Re: JR & MO vs. the World <grin>

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Thu Dec 12 1996 - 11:20:19 EST

Of course we're against the world:


Let me be clear on one thing, though: I don't *know* whether I believe that
aorist grammaticalizes tense as well as aspect. I'm investigating this
question. Mari *does* have a position on this question.

At 09:31 AM 12/12/96 -0500, Randy Leedy wrote:

>There's the background for the idea I want to float: isn't it
>misguided to treat language as though it were purely scientific?

Certainly. Language is not scientific. Linguistics, however, is scientific,
and formal study of language should be both formal and scientific. If you
are going to tell me what the aorist form means, I would like a precise
formulation, and I would like it to correspond to actual usage. The simplest
formulation that works is probably the best.

>Doesn't a great deal of the reliability of previous generations of
>scholarship rest on its keenly developed JUDGMENT OF VERBAL ART?

Again, certainly. Linguistics in the 1800s was based precisely on this, and
did not provide the evidence needed to agree with or disagree with the
statements that linguists made. Similarly, cognitive psychology at that time
was based on introspection - people would try solving a problem, and write
down the thought process they thought they were following as they did so.
And statistics was not accepted as a science - in fact, it was hotly
contested for decades before it gained general acceptance.

In fact, scientific methods do not elminate the need for careful judgement,
and a linguist with a wooden ear for language will get the wrong results no
matter what statistical tools are used. If you read Mari's thesis, or any
other piece of modern linguistics, you will find yourself confronted with
many pairs of sentences together with judgements about what these sentences
mean. Modern linguistics, like older linguistics, is very much dependent on
these kinds of judgements.

The traditional Greek grammars are based on the linguistics of the 1800s.
And this shows in many ways - for instance, compare Robertson's use of the
term "adverb" with the use of this term in any modern language textbook, and
you will see why it is hard for students of modern languages to understand
the vocabulary in traditional Greek grammars, and why someone used to
Robertson would probably have a hard time reading and understanding Mari's

Koine Greek hasn't changed since then (though we have a lot more data on
it!), but the way we approach studying language has.

So you are making the argument that linguistics, as practiced in this
century, is not an appropriate tool for studying language. (Randy Leedy vs.
the World?)

>The OVERWHELMING correspondence between augmented forms and past time
>in Koine Greek must be given its proper weight.

Any good theory will have to account for this, based on the evidence.

In fact, Mari's theory predicts that the majority of aorist forms will
describe events which have occured in the past - not because the aorist has
a past *tense*, but because the *aspect* of the aorist implies that the
action has already taken place.

>Do the relatively few passages that don't fit demand the formulation
>of a new scientific hypothesis, or can they be taken simply as evidence
>of the fact that the art of language simply refuses to be constrained
>to scientific categories?

You talk as though there were a new scientific hypothesis and an old one.
The old grammars were very anectdotal and did not formulate and test
scientific hypotheses.

The number of passages which use aorist without past referent isn't the
deciding factor - the nature of the manner in which it is used is. The
passages which Mari uses are chosen precisely because they illustrate
specific phenomena. Remember the TC adage that texts should be weighed, not
counted - it also applies to other forms of scientific inquiry.

>JR & MO may claim that the "new theory" accomplishes precisely this
>result: it simply frees the aorist from the constraint of the "past
>time" category. But does it, in doing so, create TOO GREAT a freedom,
>a degree of freedom not justified by the corpus-wide body of
>evidence? Is it not more accurate simply to attribute the freedom to
>the inherent flexibility of language?

Well, Mari's theory frees the aorist from past reference with respect to
narration time, but maintains the past reference with respect to the
"viewpoint" or "aspect" of the depiction.

You propose to replace scientific inquiry with a recognition of the inherent
flexibility of the language - wouldn't this give absolute freedom for a
passage to mean anything? Either the aorist has a meaning, a set of possible
meanings, or no meaning at all. If it does have at least one meaning which
affects the interpretation of a text, I would like to know what it is.


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