verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

RDecker
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verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by RDecker » November 8th, 2011, 9:48 pm

Here's a brief summary of the discussion and of what consensus there is. Aspect is a *relatively* recent discussion in its modern form (ca. 30 years), though there are antecedents that go back to the early 20th C. (Robertson, e.g., says some perceptive things regarding tense!) There have been 2 *seminal* works: Buist Fanning and Stan Porter. The others who have published in this area are almost all derivative works in that they assume one or the other of these two starting points. The good news is that Fanning and Porter *agree* on perhaps 80% of the issues. The most important is that there are two major aspects grammaticalized by the present and aorist tenses and the aspect is the *primary* meaning of tense, not time. Aspect refers to the way in which a speaker/writer *views* an action. (The terminology differs, but the essence is the same: perfective aspect [Porter] = external aspect [Fanning], and imperfective = internal.) Also important to note is that aspect is not the same as Aktionsart. Both F and P agree on this; F has done more work to define and categorize Aktionsart than P, but this is one remaining area that still needs more work. (Campbell offered a simple [& perhaps simplistic] model in the 2d half of his Basics book, but it has not been well received.) The biggest area of disagreement relates to time and the verb. Fanning and those who follow him (e.g., Wallace) insist that time is still part of the meaning of tense in the indicative mood, though it is secondary to aspect. Porter (and those of us who follow his system) argue that time is *not* part of the semantic meanings of tense, not even in the indicative, but that time comes from a combination of tense and context. Both agree that outside the indicative time is *not* part of the meaning of tense. The other unresolved issue is what to do with the perfect tense. Fanning includes it in his 2-aspect system; Porter contends that it is a *third* aspect which he calls stative. (This is a *different* category than what are sometimes called stative verbs; though there is some similarity in meaning, they are expressed differently: one lexically and one grammatically.) There is also more diversity on the future tense (which has been classed as any of the 2 or 3 aspects, and some even a 4th!), but that is not, IMHO, as significant as the questions re. the perfect. Obviously much, much more could be (and has been!) said, but that, I think, is the heart of it. (You'll notice that this is a different approach/description than Rijksbaron whom Jonathan suggested above.)

If you want a further description of the history of the discussion, see the first part of Cambell's *Basics* book; that is its value, not his particular proposals in the remainder. Or if you want a more technical history, see ch. one of my *Temporal Deixis"--but that's probably beyond where you are now.
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Rodney J. Decker
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: verbal aspect

Post by Alex Hopkins » November 9th, 2011, 10:09 am

Rod Decker wrote,
"Aspect is a *relatively* recent discussion in its modern form (ca. 30 years), though there are antecedents that go back to the early 20th C. (Robertson, e.g., says some perceptive things regarding tense!) There have been 2 *seminal* works: Buist Fanning and Stan Porter."
Last year, about this time, I was attending the launch of a jazz CD by a group of Australian musicians, when a strange sense of wonder gripped me. There on the stage was a guy playing some glorious tenor sax lines, but ... could it be? So at intermission I went to the sax player and asked, "What do the names Porter, Fanning, McKay, Olsen, and Campbell have in common?" I figured that if he looked at me as if I was out of my tree, he wasn't who I suspected. But his immediate look of recognition told me my tentative identification was correct - Dr Constantine Campbell.

It's only fair to add that he corrected me, "And Decker."

So there have been quite a number who have written books on the subject, others whose names have been mentioned in this thread who have contributed, and yet a few besides. I'd be reticent to divide them into seminal and otherwise, though it seems to me a simple matter of fact that the publication of Porter and Fanning's volumes was a watershed. Nevertheless, I agree with the point Randall Buth made a couple of years back - "All people using Greek have ALWAYS appreciated aspect. Including today," ( http://lists.ibiblio.org/pipermail/b-gr ... 48813.html ), and this being so, earlier scholars have written valuable material on the verbal system even without using the term "aspect". Zerwick in his Grammar has perceptive things to say, for example.

I agree with Rod that "Aspect refers to the way in which a speaker/writer *views* an action", but I don't think it is actually this understanding of what "aspect" is that is contentious - I think that's a useful definition, and generally accepted. It's what the term "aspect" has come to connote that is contentious - that is, the question of whether the indicative mood grammaticalizes time. Further, it seems to me that confusion arises in the discussion where any implication is made that those who hold to the indicative as being time-based deny the reality and significance of aspect. In fact, it is quite possible to accept that aspect is a reality of the Greek verb and also to hold to the view that the indicative of the Greek verb is time-based.

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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David Lim
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Re: verbal aspect

Post by David Lim » November 9th, 2011, 11:15 am

RDecker wrote:Both agree that outside the indicative time is *not* part of the meaning of tense.
It seems to me that time is part of participles, relative to the main clause or viewpoint in focus, just as time is part of verbs in the indicative, relative to the viewpoint in focus. Also, I do not see why time is not part of the subjunctive as well for "purpose clauses".

Here is roughly how I understand tense in the above cases:
Present: present time
Imperfect: continuous in past time
Future: future time
Aorist: point in past time / indefinite time
Perfect: present state
Pluperfect: past state
Future Perfect: future state
What I mean by "time" is "time relative to the viewpoint in focus", which may be time relative to an indefinite time if no particular time is in focus. So the present subjunctive is used for a present possibility with respect to the time in focus whereas the aorist subjunctive is used for a possibility in indefinite time. Of course, the time in focus may not be related to the tense of the verb in the main clause.

Here are a few examples:
[1 John 3:9] "πας ο γεγεννημενος εκ του θεου αμαρτιαν ου ποιει οτι σπερμα αυτου εν αυτω μενει και ου δυναται αμαρτανειν οτι εκ του θεου γεγεννηται"
"γεγεννημενος" specifies a present state relative to "αμαρτιαν ου ποιει", in exactly the same way as "γεγεννηται".
[1 John 3:15] "πας ο μισων τον αδελφον αυτου ανθρωποκτονος εστιν και οιδατε οτι πας ανθρωποκτονος ουκ εχει ζωην αιωνιον εν εαυτω μενουσαν"
"μισων" is present relative to the time in focus, which is any time when someone hates his brother, so also "ανθρωποκτονος εστιν" in the present tense is with respect to that situation. "μενουσαν" is likewise present with respect to the situation where someone is a killer.
[1 John 5:4] "οτι παν το γεγεννημενον εκ του θεου νικα τον κοσμον και αυτη εστιν η νικη η νικησασα τον κοσμον η πιστις υμων"
"γεγεννημενον" specifies a present state relative to "νικα τον κοσμον", and "νικησασα" specifies a past fact relative to the whole clause.

Are there examples not involving specialised grammatical constructions where the tense of the verb in these three cases does not correspond with the time relative to the viewpoint in focus? I also note that the English example given in Funk's Grammar is "he comes tomorrow" which clearly has "tomorrow" as the focus and "comes" is present relative to "tomorrow", in contrast with "he will come tomorrow" which has the current time as the viewpoint in focus with "tomorrow" in the relative future.
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: verbal aspect

Post by Alex Hopkins » November 9th, 2011, 3:52 pm

In response to David Sim, who wrote,
It seems to me that time is part of participles, relative to the main clause or viewpoint in focus, just as time is part of verbs in the indicative, relative to the viewpoint in focus.
and provided various examples, I would note that all of the examples that David gives involve substantival participles; a couple of them could be said to be gnomic or, if you like, omni-temporal (so that to call them 'present' may be a little misleading), and that our view of participles must be robust enough to handle an example such as Matthew 2:20b:
πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.
... the ones who were seeking the child's life are dead.

(But, I note Jonathan's point in an earlier post; maybe it's not the right forum to dig too much further.)

Alex Hopkins
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by Jonathan Robie » November 9th, 2011, 4:55 pm

Jesse Gould's questions on verbal aspect in the beginner's forum sparked some discussion that goes well beyond beginners, and is likely to result in even more interesting and complex discussion. So I'm moving some of those posts to this thread.
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David Lim
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Re: verbal aspect

Post by David Lim » November 9th, 2011, 10:41 pm

Alex Hopkins wrote:In response to David Sim, who wrote,
It seems to me that time is part of participles, relative to the main clause or viewpoint in focus, just as time is part of verbs in the indicative, relative to the viewpoint in focus.
and provided various examples, I would note that all of the examples that David gives involve substantival participles; a couple of them could be said to be gnomic or, if you like, omni-temporal (so that to call them 'present' may be a little misleading), and that our view of participles must be robust enough to handle an example such as Matthew 2:20b:
πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.
... the ones who were seeking the child's life are dead.

(But, I note Jonathan's point in an earlier post; maybe it's not the right forum to dig too much further.)

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
The example you gave supports my point actually. The time in focus for "ζητοῦντες" is the time that some were seeking to kill the child, hence it is perfectly natural to use the present participle. English grammar also allows such usage: "Those seeking the child are now dead". I believe that this reasoning also explains why the present participle is particularly frequent in Greek since it functions as an adjective which usually is simply a description in the same time relative to the time in focus. Other examples are:
[John 1:29] "τη επαυριον βλεπει τον ιησουν ερχομενον προς αυτον και λεγει ιδε ο αμνος του θεου ο αιρων την αμαρτιαν του κοσμου"
Firstly "ερχομενον" is not gnomic but specifies present time relative to "τη επαυριον βλεπει ..." The aorist cannot be used because it would naturally imply past time relative to that event, and the future cannot be used for the same reason. The perfect cannot be used because it specifies a completed state, whereas the author meant that John saw Jesus as he was coming towards him, which is incomplete. Also, "αιρων" is in the present tense because there is no specific time in focus, so the focus is simply that adjectival clause itself, like in your example.
[John 1:36] "και εμβλεψας τω ιησου περιπατουντι λεγει ιδε ο αμνος του θεου"
"εμβλεψας" is in past time relative to "λεγει ..." and "περιπατουντι" is in present time relative to "εμβλεψας". Participles used to introduce the circumstances are usually in past time (sometimes present time) relative to the main clause, therefore we find them usually in the aorist tense.

Moreover, I do not think there can be constructions where there is a conflict between the time allowed by the verb and the context. So there can be clauses like "the one who will come tomorrow" (focus is current time) or "the one who comes tomorrow" (focus is "tomorrow") but not "the one who came tomorrow" ("tomorrow" cannot be past relative to any ordinary focus) and not "the one who has come tomorrow" ("tomorrow" does not specify a definite point in time so the perfect cannot fit). In comparison "the one who has finished his work before evening can go" has "has finished" specifying a completed state with respect to "before evening", which shows that the perfect may not refer to something that has been completed in the current perspective. Likewise there cannot be clauses like "the one who will come yesterday" ("yesterday" cannot be in future time relative to any focus).

In other words I believe the tense of the verb in the indicative and the subjunctive (when not syntactically constrained) and the tense of the participle contribute to the time in focus and hence the meaning of the whole clause, rather than the "time" of the word being solely determined by the context.

(By the way, is David Sim someone else on B-Greek? ;))
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Alex Hopkins
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Re: verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by Alex Hopkins » November 10th, 2011, 5:11 am

David Lim wrote
It seems to me that time is part of participles, relative to the main clause or viewpoint in focus, just as time is part of verbs in the indicative, relative to the viewpoint in focus.
and has given an answer to my referring to Matthew 2:20b:
πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.
I should say, first of all, that it was gracious of David to respond with a smiley rather than a brickbat to my mistaken spelling of his surname.

David wrote,
The time in focus for "ζητοῦντες" is the time that some were seeking to kill the child, hence it is perfectly natural to use the present participle.
I'm not convinced, David. In your earlier post you said,
What I mean by "time" is "time relative to the viewpoint in focus", which may be time relative to an indefinite time if no particular time is in focus.
But ζητοῦντες is not present relative to the main verb - τεθνήκασιν․ It can hardly be, They are dead who are seeking the child!

Let's try another one. In John 9:25, the man blind from birth who has received his sight says,
ἓν οἶδα ὅτι τυφλὸς ὢν ἄρτι βλέπω.
"Being blind" cannot be present relative to the verb βλέπω, despite the participle being in the present.

Let's look at a participle in the aorist:
Matthew 23:17 μωροὶ καὶ τυφλοί, τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν, ὁ χρυσὸς ἢ ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἁγιάσας τὸν χρυσόν;
In this instance, the reference is to the temple that sanctifies the gold. In citing the example of Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. (John 1:29), you explained,
"αιρων" is in the present tense because there is no specific time in focus
Is the case any different for the aorist here? Isn't it that there is no specific time in focus?

Best regards,

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
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David Lim
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Re: verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by David Lim » November 10th, 2011, 8:59 am

Alex Hopkins wrote:David Lim wrote
It seems to me that time is part of participles, relative to the main clause or viewpoint in focus, just as time is part of verbs in the indicative, relative to the viewpoint in focus.
and has given an answer to my referring to Matthew 2:20b:
πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου.
I should say, first of all, that it was gracious of David to respond with a smiley rather than a brickbat to my mistaken spelling of his surname.

David wrote,
The time in focus for "ζητοῦντες" is the time that some were seeking to kill the child, hence it is perfectly natural to use the present participle.
I'm not convinced, David. In your earlier post you said,
What I mean by "time" is "time relative to the viewpoint in focus", which may be time relative to an indefinite time if no particular time is in focus.
But ζητοῦντες is not present relative to the main verb - τεθνήκασιν․ It can hardly be, They are dead who are seeking the child!
Yes. If what I said was not precise enough, I meant that the viewpoint in focus does not have to be in the time of the main verb. Clearly the focus in "τεθνηκασιν γαρ οι ζητουντες την ψυχην του παιδιου" is on the time that some were seeking to kill the child, and is of course in past time relative to the main verb. But I was never talking about the main verb. There was a time when the death of the child was sought, and the present participle is in present time relative to that time.
Alex Hopkins wrote:Let's try another one. In John 9:25, the man blind from birth who has received his sight says,
ἓν οἶδα ὅτι τυφλὸς ὢν ἄρτι βλέπω.
"Being blind" cannot be present relative to the verb βλέπω, despite the participle being in the present.
Again, the main verb does not necessarily specify the time in focus in every related clause, such as "τυφλὸς ὢν", where the focus is on the time that the man was blind, when he declares: "one [thing] I know, that, being blind [before], now I see!" He could have used an aorist participle but that would change his focus. But he could not have used a future participle because future time does not agree with the context.
Alex Hopkins wrote:Let's look at a participle in the aorist:
Matthew 23:17 μωροὶ καὶ τυφλοί, τίς γὰρ μείζων ἐστίν, ὁ χρυσὸς ἢ ὁ ναὸς ὁ ἁγιάσας τὸν χρυσόν;
In this instance, the reference is to the temple that sanctifies the gold.
Firstly note that the Byzantine text has "ο χρυσος η ο ναος ο αγιαζων τον χρυσον". As I mentioned, I would see the time of the participle as relative to the focus, which in this case is the whole clause. If it was the present participle, that would be natural and convey the meaning of your translation well. If it was the aorist participle, the basic meaning would be unchanged but the focus would be now on the fact that the gold in the temple was sanctified by the temple, hence the aorist is fine. Like in the previous example, the future participle cannot be used otherwise it would convey a future relative time and hence a totally different meaning.
Alex Hopkins wrote:In citing the example of Ἴδε ὁ ἀμνὸς τοῦ θεοῦ ὁ αἴρων τὴν ἁμαρτίαν τοῦ κόσμου. (John 1:29), you explained,
"αιρων" is in the present tense because there is no specific time in focus
Is the case any different for the aorist here? Isn't it that there is no specific time in focus?

Best regards,

Alex Hopkins
Melbourne, Australia
My reasoning, which I believe is natural in all languages, is that we always identify the focus and all statements are taken with the focus as the starting point, and we expect the focus to be near, hence we take the nearest one that fits. In this case there is nothing to indicate that "ο αμνος του θεου ο αιρων την αμαρτιαν του κοσμου" has any reference point, unless you choose the improbable interpretation that that event actually happened somewhat contemporaneously with John's proclamation. The other choice is to take the clause itself as the reference point, where the focus is simply on that fact. The aorist participle would not be very appropriate since that fact had not yet been accomplished, whereas the present participle conveys "the lamb of God is the one who takes away the sin of the world".

Anyway I am simply describing what I see as the major factors influencing the choice of tense, because I believe that the verb in each tense can only accommodate certain combinations of time and aspect, both of which are always relative to the focus. This explains the frequency of the present participle in adjectival clauses and the aorist participle in circumstantial clauses. And when a "purpose clause" describes something in the future relative time such as in John 17:2, the subjunctive cannot be used (because there is no future subjunctive) and the future indicative is used instead. I suppose that as long as we understand the text correctly, it is good, and there is no correct explanation of how to arrive at that understanding, as Carl pointed out in the original thread. But of course do point out any flaws you see in my understanding. :)
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serunge
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Re: verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by serunge » November 10th, 2011, 10:21 am

As SBL 2009 I presented a paper on the historical present (HP), which in my view is the crux of the entire aspect debate. To be sure, the Porter/Fanning dialogue has brought a needed corrective to NT studies from trying to treat Greek verbs as conveying absolute time versus something else. Porter's solution, and those following, to claim that since there is not absolute time conveyed, not temporal reference is conveyed. While this is a correction, it is an over-correction. The present was taken by Porter as the smoking gun in the argument against temporal reference, with frequent past (HP), present and future references to be found. Decker's work was to show the actual distributional problems for the entire book of Mark to test Porter's claims about mixed temporal references and the use of deictic indicators rather than tense to convey temporal reference.

The purpose of my paper was to demonstrate how changing two key presuppositions about the present tense-form completely changed the problem one faced regarding the degree of non-typical temporal reference one found. The full paper is 24 pages, available at http://www.ntdiscourse.org/publications. This excerpt is my summary of the verb system. It is not meant as an introduction, but as the summary of what had been argued. Posting to the forum removed all formatting, so footnote references are gone. I hope it helps move the discussion forward be showing where there is agreement and how the disagreement can be reconciled by a broader look at how languages typically use tense/aspect systems. This excerpt is intended to illustrate the natural connections of aspect to the advancement or non-advancement of a narrative. We tend to take this function for granted in English, and get distracted from it in Greek because of the hubub about the tense/aspect debate. Here begins the excerpt:


Foley and Van Valin note a significant natural correlation between verbal aspect and the foreground/background distinction. The perfective aspect portrays the action “as a whole” or as “a complete and undifferentiated process.” Since the perfective conceptualizes the action as complete or as a whole, it is not surprising that completed, past-time events are most often portrayed using perfective aspect. This is not to say that perfective action is always past tense, but simply notes the natural correlation. In contrast, imperfective aspect portrays the action as incomplete, but without the same kind of natural correlation with time. The imperfective aspect allows the writer or speaker to establish a state of affairs in which perfective action takes place. This could be in a past- or present-tense context.
Campbell provides a useful description of the relationship between background information and the mainline:
The mainline of the narrative text is concerned with the major events, actions, and developments that project the narrative in the direction it is going. Without the sequence of mainline events and actions, offline information, such as supplemental information, inside information, speech and so forth, will not make sense; these require the mainline to provide context and to enable the reader to understand how the narrative arrived at the location where such offline material is meaningful. Offline material is contingent and dependent upon the mainline events.
In this way, the mainline events represent the foreground of the narrative, whereas the offline information typically represents a pause in the advancement of plot.
In terms of the Greek verbal system, the aorist tense-form is understood to encode perfective aspect, portraying the action as a complete and undifferentiated whole. Most scholars, regardless of their view on tense, associate the aorist with the mainline events of the narrative, as expected from cross-linguistic usage. Robertson states, “The aorist…is not the only way of expressing indefinite (undefined) action, but it is the normal method of doing so.” Decker states, “The aorist is the tense normally used to carry the storyline of the narrative—it moves the account along by specifying the basic events.” Campbell echoes this sentiment, claiming that the aorist grammaticalizes perfective aspect and is used for mainline material. Porter is in basic agreement as well, if one takes into account his resignification of the terminology.
The aorist has traditionally been associated with the past tense, which makes sense based on its depiction of the action as an undifferentiated whole. The nature of the aspect correlates to completed events, but does not demand it. Since there is no other proximate perfective tense-form in Greek, the aorist must play double duty. This explains the use of the aorist in varied temporal or atemporal contexts. In terms of an asymmetrical model of markedness, the aorist is taken as the default tense-form against which the others are described. As Robertson states, “the aorist is the tense used as a matter of course, unless there was special reason for using some other tense.” The frequency of aorist forms is thus understood here as a natural consequence it being the most basic form. By virtue of the discourse task perfective verbs perform in narrative, they prototypically occur in high frequency across languages. So while there is apparent agreement with Porter regarding the aorist form being the default tense, I do not draw the same conclusion regarding its prominence.
The imperfect and present tense-forms are understood to encode imperfective aspect, portraying the action as incomplete. The imperfect tense-form is associated with past tense for those accepting the presence of tense, and with remoteness for those using an aspect-only model. The cross-linguistic association of the imperfective aspect with offline or background information is general rather than unequivocal. Campbell aptly notes that although there is a strong correlation between the imperfect tense-form and offline information, “imperfects are also able to function within the mainline of narrative proper alongside the aorist, which is the dominant mainline tense-form.” Just as the aorist has been heavily associated with past tense, there seems a similar propensity for too strongly correlating the imperfect with offline events. Again, the association is best understood as a natural consequence of the discourse role played by the tense-form rather than as a semantic quality. This is exemplified in the parable of the prodigal son in
Example 1: Luke 15:14-16
14 δαπανήσαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ πάντα ἐγένετο λιμὸς ἰσχυρὰ κατὰ τὴν χώραν ἐκείνην, καὶ αὐτὸς ἤρξατο ὑστερεῖσθαι. 15 καὶ πορευθεὶς ἐκολλήθη ἑνὶ τῶν πολιτῶν τῆς χώρας ἐκείνης, καὶ ἔπεμψεν αὐτὸν εἰς τοὺς ἀγροὺς αὐτοῦ βόσκειν χοίρους, 16 καὶ ἐπεθύμει χορτασθῆναι ἐκ τῶν κερατίων ὧν ἤσθιον οἱ χοῖροι, καὶ οὐδεὶς ἐδίδου αὐτῷ.
14 Then after he had spent everything, a severe famine took place in that country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and worked for one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He was longing to eat the carob pods the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
Most of the actions of the prodigal are encoded using aorists (indicated by italics), even the two verbs of being in v. 14 describing the famine and his need. The actions are viewed as an undifferentiated whole. The imperfects (indicated by underline) in v. 16 describe ongoing states of affairs rather whole events. These states of affair set the stage for disclosing his decision to return home in v. 17. His decision was not made in a vacuum, but in response to his ongoing need and neglect.
The present tense-form functions as the proximate imperfective counterpart to the imperfect. Although it shares the same aspect, the present is associated with concurrent action by those using a tense-model, and with deictic proximity by those advocating a tense-less model. Decker describes present tense-forms as “often used for various facets of present time reference. This may be in reference to an activity presently in progress…or to a condition presently in existence.” Campbell provides a compelling case for the strong associate of the present tense-form with direct discourse[ i.e. reported speech], ostensibly due to speech being closely related to the speaker in time and/or space. The strength of this correlation provides the impetus for his proposed explanation mentioned of the HP representing “spill” from reported speech.
To summarize, the aorist tense-form is understood to be the default form for narrative proper, prototypically used for mainline events to advance the storyline. In contrast, the use of the imperfect marks the action as imperfective in nature, often providing offline description or states-of-affair, but not advancing the narrative. The imperfect has an almost exclusive association with past time reference, whereas the usage of the aorist usage is less consistent. The present tense-form is differentiated from the aorist by virtue of its aspect, and from the imperfect tense-from by virtue of its tense/ proximity.

Mismatch of Historical Present in narrative proper
The characteristic use of the aorist indicative for mainline events affects reader’s expectations. Using something other than the aorist implies that a meaning is associated with this choice. If a writer wants to portray a narrative action as imperfective, the preferred tense-from is the imperfect. It matches the context in terms of tense/proximity, but contrasts in terms of aspect. If this is the case, what is the relationship of the HP to this system of narrative tense-forms.
We have already noted that the HP is primarily associated with perfective actions rather than with imperfective ones. The present tense-form contrasts with both the aorist and imperfect. It is understood to mark some discourse feature that the aorist or imperfect forms would not mark. If the HP was simply intended to mark imperfectivity, there would be no distinction between it and the imperfect form?
There are no claims of prominence, tense-reduction, etc. associated with the use of the imperfect. Hence the HP represents a mismatch of aspect compared to the perfective aorist. The HP also stands out in narrative proper because of its tense/proximity. Mainline narrative events are prototypically past time or remote. The use of a present or proximate form thus represents a mismatch of both tense and aspect in the discourse context. If the HP somehow lost its imperfectivity or proximity, the mismatch would be diminished.
I contend that the use of the present tense-form in narrative proper is always intended to mark the presence of a pragmatic feature of discourse, namely highlighting the presence of a natural discontinuity. Regardless of whether the verb is one of propulsion or speech, the usage is construed as intentionally marking this feature. Use of the present tense-form in narrative proper is a non-default usage of the form. In contrast, those advocating a tense-less description of the verb system have described this widespread use of the present as conclusive evidence for the absence of tense. Such a claim both misrepresents the usage and the temporal distribution of the forms.

Impact of HP usage as marked on temporal distribution of tense-forms
The aspect-only model of the verbal system claims that what has typically been expressed as a temporal distinction between the tense-forms is better understood as deictic in nature. Furthermore, this deictic distinction is primarily spatial in nature rather than temporal. Nevertheless, Porter acknowledges regarding the distinction between present and imperfect that “it is as this juncture alone that tense forms in Greek—the Imperfect and Pluperfect—approach time-based tense forms.” Decker too recognizes the fine distinction between deictics and tense: “Despite the nearly exclusive use of the imperfect form to express past time in Mark, this does not require that the semantic value of the imperfect be defined as that of past time.” After referring to the deictic explanations of Porter, Millhouse and Decker, Campbell states “the temporal reference of the imperfect indicative is difficult to disprove, since it is quite consistently past-referring.”
If a stronger case could be made for distributional consistency of the tense-forms, then the need to appeal to spatial rather than a temporal deixis would diminish as well. Porter and Decker rely upon distributional information for support. They also rely heavily upon their portrayal of the HP as prototypical usage.
Statistics can be a double-edged sword, as their interpretation is heavily affected by presuppositions. As presuppositions change, so do the conclusions yielded by the data. I illustrate this by reconsidering Decker’s data regarding the temporal distribution of the three primary indicative tense-forms found in narrative proper. Table 1 contains Decker’s figures from Mark that treat the HP as though it were representative use of the present.
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At first blush, only the imperfect appears to show a high degree of consistency, exceeding 95%.
Porter and Decker have compellingly shown that Greek is not primarily tense-based. If, however, Greek is a mixed tense/aspect system as the traditional grammarians and typologists have claimed, we should expect to find a strong temporal consistency in the distribution, with the possible exception of the aorist. As noted earlier, the aorist lacks a proximate perfective counterpart, and could thus be expected to manifest more variation. If the language is mixed tense/aspect, one could also expect aspectual considerations to trump temporal ones in certain context, leading to something less than 100% consistency.
Since the HP is marked both on the basis of its tense/proximity and aspect, the data cannot legitimately be included in the prototypical description; it must be treated separately. To do otherwise is to misrepresent the core meaning of the present tense-form. It would ignore that the pragmatic effects associated with the HP are only claimed for the historical usage in narrative proper, not that found in non-narrative contexts like reported speech. In order to truly understand the core semantic meaning of the forms, pragmatically marked usage must be excluded from the overall count.
Another factor is the treatment of temporally undefined data. Due to its atemporal reference, the usage is likely motivated by the core aspectual meaning of the form, as suggested by Smythe. rather than by its temporal reference. If this use is part of the core meaning of the form, it should either be included with the core use of the form, or excluded altogether. With respect to the temporal discussion, undefined usage does not prove anything one way or the other.
Table 2 excludes the HP data from the present on the basis that they are not prototypical. In the first column under each tense, the “undefined” data added to the prototypical on the basis that these tokens represent aspectual considerations overriding temporal ones. The second column removes the undefined altogether from consideration. Viewed in this way, they neither prove nor disprove temporal distribution since there is no temporal basis on which to judge.
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This exercise illustrates that statistical conclusions greatly depend upon one’s presuppositions. Changing the presuppositions impacts the conclusions drawn. Understanding the HP usage as non-prototypical significantly impacts the data. For a language which does not grammaticalize temporal information, distributional data approaching or exceeding the 90% seems implausible. The undefined data in each category is reasonably understood as aspectually-driven, where the aspectual considerations override the temporal ones. Reclassifying the HP and undefined references clarifies the distributional picture. Although one would hardly expect 100% consistency in the usage, Decker’s modified data is approaching that in all but the present.

--End quote--
I think that Porter's proposal has done much to advance things beyond "tense as absolute time," but there is still further to go. The fuller paper talks about English as a tense-prominent language and Greek as an aspect-prominent language. This does not mean Greek has no temporal reference in the indicative, but simply that aspectual considerations will outweigh temporal ones.
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Steve Runge

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Re: verbal aspect (split from Beginner's Forum)

Post by cwconrad » November 10th, 2011, 10:26 am

This thread exemplifies very well recurrent Auseinandersetzungen on verbal aspect over all those years of the BG mailing list. I am not at all convinced that verbal aspect is a matter that beginners will really profit from an exploration of. That's heresy, I well know, but that's what I think. I honestly can't believe that a reader of the Greek text will be confused by the tense-forms of the verse, πορεύου εἰς γῆν Ἰσραήλ τεθνήκασιν γὰρ οἱ ζητοῦντες τὴν ψυχὴν τοῦ παιδίου. One does need to understand, of course, that present participles may represent both present and imperfect indicatives and that perfect participles may represent both both perfect and pluperfect indicatives. And of course one needs to understand about aorists that they not uncommonly refer to action anterior to the time of the main verb and so are comparable to pluperfects. I don't think, however, that coming to recognize these usages in Greek texts requires a student learning ancient Greek to dig into the newfangled lore of verbal aspect.
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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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