Re: Mari Broman Olsen (nee Mari Broman)

Don Wilkins (
Wed, 11 Dec 1996 14:08:25 -0500 (EST)

Jonathan, I suppose if nothing else, this is giving us both additional
practice in the art of dialog. But I am going to follow two personal
caveats as much as possible: (1) don't argue without making significant
advances in the argument--one of the strengths of b-greek (thanks largely
to the wise charter members like Carl, Edgar and Edward) is that we try not
to talk when we have nothing to add; and (2) don't argue about someone
else's views if that person believes you have not yet heard her/him out.
You are way ahead of me in reading Mari's materials, and I have to try to
limit my remarks to what I believe I can reasonably gather from our
conversations and your summaries (she has recommended them to me; I expect
her papers will arrive by tomorrow). In that light,

at 8:29 AM 12/11/96, you wrote:

>I'm not quite sure *what* you are disagreeing with me on, Don! If she gives
>us a precisely formulated theory, we are all welcome to do searches to find
>counterexamples, other ways of proving assertions about tense and aspect,
>etc. A good theory is one that can be proven right or wrong. I'm still
>working my way through her thesis, but I think she has given us a precisely
>formulated theory and some intriguing data which support it.
>So show us some examples which prove her wrong!

As I believe you commented earlier, her theories are probably more moderate
and better stated than Porter's. But as the examples you cite below
indicate, Mari's approach also runs into rough waters in some contexts.
Someone else very recently pointed out that there also passages where
context in indecisive. You agree that a good theory must be testable, but
so far you seem to be depending on contexts of dubious interpretation as
testing grounds. So above all, we disagree about testing criteria. Mari and
I also seem to disagree on this point, so by your definition I can not even
accept hers as a good theory. We also disagree about methodology: I want
very much to untie the gordian knot (work within the more traditional
system), you are happy to cut it. Even if I take your method, I can think
of one or two other ways that seem more credible axes to use than
subjective interpretation of the context. For example, we could discuss
problems of Hebraistic Greek, and the degree to which Hebraisms could be
mixing with routine Greek. We could also talk about proleptic and gnomic
statements, etc., none of which would force us to dump the traditional

> For instance, here is an email I sent her with a few examples
>that seem counter to her explanation. She responded with an answer which I
>don't yet understand, so I have to keep digging through her thesis, but here
>it is anyways:
>At 01:45 PM 12/10/96 -0500, Mari Broman Olsen wrote:
>>Jonathan Robie wrote:
>>> These verses seem problematic to me:
>>> John 21:10 (GNT) legei autois o Ihsous: enegkate apo twn oyariwn wn
>>> ***epiasate ***nun.
>>> Traditional: "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught"
>>> Mari: "Bring some of the fish which you now catch" ??? ???
>>> 1Pet 2:25 (GNT) hte gar ws probata planwmenoi, alla ***epestrafhte ***nun
>>> epi ton poimena kai episkopon twn yucwn umwn.
>>> Traditional: "But now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of
>>> your souls"
>>> Mari: "But now you return to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls"
>>> Wadd'ya think?
>>In my thesis, I suggest that
>>perhaps "present" tense cross linguistically is not a tense at all,
>>but an implicature on a form unmarked for tense. So that makes the
>>aorist, which lacks tense and is perfective, similar to the English
>>"present" (which is as you translate it, or perhaps 'have just
>>caught', have just returned). The truly vexing question for me was
>>why, then, do we ALSO have a perfect in Greek? I suspect the answer is
>>related to the historical development, which I've already pushed to
>>the comparative historical linguists. I think it would be interesting
>>to compare the perfect with the aorist of this type. <tag, you're

I suppose the jargon of comparative linguistics is no worse that that of
Greek grammar, so I'll take a stab at figuring it out. I think "tense"
exclusively means time to Mari (since that is its true meaning; I'm happy
to gloss over the term and just explain what *I* mean by it), so in her
view the present (which has only imperfective, i.e. continuing, aspect) can
not be a tense. She is "vexed" by the Greek perfect because she understands
the aorist to be perfective, and by that understanding she brings the
aorist of John 21:10 into the present. As you may know, by so doing she
actually does the same thing with this aorist that many traditional
grammarians do, who suggest that such an aorist has a "perfective" sense. I
think she encounters the problem with the perfect because her understanding
of the perfective aspect of the aorist may inherently be flawed, and in
fact it is a problem that I constantly encounter in teaching the aorist to
students because it is difficult to explain. The aspect of the aorist is
not perfective in the same sense that that of the perfect tense (both Greek
and English) is. The aorist is non-continuous action, having an end point,
but it does not focus on the results as the perfect does; it only looks at
the action. In class I often find myself using "finished" and "completed"
to refer to the action of the aorist, but when I do that I bite my tongue,
knowing that I am inviting confusion with the perfect tense. The difficulty
is even worse with participles because we seem to have no better way (sans
adverbs) to express an aorist participle in English than to use "having
done" (actually Eng. perfect) or "doing" (Eng. present). I was delighted
just a few days ago when one particularly bright student called me on the
carpet for using the Eng. perfect translation, and thereby gave me the
chance to go into more detail with what I think is a fascinating
phenomenon. Jesus' reference (keeping in mind possible problems with
translation Greek) is to the action that just now happened (immediate
past), not to the result (having fish).

>But as far as I can see, the experts disagree significantly about the use of
>tense and aspect in Greek, this causes problems in our understanding of the
>texts, and we need to come up with precise descriptions which we can prove
>or disprove based on the data. Whether or not Mari is right, I think that
>she has done that.

Two comments: we need more data to work with; I need to see Mari's papers
before I can conclude that she has or has not prove her points--from what
you have shared, I don't think she has. BTW, you imply that you believe she
is right, since you say she has proved her theory based on the data.

>>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.
>This doesn't sound like anything I could ever prove or disprove. It leaves
>you lots of wiggle room! And the basis for proof seems to be "a thorough
>study of the relevant extant literature", which just may be exhaustive
>enough that it could never be done. I need much more precise claims before I
>can formulate a Gramcord search or you can put some more mileage on your TLG

I, too, feel the need to do an exhaustive search, and it would be great if
we could somehow put our heads together on the programming end of things to
speed up the process. One thing to consider: the greater minds who helped
define the traditional model did exhaustive searches the hard way, and
covered much more ground than we give them credit for because we can't
imagine their doing the work load involved. I've found this out through
comparing TLG search results with the old LSJ lexicon: while I've naturally
found occurrences of obscure words that were missed in the lexicon, I am
profoundly impressed by the fact that an exhaustive search often uncovers
no more than what the lexicon already identifies. I suspect the same thing
is true of grammar; we may find that the giants of the discipline were
right all along (or almost right).

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside