Re: Porter on the present

From: Kenneth Litwak (
Date: Tue Oct 17 1995 - 22:59:40 EDT

> Ken Litwak questioned the value of Porter's seminal investigations
> into Greek aspect, especially of the "historical present" form, when
> the resulting translations appeared not to differ. In my opinion as a

Actually, maybe I did not express myself clearly enough. I'm not
challenging Porter. I'm having trouble understanding his point when he comes
out with the same translation that a "historical present" would, i.e.,
given the translation both use the English past, how would I explain to
someone else the difference in _meaning_, as opposed to wording, in such a
case? Thanks.

Ken Litwak

> theoretical linguist, Porter's contribution is to recognize that the
> present form does not, in fact, encode present "tense". According to
> this view, the "historical present" is expected: if a form is not
> marked for tense, it may be used equally felicitously to refer to a
> past situation. Under a tense analysis of this form, a careful
> account would need to explain why the apparent meaning of the account
> fails to apply in certain contexts. This has certainly been done
> anecdotally, in labelling the term the "historical present", but a
> label does not an account make.
> As for the equivalent translations, they may be explained by the fact
> that the English present is not a tense either, and so may also be
> used in a past narrative setting. The equivalences hold (in many
> contexts, not all), irrespective of the label given the Greek forms.
> Mari Broman Olsen
> Northwestern University
> Department of Linguistics
> 2016 Sheridan Road
> Evanston, IL 60208

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:31 EDT