Foregrounding/Backgrounding and Porter

From: Bruce Terry (
Date: Tue May 14 1996 - 11:06:32 EDT

On Thu, 9 May 1996, while I was busy working on final exams, Rod Decker wrote:

>Just read Bruce Terry's response after queuing the above...
>>suggestion you give is a possibility. It is also quite possible that the
>>aorist tense here is doing nothing more than indicating that this action (or
>>state) is on the storyline (aorist is the foregrounding tense of narrative
>Bruce, would you mind explaining how you are using the term
>'foregrounding.' What are the other planes with which you contrast
>foreground? I have followed Porter's terminology and called
>aorist/perfective the 'background' (with imperfective = foreground, and
>perfective = frontground). But since you connect foreground with the
>storyline, I suspect it is only a difference in terminology since it is
>aorist/background that carries the storyline using Porter's terminology.

Rod, I am a little surprised at Porter's terminology. In all the linguistic
works I have read on the subject, foreground refers to the material that is of
primary importance and background to that which is of secondary importance.
In a narrative text, this means the storyline would be foregrounded and the
setting backgrounded. Also, in Greek narrative, the aorist is typically used
on the storyline (except at peak, when the present is used) and the present,
imperfect, and occasionally the pluperfect are used to present background
information. But note that which tenses are foregrounded and backgrounded
depends on the texttype. In expository text, present tense is foregrounded
and aorist tense (which is often used for illustrative material) is often

Actually, Porter's terminology may simply mean he is a good linguist.
Linguists are notorious for taking other linguists' terminology and using it
to mean something entirely different. It helps keep the whole field (and
outsiders) in confusion.

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

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