Re: JR & MO vs. the World <grin>

Jonathan Robie (
Thu, 12 Dec 1996 16:34:04 -0500

At 02:30 PM 12/12/96 -0500, Randy Leedy wrote:

>If science is the only means of knowledge, we might as well throw
>away the Book that we're spilling so many bits and bytes discussing

You got that right! And I doubt that anybody involved in this discussion
would disagree. And there are many topics which I would not care to study
scientifically - prayer, for instance, or the nature of God. I don't think
that a scientific approach would have any value. I'm very skeptical of
scientific approaches to anything not empirically testable.

But we are talking about grammar. What approach do you advocate? How should
we describe the aorist in our grammars, if not scientifically? Is there
something wrong with clear, testable statements? If Mari makes testable
statements about grammar that are wrong, you have all the weapons you need
at your disposal - show her that her statements don't fit the text.

Note: there is no necessary conflict between science and art here. A
scientific statement about the aorist might best be taught together with
examples, and coming up with creative ways to illustrate the use is very
desirable. In fact, scientific proofs are usually too abstract to be grasped
by most students, so this would be a beetter way to teach the results of
such inquiry anyways.

>I do not wish to replace scientific inquiry into the meanings
>conveyed by language. A careful enough reading of my post will leave
>no doubt that the only question I am raising is whether we have been
>so rigorously scientific that we have forgotten the balancing
>dimension of art. I am clearly insisting on the importance of both,
>not demeaning science.

This would be a very appropriate warning *if* Greek grammar were dominated
by overly scientific approaches. As it is, modern linguistics has barely
made a dent in the way Greek is usually taught, and the voices of Robertson,
Blass-Debrunner, Bauer, and other classic scholars are still very apparent
in our understanding of Greek - as they should be. Porter has had a big
impact - IMHO far beyond his rigor or his ability to prove his claims, but
it seems that Fanning has had less impact, and I don't know that many people
who have read and understood Mari's thesis. So as things now stand, Greek is
in very little danger of becoming overly scientific in its approach to grammar.

>I don't intend to imply that the old hypothesis was as scientific as
>the new one. I simply question whether a rigorously scientific
>hypothesis is necessarily superior to one based on an intuitional
>assessment of evidence, given the less-than-completely-scientific
>nature of language.

Any rigorously scientific hypothesis is based on an intuitional assessment
of evidence. As George Polya put it, a good proof is always preceded by a
good guess. But I don't see any advantage to stating our good guesses less
clearly or not testing them.

>So I simply reiterate my question: is
>linguistics methodology flawed by a failure to recognize the limits
>of science in dealing with a subject that is to a significant extent
>non-scientific? (I sure wish I could find a better adjective for

Well, a methodology does not recognize *anything*, that is up to the person
using the methodology, but I do think that linguists are very aware of this.
For instance, the usual way to find out what a sentence means is to ask a
native speaker of the language to make judgements about the meaning of the
sentence. Of course, this is difficult with Greek, since Carl is probably
the only native speaker now living...

Therefore, we are stuck with trying to come up with explanations that at
least make sense based on the available Greek corpus.

Let me be clear about what I mean by scientific in this context: if you can
precisely formulate a statement about the meaning of the elements of a
sentence, and this formulation can be proven right or wrong by seeing if
sentences mean what your theory says they should mean, and the formulation
accurately predicts the meaning of all other sentences in the language, then
you have established something scientifically.

>>>The OVERWHELMING correspondence between augmented forms and past
>>>time in Koine Greek must be given its proper weight.
>>Any good theory will have to account for this, based on the evidence.
>>In fact, Mari's theory predicts that the majority of aorist forms
>>will describe events which have occured in the past - not because the
>>aorist has a past *tense*, but because the *aspect* of the aorist
>>implies that the action has already taken place.

>As I understand aspect, it implies nothing of the sort. An event of
>unspecified aspect can take place in any time frame whatever, as I
>understand the meaning and usage of that term.

Tense is relative to discourse time, aspect is relative to the time being
depicted. Consider the following statements:

Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!