Re: Mari Broman Olsen (nee Mari Broman)

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Dec 11 1996 - 08:29:04 EST

At 01:27 AM 12/11/96 -0500, Don Wilkins wrote:
>At 3:48 PM 12/10/96, Jonathan Robie wrote:
> . . .
>>I think that Mari makes precise, provable claims, and that is half the
>>battle. For instance, she agrees with others that the sense of the word
>>interacts with the tense to determine time reference, but she also says
>>precisely what she means by that, classifying words by their time sense with
>>a simple system that makes sense. My feeling is that Mari has offered much
>>better proof for her claims than did Porter, for instance, and is much more
>>precise about her claims than the descriptions I find in any Greek Grammar.
>>We can prove her right or prove her wrong based on the data, and that is
>>what makes a good theory.
>It is quite possible that Mari does a better job than Porter did; I'll have
>to come to my own conclusions after reading her papers. I have to disagree
>with you otherwise, Jonathan.

I'm not quite sure *what* you are disagreeing with me on, Don! If she gives
us a precisely formulated theory, we are all welcome to do searches to find
counterexamples, other ways of proving assertions about tense and aspect,
etc. A good theory is one that can be proven right or wrong. I'm still
working my way through her thesis, but I think she has given us a precisely
formulated theory and some intriguing data which support it.

So show us some examples which prove her wrong!

>Fair enough; but there are SOME relevant issues that--in my mind--have to
>be settled before Mari's approach can even get off the ground, let alone

Same here. For instance, here is an email I sent her with a few examples
that seem counter to her explanation. She responded with an answer which I
don't yet understand, so I have to keep digging through her thesis, but here
it is anyways:

At 01:45 PM 12/10/96 -0500, Mari Broman Olsen wrote:
>Jonathan Robie wrote:
>> These verses seem problematic to me:
>> John 21:10 (GNT) legei autois o Ihsous: enegkate apo twn oyariwn wn
>> ***epiasate ***nun.
>> Traditional: "Bring some of the fish which you have now caught"
>> Mari: "Bring some of the fish which you now catch" ??? ???
>> 1Pet 2:25 (GNT) hte gar ws probata planwmenoi, alla ***epestrafhte ***nun
>> epi ton poimena kai episkopon twn yucwn umwn.
>> Traditional: "But now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of
>> your souls"
>> Mari: "But now you return to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls"
>> Wadd'ya think?
>In my thesis, I suggest that
>perhaps "present" tense cross linguistically is not a tense at all,
>but an implicature on a form unmarked for tense. So that makes the
>aorist, which lacks tense and is perfective, similar to the English
>"present" (which is as you translate it, or perhaps 'have just
>caught', have just returned). The truly vexing question for me was
>why, then, do we ALSO have a perfect in Greek? I suspect the answer is
>related to the historical development, which I've already pushed to
>the comparative historical linguists. I think it would be interesting
>to compare the perfect with the aorist of this type. <tag, you're

So I'm not just accepting it hook, line, and sinker without examination, and
examining it takes time. I have to do some more searches, and I need to
finish reading her thesis...

>>True, but remember that cutting the Gordian knot was the only reasonable
>>way. There is also a great temptation to continue trying to untie the
>>Gordian knot - to keep relying on methods which have shown themselves
>>incapable of solving the problem. We've had thousands of years to come up
>>with a clear, consistent model for tense and aspect in Greek, and we haven't
>>succeeded yet, so why not welcome fresh approaches?
>Again, I can only beg to disagree. We can't be sure about every "aspect" of
>a language no longer spoken, but the traditional model, though not always
>easy to understand or apply, does work and has IMO shown itself to be as
>consistent as anything we could expect.

I don't think that I've ever seen a traditional formulation of tense and
aspect which was precise enough to be easily proven or disproven. And I
think that the traditional model is difficult to understand and apply simply
because it is imprecise, and tends to brush exceptions under the table. Of
course, it could just be that I haven't adequately mastered it.

But as far as I can see, the experts disagree significantly about the use of
tense and aspect in Greek, this causes problems in our understanding of the
texts, and we need to come up with precise descriptions which we can prove
or disprove based on the data. Whether or not Mari is right, I think that
she has done that.

>The aorist *indicative* refers to past time, in the sense of a sequence of
>events, which is sometimes challenging to understand. This typically works,
>so you can choose any example you wish. I would argue that contradictions
>are the results of forcing our own limited understanding of the Greek and
>the context on a particular verb. I'm sure that sounds circular, and again
>I have to say that only a thorough study of the relevant extant literature
>can possibly convince us of the value of any model.

This doesn't sound like anything I could ever prove or disprove. It leaves
you lots of wiggle room! And the basis for proof seems to be "a thorough
study of the relevant extant literature", which just may be exhaustive
enough that it could never be done. I need much more precise claims before I
can formulate a Gramcord search or you can put some more mileage on your TLG

After we've both finished Mari's thesis, maybe I can pin you down into
making a similarly precise formulation of the traditional approach as you
understand it. Then we can play the old "dueling theories" game and see who
best handles the data.



Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703
Ph: 919.598.5728 Fax: 919.598.6728
email:, <--- shockwave enabled!

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:59 EDT