Re: Is TEMPUS A Part of Greek Grammar?

From: Carl W. Conrad (
Date: Sat Sep 25 1999 - 08:03:11 EDT

At 12:51 PM -0400 9/24/99, Jim West wrote:
>At 11:44 AM 9/24/99 -0400, you wrote:
>>Whoa! You're making a major assumption, Jim. To suggest that verbs do not
>>grammaticalize temporal relationships in the Greek verb ("tense") says
>>nothing about whether or not the language can express time or not. You're
>>confusing theoretical, semantic, metalinguistic tense (M-tense, a deictic
>>category) with language tense (L-tense, a morphological category)--those
>>are Levinson's terms.
>Im not confusing them at all. I think theoretical approaches are bogus from
>the start because they dont deal with reality. How language works in the
>real world is what interests me- not how it works in the aether of theory.

Yes, and of course, it's something like Esperanto that Fanning and Porter
and Olsen and Decker are looking at, isn't it? It's not as if it were
actual NT Greek texts they were studying! I can even sympathize with Clay
Bartholomew's and your disdain for grammatical theory to some extent
(although I don't think I'd want to get a chip on my shoulder when anyone
brings it up), but it seems rather silly to suppose that what they are
looking at is something other than "how language works in the real world."
I don't think that sort of research is really any more "ethereal" than
research on the meaning of DIKAIOSUNH or PISTIS IHSOU CRISTOU in Paul's
letters. My own feeling about the matter is that there's an awful lot about
how ancient Greek works/worked "in the real world" that we don't know and
can find out by asking the right questions and investigating the available
data. I think the questions about aspect and temporality that are being
looked at closely now are serious questions, but I also think that it will
take quite some time for the dust to settle and a consensus to be reached
that people can agree upon. To you perhaps it may seem like arguing over
the number of angels that can dance on a pinhead, or squaring the circle.
Perhaps it might be more "profitable" to get a good translation of
"Jabberwocky" into Koine Greek--or at least more fun, but we have to get
our fun where we can and we have to follow our noses when it comes to
research interests.

>> All that Young/Silva are questioning is whether or
>>not Greek grammaticalizes L-tense (Porter denies it outright, as does
>>McKay). There is no language or culture that does not have M-tense, but a
>>number of languages lack L-tense. Although a few may debate it, OT Hebrew
>>does just that--and it certainly isn't a bizzare idea there, nor is it in
>>Greek. Languages express temporal relationships in a variety of ways--tense
>>is only one of them. The Am. Sign Language example that someone else
>>mentioned is a good example, as is Burmese and Hopi.
>umm... now your speaking swahili to me. Again, theoretical approaches to
>"why" language works or "how" it works are beyond the pale so far as I am
>concerned. Im glad some folks are interested in them (though for the life
>of me I cant see why). Still, examining the entrails of the gnats must be
>useful for something... (maybe, remotely.) Perhaps Aristophanes could shed
>some light here for us.

I can't speak Swahili, but I'm told that it's a pretty rich language well
worth studying, not the least because it's spoken by a sizable population
in central and eastern Africa; I would imagine that questions about NT
Greek are open to discussion in it, although we haven't had B-Greekers from
Africa write us in Swahili--yet. As for the entrails of gnats ... there's a
good deal of research on fruitflies going on in our Biology labs here at
Washington U (and elsewhere too, no doubt) that seems to be making inroads
slowly on our understanding of genetics. Aristotle's quip to some who
thought he'd lost his mind because he was dissecting fish said something
like, "God is to be found in the entrails of fish." He may have been
jesting, but I think he was also making a theological assertion that is not
without some profundity. And I suspect that we may be a little healthier
and less receptive to some kinds of epidemic because of research into the
entrails of mosquitoes. And by the way, Jim, there's a choral ode in
Aristophanes that does a nice imitation of insects buzzing in the ears, if
you're interested.

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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