Re: Greek TMA, II

From: Lindsay J. Whaley (
Date: Mon Oct 23 1995 - 11:08:13 EDT

Thanks to Vincent DeCaen (and others!) for providing some interesting proposals
regarding TAM in Greek.
        RE: the future, it might be useful to review Vincent's arguments for
recasting the "future" in purely aspectual/modality terms.

--- Vincent DeCaen wrote:
cross-linguistically there is no strong evidence of a "future" tense.
usually, the so-called futures are subject to decomposition into mood
and/or nonpast tense and/or perfective aspect. e.g., English future is
a) will/would (mood + tense) + verb, or b) going to (aspect + mood [to]).
e.g., French future is the infinitive (mood) plus enclitic of avoir
(tense). I could go on ad nauseam.
--- end of quoted material ---

IMHO, this is far too strong a claim. In fact, I find plenty of
cross-linguistic evidence for a future tense. In many Bantu languages, for
example, there are future tense particles/affixes which 1) are found in the
slot where other tense markers occur and do not co-occur with these markers; 2)
do co-occur with aspect particles/affixes; and 3) have the statement of a
future event as their primary function. In some, the "distant future" tense
can be employed to indicate epistemic modality (something like may/might in
English), which would be the only reason one might take it as a mood marker.

--- Vincent DeCaen wrote:
is it a coincidence that in the synchronic system of NTGrk the
"aorist" stem (perfective) with nonpast endings gives the future?? I
'm inclined to doubt it.
--- end of quoted material ---

Perhaps I am being overly cautious, but arguments from diachrony make me
nervous. The coincidence between the aorist stem and future does indicate a
semantic overlap at some point in the history of Greek, but this overlap does
not *necessarily* get maintained. New grammatical categories do develop through
time, and occasionally, the novel categories disrupt the symmetry of the
erstwhile system into which they are placed.

With these comments in mind, what arguments are left for taking the future as
perfective/non-past? Is it only theoretical elegance? Just wondering...

Lindsay Whaley
Dartmouth College

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