the data, and that is
>what makes a good theory.

It is quite possible that Mari does a better job than Porter did; I'll have
to come to my own conclusions after reading her papers. I have to disagree
with you otherwise, Jonathan. On a minor point, I think it much closer to
the truth that the meaning of a verb interacts with the tense in the area
of aspect. As to proof, arguing from context when one is limited in the
number of passages studied and when other (perhaps more demanding)
explanations are possible is a little like arguing, in the dark ages, that
the sun revolves around the earth. Using the easiest solution (which, as
I've said, will always result from a purely contextual approach) as the
criterion can short-circuit scientific investigation. I'm willing to accept
Mari's views if a thorough investigation of the evidence bears them out,
but we can't get that merely by looking at the NT, with or without
Gramcord. Moreover, my sense from reading a lot of Greek (but still only a
fraction of what is extant) so far is that the more "traditional" view is
. . .
>And I don't think that the discussion is over at all - I think it is just
>beginning. In fact, I'm burning holes in my Gramcord by doing searches to
>see what I think of all this. But Mari has certainly done enough to get the
>discussion rolling! And until her first book on the subject is published, I
>don't think we can expect her to settle all the relevant issues once and for
>all - give her one or two lifetimes for that.

Fair enough; but there are SOME relevant issues that--in my mind--have to
be settled before Mari's approach can even get off the ground, let alone

>>But bear in mind the temptation to cut the gordian knot. If I really have a
>>panic button to press whenever I encounter difficult constructions, I'll
>>probably use it rather than try to dig deeper for another solution. I don't
>>believe Mari's approach can be fairly evaluated merely on the grounds that
>>it makes sense in the context, given the fact that other, perhaps more
>>painstaking, approaches also make sense.
>True, but remember that cutting the Gordian knot was the only reasonable
>way. There is also a great temptation to continue trying to untie the
>Gordian knot - to keep relying on methods which have shown themselves
>incapable of solving the problem. We've had thousands of years to come up
>with a clear, consistent model for tense and aspect in Greek, and we haven't
>succeeded yet, so why not welcome fresh approaches?

Again, I can only beg to disagree. We can't be sure about every "aspect" of
a language no longer spoken, but the traditional model, though not always
easy to understand or apply, does work and has IMO shown itself to be as
consistent as anything we could expect.

>Why do you say that the aorist refers to past time? What examples do you
>have that show that the aorist establishes past time without, and sometimes
>in contradiction to, other contextual clues?

The aorist *indicative* refers to past time, in the sense of a sequence of
events, which is sometimes challenging to understand. This typically works,
so you can choose any example you wish. I would argue that contradictions
are the results of forcing our own limited understanding of the Greek and
the context on a particular verb. I'm sure that sounds circular, and again
I have to say that only a thorough study of the relevant extant literature
can possibly convince us of the value of any model.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside