Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:I wonder what the difference between Campbell's notion of remoteness and the view that the augment marks verb forms as prototypically, but not categorically, past?
This is near to upper limit of my understanding, so I may be wrong, but... Campbell tries to find a rule without exceptions and thinks that the exceptionless rule is the semantic meaning (as probably does Porter, too). A proponent of some kind of prototypicalilty view would say that a rule can have exceptions and still describe the semantic meaning. I find the latter view more down-to-earth, practical, realistic and commonsensical. I see this as one of the basic differences between the non-temporal and the aspectual+temporal views of tense.
Thanks for this. I decided to consult the leading textbook of prototype theory, James R. Taylor, Linguistic Categorization: Prototypes in Linguistic Theory
(2d ed.; Oxford: Clarendon, 1995), 149-153, and it turns out that he discusses attempts to explain the English past tense, which non-past time usages in terms of counterfactuals and pragmatic softening, in terms of a common semantic component, "remoteness."
Taylor disagrees with recasting the English past tense in terms of remoteness (discussed by Palmer in 1965/1974) for these reasons:
- Remoteness is "far too general to serve as a formula for predicting the distribution of past tense." In particular, Taylor notes that a notion of "remoteness" should also refer to future events and spatially remote present events, but these hardly happen with the past tense.
- The different senses of remoteness are "conceptually quite distinct." Taylor feels that remoteness in time is very different from remoteness in counterfactuality or the spatial metaphor for pragmatic softening.
- The "different uses of the past tense differ in their productivity." The past tense of nearly every verb in English can indicate past time in a variety of syntactic environments, but the peripheral uses of the past tense only occur in limited and specific syntactic environments.
So basically, Taylor's critique of remoteness from a prototype perspective is that that, while the past time category admittedly does not explain certain specialized uses of the past tense, the notion of remoteness is over-inclusive and cannot explain why many apparently remote sense are not
in the past tense. It is better, Taylor argues, to understand the past tense as a having a central function of indicating past time--that function, after all, is its most productive use--, but also to acknowledge that it has peripheral non-past functions of counterfactuality and pragmatic softening in certain specialized environments. These environments can be related to its central meaning by certain semantic extensions (e.g., past time -> remote in time -> remote in space -> remote in involvement -> pragmatic softening).
So it looks like to me that linguists already had a debate about the meaning of the past tense and that it occurred before the aspect wars in Greek took off.
Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.