Re: Mari Broman Olsen (nee Mari Broman)

Don Wilkins (
Wed, 11 Dec 1996 21:12:55 -0500 (EST)

At 5:09 PM 12/11/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Hi, Don,
>I'm going to try to keep this short.
Apparently the spirit is willing but the flesh is still weak. I'll try to
beat you in a friendly contest of keeping it short.

. . .
>We seem to have been using the phrase "cut the Gordian knot" differently.
>When I suggest that slashing a Gordian knot is a good thing to do, I mean
>that formulating a clean theory which can be tested in finite time using
>available tools is useful whenever possible.

On the other hand, I was referring to letting the context rule and ignoring
the traditional understanding of the tenses.

For me, the real "Gordian knot"
>is the approach which says that I have to be thoroughly familiar with the
>entire Greek corpus before I can know anything at all about Greek grammar -
>people like Bauer or Blass or Robertson (and I suspect Carl Conrad)
>certainly have this kind of familiarity with the Greek corpus, and I would
>be very careful about ideas which run in the face of what they have to say.
>Now that we have the ability to propose precise linguistic theories and test
>them by searching the corpus, let's do it!

I don't think *that* gordian knot was ever tied. There is a lot you can
know about Greek grammar without reading the entire corpus, but you should
read a massive amount before you consider redefining Greek grammar.

>I don't care if the results favor traditional accounts like Blass/Debrunner
>or Robertson, or more modern accounts like Mari's.

I don't either, but I think D.A. Carson is right to argue that when we
think we've discovered something new in grammar or interpretation, it is
fallacious not to be sceptical if a host of scholars before us "failed " to
discover it.

>The point is to go at it
>systematically, and to be clear about how we formulate theories and how we
>prove them. In fact, this is fundamental to scientific inquiry: our job is
>to formulate theories and to prove them or disprove them. Who wins and who
>loses in the process is irrelevant, in the long run we all win.

Nolo contendere.

>Incidentally, your statements on context make me suspect that we are talking
>past each other on the role of context. Mari's use of context is *very*
>different form Porter's - she uses words like NUN, which establish time
>independently of the verb tense, and sees how they combine with the tense or
>aspect ideas conveyed by the forms of the verbs. If the context can cancel a
>time sense associated with a verb form, then that time sense is not inherent
>to the meaning of the verb.
>Let's take an example:
> EZHTOUN SE LIQASSI "they were trying to kill you"
> Time reference: past time
> Aspect: imperfective
> NUN + EZHTOUN SE LIQASSI "just now they were trying to kill you"
>In this case, EZHTOUN retains the past time reference, which means that it
>is not cancelled by NUN. I think this is a good example of how the tense of
>the imperfect interacts with the context, and it tells us something about
>the meaning of the imperfect. In the wider context of John 11:8, I think it
>is clear that this verse *must* mean what I have said above.

I guess I don't see your point here. Your translations seem to distinguish
the past from the immediate past, both of which are reasonable
understandings of the imperfect, which is continuous/imperfective action in
past time (via the augment).

>Suppose we come
>up with a couple of examples like this, do a Gramcord search, and come up
>with only with examples that must be interpreted this way and examples that
>might easily be interpreted this way. We would be justified in assuming that
>it probably works this way. Of course, someone with access to TLG could
>enlighten us by doing a wider search, and someone like Mari can provided
>evidence from other languages like English, Russian, Mandarin, Kukuyu, and

We would have no reason to dispute such passages, but the absence of
dispute would not prove that we were right. Some NT scholars might agree
that there is no need to look at Greek outside the GNT, but I suspect such
people are just whistling through the graveyard, and in any case we've
discussed this issue sufficiently before on the list. As to evidence from
other languages, some might be anecdotally interesting, but I doubt we will
get any help from languages (e.g. non-Indoeuropean) that are not in any way
cognate to Greek. I tread on very thin ice even when I attempt to compare
Latin and Greek, and I wouldn't dare attempt to argue that a phenomenon in
Greek must be understood in such-and-such a way because it is paralleled in
Latin or a dozen other languages (in fact, another comparative linguist
scolded me many years ago for trying to make connections between Greek and
Latin rather than Greek and Sanscrit, and he was partly right).

>Russian, incidentally, is a very interesting language for investigation of
>tense and aspect because it uses different morphemes to encode each!

So I hear. Russian is probably well worth learning.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside