Re: Mari Broman Olsen (nee Mari Broman)

Don Wilkins (
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 06:18:57 -0500 (EST)

At 9:24 PM 12/11/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Sorry, there is one point I really *do* need to respond to...
>At 09:05 PM 12/11/96 -0500, Don Wilkins wrote:
>>>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).
>My point is that this line of argument is a useful one when trying to
>establish the interaction between the time sense found in a verb and the
>time sense found in the context. This point does not argue against
>traditional Greek grammar at all - in fact, I think that much of Mari's work
>confirms traditional theory.
>But it shows a proof of the kind that Mari favors.
>Do you like this kind of proof?

Yes I do *like* it (I find it interesting and fun to discuss), but I'm not
sure it proves much and I doubt that it has any value as evidence for or
against Mari's position. As you yourself say above, it does not contradict
traditional theory. In fact, this kind of interpretational interplay
between tense and temporal factors like adverbs in the context has been
used by grammarians and exegetes for a very long time, and as I see it, the
only controversy has been (or would be) the question of whether the context
is adding baggage to the tense or narrowing down the specific meaning of a
tense that theoretically could have a very broad range of meanings (hence
our uncertainty over how many categories of meaning this or that tense
really has). I gather that Mari likes to speak of adverbs etc. "cancelling
out" the default meaning of the aorist, which appears to be just another
way of describing the phenomenon. The extra twist she adds is to do away
with traditional temporal limits on the tense in the indicative, and as a
fellow programmer of sorts I can appreciate the appeal this has in seeming
to provide a more consistent way to deal with problem passages. It is a
little like making a "quick and dirty fix" in a complex computer program;
you know what happens: the change you make has a nasty side effect
somewhere else, and if you're not careful you end up destroying a valuable
major section of the program. Given Mari's objective, I can't imagine any
other way to accomplish it than to do exactly what she does with the
augment and the indicative, and to me this wipes out that important mood.
But I'm getting long-winded again and I still have not actually read her

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside