Re: "Present-future" Tense (was "Ungrammatical ...")

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Fri Sep 03 1999 - 07:08:34 EDT

At 11:04 PM +0100 9/2/99, Michael Haggett wrote:
>In response to Carl Conrad I would not want to take issue with whether the S
>of the future originated in the same way as the S of the aorist,
>particularly not as far back as proto-IE. But, while it seems to be true
>that in any particular time one's thought patterns are determined by the
>language one uses, it is equally true that in the long term (centuries, if
>not less) language must tend to develop to accommodate the particular way of
>thinking of the people who use it.

I would not dispute that origins of a morphological feature need not be
determinative of perceptions of the tense meanings at a long-subsequent
date--just as it is true that demonstrable etymological derivations,
however interesting or even revealing of curious facts of word-history,
more often than not are inadequate clues to word-meanings at any particular
point down the road in a language's course of development. I am still
inclined to be dubious, however, that the -S- element in the formation of
futures and first-aorists was actually linked in the imagination of
speakers and writers of Koine Greek. There are still many second-aorist
forms in use in the Koine, some of them conjugated with alpha-endings, and
I think that the alpha endings in the indicative might play at least as
significant a role as an aorist identifying feature as the -S- --insofar as
any particular feature of the aorist morphology can be said to identify its
forms distinctly; aorist middles seem to be giving way in later Greek to
more "passive deponents" with -QH- morphologies with reflexive sense. I
would question, therefore, whether the -S- element in futures and aorists
would have been enough to establish a clear association of meaning in the
minds of the speakers and writers of Koine Greek.

>So for me it's not about origins but about the developed form. My point was
>that the aorist and future in Koine Greek correlate to such a degree that
>there is essentially no difference between them in the non-indicative
>moods - to the extent that they, together, would have been regarded as "the
>simple tense". As parallels to this the imperfect and present were together
>regarded as "the continuous tense" and the pluperfect and perfect as "the
>complete tense". The only difference in each pairing being that the former
>was past-time in the indicative only. If we were to appreciate the
>difference between our past-present-future way of thinking and the Greek
>continuous-simple-complete way of thinking, it could only help our
>understanding of the NT.

Again, it seems to me that more is being claimed here than the evidence can
clearly demonstrate. I may not be able to demonstrate any more decisively
an alternative way of understanding these relationships, but I think it's
worth considering that in conditional clauses (other than generalizing
types), the subjunctive of any tense (present, perfect--not just the
aorist) is oriented to future time; the optative hardly appears in Koine
before the Atticizing movement restores it with other features of classical
Attic to literary use. Another item worth considering is the extent to
which the aorist indicative in the perfective sense often seems to take the
place of the perfect tense so that the aorist functions somewhat like the
Latin perfect tense, where the original perfect and aorist tenses have
fused into a single morphology. And finally, even in classical Attic, the
pluperfect sense gets expressed more frequently by the aorist indicative
than by the pluperfect tense. In sum, I don't think the facts of tense
usage offer sufficient support for the neat scheme of differentiation that
Michael presents, particular with regard to lumping together of the aorist
and the future.

>What I hoped to communicate was that this way of thinking could explain why
>there was no need for something like a future perfect within the regular
>form of the Greek verb (Al Kidd's original question). Carl Conrad had said
>in his answer to Al that we can't really get inside the ancient Greek mind,
>from my perspective of the developed form of the Greek verb I wanted to
>disagree. This meant presenting a different logic, and I apologize for
>being so lengthy.

I really do find schemes like this fascinating and I'm always hoping to
find that they are really illuminating. Yet for my part I continue to feel
that the phenomena of Koine Greek tense usage are more complex than this
scheme represents them as being, and I also continue to feel rather
skeptical that we can get inside the minds of Koine Greek speakers and
writers and ascertain their reasons for avoidance of the inflected future
perfect or their growing readiness to use periphrastic forms even for the
imperfect. I'm just not so sure about the extent to which linguistic
changes are a matter of conscious and deliberate choices by the speakers of
the language in any given case.

Carl W. Conrad
Department of Classics/Washington University
One Brookings Drive/St. Louis, MO, USA 63130/(314) 935-4018
Home: 7222 Colgate Ave./St. Louis, MO 63130/(314) 726-5649

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