[b-greek] Verbal Aspect follow-up

From: Wayne Leman (wleman@mcn.net)
Date: Thu Nov 09 2000 - 15:05:21 EST

> As to Wayne and Dr. Decker's earlier comments:
> I think I should restate my concern this way:
> All human beings, regardless of geographical isolation or linguistic
> limitations, innately think (conceptualize) in terms of past, present, and
> future. This is innate to the human soul, regardless of societal norms.
> are you saying this is not the case?

This is not the case, Mark. We only assume this because it is what we are
used to from Western European languages. Many languages do not have a past
tense or a future tense, but the speakers can still very competently speak
of things which have happened in the past or will happen in the future, but
that doesn't mean that they have tense in their languages. As to whether or
not all human beings have innate concepts of past, present, and future, this
is a theoretical question, open to empirical testing. We can only speculate
without proper scientific testing to determine what is actually the case,

> Now, I am NOT denying that Koine Greek may indeed be an Aspectual language
> (even to the extent that Porter claims), I am simply saying that such a
> language is counter-intuitive to the way humans innately think.

No, this is not true at all. Humans also intuitively think in terms of
aspect (and we do so all the time in English), if you are wishing to focus
on innate concepts. There are many psychological "universal" (yet to be
proven empirially, as to whether they are truly universal or not) concepts
which are not formallly encoded in the morphology or syntax of the languages
of those who have those concepts. Languages are formal codes; they do not
necessarily reflect the conceptual codes of those who speak those languages,
although there is often a high degree of correlation between cognition and
linguistic categories in language.

I realize that Benjamin Whorf and Edward Sapir would take some issue with
me, as they presented their Sapir-Whorf hypothesis which says, rather in the
converse of what you have suggested, that human languages "shape" cognition.
I, personally, don't buy this. When we come to issues like which comes
first, the chicken or the egg, in this case, cognition or language, I have
to come down on the side of those who would claim that cognition (your
"innative concepts") come first, then language.

> an English, Spanish, or any other language specific claim. Language is
> simply a vehicle manufactured to express our conceptualizations.

Very true.

>And whether
> or not you speak English, Swahili, or one of the African clicking
> we all initially conceptualize in terms of past, present, and future.

No, cross-linguistic research has clearly shown that not everyone does, at
least not conceptualization that is reflected linguistically, but I think it
even extends more deeply to cognition itself.

If we want to make the claim that past, present, and future are innate
universals, then we must also make the claim that completive, incompletive,
continuative, punctiliar, etc. are also innative universals.

> I would think a linguist would jump in here :o )

I'm jumping! :)

> So, in conclusion, if Greek were a non-temporal based verbal system, it
> would necessitate a tremendous strain on its citizens since it runs
> to the human phenomena of "conceptualization."

Aspect is just as cognitively natural as tense. There is nothing
counter-intuitive about the Greek aspectual system. Koine Greek was just as
easy for children to learn as English is. And English happens not to have a
future tense, BTW! We've just been taught in "grammar school" that it does,
but in terms of true tense systems of languages of the world, English does
not have a future tense. English, for sure, has a past tense. I'm not
convinced it has any other tense. The linguistic categories we call present
and future for English as not really present and future. What we call
present in English is really, rather, something like a gnomic (or habitual)
aspect, and what we call "future" in English is a periphrastic construction
which is not a tense category, as all. But it still communicate the
*meaning* that what we are talking about will occur in the future. There is
a big difference between meaning (close to your innate concepts) and formal
grammatical encodings of meanings.

 This is not to say that
> humans can not also think in terms of an event in progress or complete,
> that is a secondary conceptualization.

Not necessarily. It is entirely possible that progressive vs. completive is
more basic. I don't think we can really say which is more basic. These are
simply theoretical issues which are extremely difficult to pin down, unless
we do some very careful empirical, scientific testing.

> I really am trying to determine if Porter is right and, what appears to be
> the case, the majority of other grammarians (including Hellenistic
> grammarians!!) are wrong.

The issue isn't really whether or not Porter is right, but whether or not
Greek had a tense or aspect system. The answer is that it had an aspect
system. But Greek speakers could still speak of past, present, and future
events. They just didn't do it with the morphology of their language.

> For example, I believe Wallace and Fanning clearly acknowledge the
> nature of the Greek language (as do most other grammarians), but not to
> extent that the verbal system by itself (without deictic indicators) is
> incapable of temporal reference. Why impose limits on the way we think?

No one is.

> I must admit, I would think a temporal based verbal system would be
> comparatively "advanced"

Whoa! There is nothing more advanced about tense in contrast to aspect. They
are simply different systems, reflecting different, uh, aspects (!) of
language. :)

Which is more advanced, the color red or the color yellow? The answer is
neither; they are just different.

>to a non-temporal based verbal system, simply
> because non-temporal based systems have more limitations

Not at all, really,


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