Re: Porter on the present

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Tue Oct 24 1995 - 00:06:59 EDT

On Fri, 20 Oct 1995, Philip L. Graber wrote:

>Mari's position (and I would tend to agree with her) is that the present
>encodes imperfective aspect but NOT tense. (BTW, imperfective aspect does
>not necessarily mean "continuous action.") In the case of the "historical
>present" the question for your position is why the present, which you say
>encodes present tense, is used in ways which clearly do NOT indicate
>present tense? Isn't it better to say (as Mari does) that the present
>form is unmarked for tense? The same goes for the aorist. If they are
>unmarked for tense, this goes some way toward explaining the widespread
>use of the present and aorist for participles in a way that does not
>indicate time.

Note that in my original post on this subject the chart I submitted showed
tense to be a combination of aspect and time. I believe that many of the
posts on this list are using the term "tense" to mean a temporal value. Why
have I substituted the word "time"? Because (as Karen has suggested) there is
a need to teach students in such a way that they can use the old and learn
from the new. I want to retain the terminology that says there are 7 tenses
in the indicative mode in Greek.

Having said that, I agree that the present form is unmarked for time (in all
modes, and in non-finite forms as well). To say that it is grammatically
unmarked means that it may be conceptually present time (as it often will be),
but that it may also be conceptually past or future time as well. Only the
context can tell.

I agree that the aorist is unmarked for time in all non-indicative forms;
however, IMHO, it is marked for past time in the indicative (this is not to
deny the existence of the gnomic aorist, but only to say that the form that
proverbs can be cast in is a pragmatic, cultural matter, not a grammatical
one; even the gnomic aorist is marked for past time, but in Greek, unlike
English, proverbs can be told in the past as well as the present and the

To mention a few other things: I do think that the future is fundamental to
Greek (and probably to Universal Grammar as well); to reject it in favor of a
binary-featured, past/non-past system is to fall into what Kenneth Pike calls
the binary fallacy (where all things must be seen as binary) in his
_Linguistic Concepts_. In fact, the future is more fundamental than the past,
since it is also present in the optative and non-finite forms while the past
is missing from these.

I respect Comrie but I must disagree when he says that the aorist is
perfective. I will state again my belief that the aorist is unmarked as to
aspect, meaning that it can encode any aspect.

Bruce Terry E-MAIL:
Box 8426, ACU Station Phone: 915/674-3759
Abilene, Texas 79699 Fax: 915/674-3769

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