The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Jonathan Robie
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Re: The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Post by Jonathan Robie » May 13th, 2011, 3:53 pm

RandallButh wrote:
the division between semantics and pragmatics is not so clean cut (personally, I'm quite close to rejecting it in its entirety
You can't 'reject' it. They are parameters, fields. That fact that pieces of language interact in both dimensions doesn't drop their usefulness or validity. Like tense-aspect-mood. One doesn't drop them just because some languages mix them like the particle-wave nature of light.
I think of semantics as the meaning of signifiers like words, phrases, grammatical markers, etc. Surely these things have some meaning.

I think of pragmatics as context, and the assumptions we make about the communication we are involved in and the world around us.

Are we defining these terms the same way? Surely both things exist. Surely the relationship between the two is complex. And explaining this relationship is one of they key goals of linguistics, no?
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ἐξίσταντο δὲ πάντες καὶ διηποροῦντο, ἄλλος πρὸς ἄλλον λέγοντες, τί θέλει τοῦτο εἶναι;
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MAubrey
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Re: The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Post by MAubrey » May 13th, 2011, 4:42 pm

RandallButh wrote:You can't 'reject' it. They are parameters, fields. That fact that pieces of language interact in both dimensions doesn't drop their usefulness or validity. Like tense-aspect-mood. One doesn't drop them just because some languages mix them like the particle-wave nature of light.
Randall, you've made a lot of assumptions on the basis on fewer than 10 words of my own. Surely you don't think that
I'm quite close to rejecting it in its entirety
encompasses my thoughts on the matter.

First of all, we need to distinguish the linguistics categories of semantics and pragmatics from the fields of semantics and pragmatics. They're not the same thing. The field of pragmatics is interested in the study of speech acts, reference, deixis, definiteness, implicature and presupposition. And I do not discount that these are all useful for study. I am currently working on deixis in the Greek pronominal system, but I think we both know that in actual language use, the line between where semantics ends and pragmatics begins is less than clear. The study of definiteness is a subfield of pragmatics, but languages differ in how its expressed. Russian with its lack of an article, uses word order to mark an entity or participant as identifiable/definite (Word order and information structure in Russian syntax), but in English, Greek and other languages that have an article (or two) definiteness (the domain of pragmatics) is grammaticalized. Is it then semantic in English and Greek, but pragmatic in Russian. Where does one end and the other begin?

John Taylor in Linguistic Categorization has a useful discussion here with regard to metaphor.

In a sentence like:

"Sally is block of ice"

Where does semantics end and pragmatics begin? According to structuralist and generativist paradigms, ice is marked for [-ANIMATE] and thus one cannot...
predicate 'be a block of ice' of an entity (Sally) which is [+animate]. The sentence is only acceptable to the extent that a listener can go beyond the literal meaning and construe the speaker's intended meaning. To perform this task, the listener needs to supplement linguistic competence with proficiency in pragmatics. Searle's account ... presupposes a distinction between semantics and pragmatics, the former having to do with literal, or purely linguistic meaning, the latter with the context-dependent construal of intended meaning. Over the past view decades, pragmatics has emerged as an important subdiscipline of linguistics, taking its place alongside the more traditional components of linguistic study, such as phonology, syntax, and semantics. Given the basic assumptions of the generative paradigm, the emergence of pragmatics as an independent object of study was perhaps inevitable. If language constitutes an autonomous cognitive system, then, given the self-evident fact that language is an instrument for conceptualizing and interacting with the world, the need arises for an interface that links theses otherwise independent systems. Pragmatics functions as precisely such an interface. In rejecting the notion of an autonomous linguistic faculty, cognitive linguistics necessarily removes the need for pragmatics as a separate branch of study. All meaning is, in a sense, pragmatic, as it involves the conceptualizations of human beings in a physical and social environment. The understanding of any utterance requires an act of context-sensitive interpretation by the listener/hearer (Bosch 1985); metaphorical utterances, on this view, do not form a special set.

Observe that Searle's account predicts that metaphorical interpretations should take longer to process than literal interpretations, since, in order to arrive at the metaphorical interpretation, a listener first needs to access the literal reading, subsequently to reject it as anomalous. This predication has not been born out (Gibbs 1994). This finding is not all that surprising, considering the conceptual problems associated with the Searlean view of metaphor as grammatical deviance, and the consequent need for the listen to ;correct; the utterance for its deviance. . . . First, the supposed deviance of metaphor implies that competent speakers of a language ought to be able to 'demetaphorize' expressions to full grammaticality. In practice, it is often difficult, if not impossible to replace a metaphorical expression by a non-metaphorical equivalent and still retain the sense of the original expression. Secondly, it is highly counter-intuitive to claim that anything as pervasive as metaphor should have to be account for in terms of rule-breaking: metaphor is 'such a familiar and ubiquitous ingredient of speech that [. . .] few stretches of everyday conversation would escape the presumption of censure' (Cooper 1986:78). Furthermore, the very pervasiveness of metaphor argues strongly against the deviance hypothesis; being endemic, metaphor would eventually destroy the norm againt which deviance is to be recognized. Finally, the question arises why any bona fide communicator should wish to do such a bizarre thing as intentionally to produce utterances which are grammatically deviant, only so that their conversational partner can mobilize all kinds of interpretive principles in order to arrive at the indented meaning. Why don't people say what they mean in the first place.
Pragmatics is only necessary as distinct from other expressions of meaning only when you treat language as an autonomous cognitive system.* Cognitive linguistics has no need for such a distinction. Pragmatics and semantics are merely two poles on a single continuum of meaning that functions in parallel to the continuum of grammar and lexicon.

See also:
Langacker 1987
Lakoff 1987
Goldberg 2006
Taylor 2003

*Sorry for moving into linguistic gobbledygook here. These terms involve an ongoing going debate in linguistics about the nature of language and its relationship with other systems of the brain (e.g. visual, tactile, etc.). Some hold that the cognitive system of language is 100% independent of all other aspects of the human brain (the generative paradigm). Others argue that this not the case and language, as a cognitive system is closely connected with the rest of the brain.
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RandallButh
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Re: The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Post by RandallButh » June 1st, 2011, 3:42 am

PS: I was just looking at McKay "New Syntax of the Verb in NT Greek" and was surprised to find the following sentence in the paragraph on historical presents:

p. 42: "Of course, all these presents are in place of normal imperfects."

The opposite is true if one is assuming that the aspect was being fit to the context:
all those presents were in place of aorists. This shows poor linguistic judgement on McKay's part.

It was nice that Con Campbell recently agreed on this, that historical presents are frequently used in "perfective" contexts, and this can serve as a point of agreement between views of the Greek verb as including 'remoteness' or as including 'time'.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Post by Stephen Carlson » September 30th, 2011, 7:57 am

RandallButh wrote:Consider Albert Rijksbaron, "Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek", 3rd ed, 2002, p. 24
"The historic present is only found with terminative (telic), not with stative (atelic) verbs."

This is a telling observation. (No comments on punning, Mark!)
It hints as to why and how the 'historic present' is able to function
pragmatically against its grammatical aspect.
Yes, the present indicative can commonly be used
PRAGMATICALLY against its SEMANTIC aspect.
I like this observation a lot.
RandallButh wrote:Telic verbs and telic verbal constructions, on the other hand, have a natural completion and they can be evaluated in a context. 'Coming' can have a natural, telic interpretation as arrival to a particular place. By mentioning the place of arrival and contextually showing that the arrival 'happened', an author can extract extra rhetorical effect by putting the verb in an aspect that implies that the arrival had not yet happened.
It is a kind of grammatical irony.
It is not clear to me from your post what you think the "extra rhetorical effect" of the historical present is. Could you specify further?

Stephen
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
Melbourne, Australia

cwconrad
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Re: The Aspect of Historical Present 'Against the Grain'

Post by cwconrad » September 30th, 2011, 8:23 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:
RandallButh wrote:Telic verbs and telic verbal constructions, on the other hand, have a natural completion and they can be evaluated in a context. 'Coming' can have a natural, telic interpretation as arrival to a particular place. By mentioning the place of arrival and contextually showing that the arrival 'happened', an author can extract extra rhetorical effect by putting the verb in an aspect that implies that the arrival had not yet happened.
It is a kind of grammatical irony.
It is not clear to me from your post what you think the "extra rhetorical effect" of the historical present is. Could you specify further?

Stephen
I have no remote idea whether this bears any relationship whatsoever to the point under discussion, but the phrasing that the Buthian comment brings to my mind is, "It all comes home to me now" -- as in, "Aha! At last I understand."
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οὔτοι ἀπ’ ἀρχῆς πάντα θεοὶ θνητοῖς ὑπέδειξαν,
ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired)

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