Re: Questions about verbal aspect

From: Philip L. Graber (
Date: Mon Oct 16 1995 - 15:27:53 EDT

On Mon, 16 Oct 1995, Kenneth Litwak wrote:

> I'm slooowwwly working my way through Porter's _Idioms_, and he makes much
> of the significance of verbal aspect as opposed to categories invented
> by earlier grammarians, like historical present, gnomic present, etc.
> Yet, when he comes to a present used for narration (what I'd call an
> historical present), he translates it the same way I would. So I don't see
> what significance his distinction or critique has in this case. How is an
> historical present different from a prsent tense with a verbal aspect such that
> it is translated with a past referent?

Once again, what it means and how you translate it are two different
things. Having said that, I suppose someone really should do some work on
how to translate the forms into English. I am somewhat disturbed whenever
I see imperfects, aorists, and present forms in the same passage all
treated by the translation as though they are the same thing--they are
not. But I don't know at this point how the translators should handle it.
I think Porter's real point is against those who think that the present is
a real tense, and that its use in narrative "brings the past into the
present, making it more vivid" or other such things which really do not
account for the distribution of these things at all. English speakers have
a very strong tendancy to use simple past verbs in narrative to carry the
story lines, past progressives to give background information, and
occasionally present tense at the peak of narratives (this can easily be
overdone). So when translating, English speakers tend to want to make
everything they perceive as part of the story line into a simple past.
That does not mean that they have perceived correctly, nor does it mean
that the forms they have translated are "really" functioning as past
tense. I think the translation of these forms (including Porter's
translation) really have more to do with perceptions about what are the
events that move the story forward plus the requirements of English in
expressing these perceptions than they do with Greek tense or aspect.
Just because Porter translates a verb with an English simple past doesn't
mean he does so because of the aspect of the Greek verb.

Philip Graber Graduate Division of Religion
Graduate Student in New Testament 211 Bishops Hall, Emory University Atlanta, GA 30322 USA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:30 EDT