From: Micheal Palmer (email@example.com)
Date: Mon May 26 1997 - 00:39:19 EDT
At 10:06 PM -0400 5/25/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>I'm finding lots of examples of present tense where there doesn't seem to be
>any imperfective force. Here are a few examples (lots more are available
>Luke 7:8 POREUQHTI, KAI *POREUETAI* - ERXOU, KAI *ERXETAI* - POIHSON, KAI
>Matt 26:63 (GNT) KAI hO ARCIEREUS EIPEN AUTW: *EXORKIZW* SE KATA TOU QEOU
>TOU ZWNTOS hINA hHMIN EIPHS EI SU EI hO CRISTOS hO UIOS TOU QEOU.
>Acts 8:23 (GNT) EIS GAR COLHN PIKRIAS KAI SUNDESMON ADIKIAS *ORW* SE ONTA.
>Matt 5:22 (GNT) EGW DE *LEGW*
>Most grammars I've read say that the present tense describes "linear
>action", also known as "imperfective aspect". However, the "aorist present",
>a category in both Smyth and Robertson, is "punctiliar". Robertson (p. 864
>ff) does not see this as one category of usage, but as a whole class of
>usage - he says that the present tense does not distinguish between "linear
>and punctiliar action" (imperfective and perfective aspect, for you moderns)
>since there are not two separate tenses such as the aorist and imperfect for
>past action. Further, he says that modern Greek has developed forms which
>*do* distinguish the two kinds of action; e.g., PAGAINW is imperfective and
>means "I am going", PAGW is perfective and means "I go".
Imperfective aspect cannot be equated with linear action. If you equate the
two, you will run into exactly the problem you are having here. Let's take
Luke 7:8 as an example and see if looking at imperfective aspect a little
POREUQHTI, KAI *POREUETAI* - ERXOU, KAI *ERXETAI* - POIHSON, KAI *POIEI*
[Present indicative forms marked with **]
POREUETAI does not represent 'linear action' if you think of a single act
of someone 'going' in this context, but it does represent imperfective
aspect when you take into account that the speaker (the centurion) is
stating a general principle. 'This is the way it always is, I say go, and
they go.' He is not thinking about when he started having this kind of
authority, or when he will cease to have it. He is merely concerned with
the state of affairs presently in force, and which will continue to be in
force for an unspecified time into the future.
Part of your problem *may* be a dependence on the form you choose for your
translation into English.
He is going [Present Progressive]
seems clearly imperfective.
He goes [Simple Present]
seems less so.
Even the simple present in English can have an imperfective force in some
contexts. 'I sing in the choir at church' can be read as imperfective. This
is something that I do (I actually don't, but that's beside the point),
something which characterizes my behavior. The example from Luke 7:8 is
similar. It is easy to think of the 'going' as something which happens
repeatedly, and no single instance is presented as imperfective by the
speaker. The point that the speaker is making, however, is not about the
individual instances, but about the general pattern which arises out of
them collectively. This is what characterizes his experience. He commands,
and people obey.
>This worries me, because if present isn't really a tense (as the aspect
>people argue convincingly), and it doesn't clearly identify aspect (as
>Robertson argues), then I don't know what it is!
Again, I think you should be careful about identifying what Robertson is
talking about as aspect. The categories that are being discussed by the
aspect specialists are certainly related in some ways to what Robertson is
talking about, but he was not discussing aspect.
>Fanning does talk about the "instantaneous present" (p. 202), where the act,
>by nature of the verb, takes place in an instant, and present used for acts
>of speaking which focus on the current moment, but I don't understand how
>the present itself can be construed to have imperfective force for these
>uses. For instance, if I say EGW DE LEGW, and LEGW were imperfective, I
>would think it would mean "But I am saying", not "but I say". I don't see
>that Fanning has anything at all useful to say about passages like Luke 7:8.
>I also couldn't find anything helpful on this in Porter's Verbal Aspect,
>though I have a hard time finding things in it (it does not have an index).
I don't think Luke 7:8 is a good example of what Fanning meant by the
instantaneous present (though I don't have a copy of his book to check). If
I remember his discussion correctly (and please correct me if I don't), he
is referring to verbs whose lexical aspect (to use the term most widely
accepted for the a word's own contribution, apart from the contribution of
the grammatical inflection, to the aspectual sense of an expression), is
inherently perfective. Take for example, the English verb 'hit' in 'Johnny
is hitting his brother.' The grammatical form is imperfective, but the verb
implies something done in an instant, so the only option for viewing it
imperfectively is to see Johnny as administering multiple blows--not one
very slow, drawn out blow.
The actions stated in Luke 7:8 are not of this type (with the possible
exception of the last one, which is non-specific).
Micheal W. Palmer firstname.lastname@example.org
Religion & Philosophy
Visit the Greek Language and Linguistics Gateway at
This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:17 EDT