Augment revisited (was: NUN+Verb.Aorist)

From: Paul Zellmer (
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 13:27:07 EDT

Jonathan Robie wrote:
> At 09:57 PM 4/29/97 -0400, Paul Zellmer wrote:
> >> What precisely do you mean when you say that the augment "was an indicator
> >> of past time" in Koine Greek? Frankly, I don't think that anybody has been
> >> that precise about what this means. Do you have a model for how this past
> >> time indicator interacts with other language features?
> >Jonathan,
> >
> >You asked the question, in effect tossing out a challenge, concerning my
> >statement of the augment being a marker of past time.
> I hope it felt like a friendly challenge. I've been sweating blood over
> tense and aspect, and you have many more years experience with the Greek
> language. I think that I can learn from people like you and Don, and I want
> to draw you out--I would like to hear more of this side of the argument.

Jonathan, your requests, questions and challenges are *always* friendly
(something many of us, including yours truly, can learn.)

> Thanks for the summary of the discussion so far...but I still need a more
> complete model to be able to extend the "augment as past time indicator"
> position into a way to interpret tense and aspect. In response to my above
> question, you say that Don expressed himself clearly in this quote:
> On Wed, 9 Apr 1997, Don Wilkins wrote:
> >I myself see the (aorist ind.) augment as a time indicator, which is why it
> does not
> >occur in the other moods.
> Unfortunately, I really don't know precisely what this means or how to use
> it in a model of tense and aspect. Let me try asking some questions:
> 1. Do you mean to say that the augment itself signals past time? Are you
> saying that the augment itself signals past time, or that the use of the
> augment in a particular tense form signals past time, or that those tenses
> which can use the augment are necessarily past-time tenses? For instance, is
> there any difference in time between aorist verbs with the augment and
> aorist verbs without the augment?

The historic position in linguistic terms is that the augment is a
phoneme (the smallest particle of speech which carries meaning). In
generative terms (which tries to reduce meanings to a binary-type
coding), it indicates [+past.time]. It is found in the indicative only,
and is attached to the aorist, imperfect, and pluperfect. I suppose the
analysis which resulted in the assignment of this meaning to the
augment, these are the three tenses which are in past time if unmodified
in the indicative, the augment is found on them and only them, and it is
not found in the non-indicative (where time is not defined). I guess if
you could find one of these tenses in the without the augment, that case
would not have the [+past.time] characteristic. {Do a search on the
pluperfect; it may have the exception that would be a test case. I just
haven't found an exception to answer your last question yet.}

> 2. What do you mean by "past time"? Do you mean absolute time as reckoned
> from the time of the speaker or writer?

Yes and no, just like in English. On the surface, this would be
interpretation, yet the point of reference can be transposed by context.

> 3. When you say that the augment indicates "past time", do you mean only in
> independent clauses?

The marker is on the word-level. The type of clause does not turn it on
or turn it off. It *is* a secondary characteristic, which is why it can
be "overridden" by modifying phrases. But take away the modifying
phrase, and we revert back to past time, right? And even this
modification is rare.

> 4. Do you see the augment as something which indicated past time when these
> verb forms came into being, or as something which also rooted the past time
> reference in future usage? In other words, is there a structural reason that
> the past time reference must continue into the Koine period and beyond, or
> is your position based solely on usage in the NT period in conjunction with
> historical indicators?

??? Jonathan, are you asking when the augment came into being, or when
(or if) the augment as a past-time referent was dropped from usage on
the way to becoming modern Greek? As Carl had written some months ago,
the augment was in existence with this meaning before NT times. He was
not as certain that it still was as strong an indicator in NT times.
Since I have never studied modern Greek, I couldn't even guess what
happened after NT times. If this is your question, I could ask some of
my Greek friends.

> 5. What are your criteria for determining whether the augment indicates past
> time? What would someone have to show in order to prove your assertion
> false? (This is the good old scientific doctrine of falsifiability - if I
> don't know how to prove your statement false, you really haven't said much.)

I have already stated that the augment is found only on those tenses
which are past time in the indicative. This should give you a starting
point for falsifiability. Find it on a form which is *not* past-time in
the unmodified case, or find it unmodified in a case that is obviously
not past-time. But, please note, even in the discussion of the gnomic
aorist, the citations stated that the aorist described what happened in
the past with the implication that it is a general truth.

A second installment concerning NUN+Verb.Aorist to follow.


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