[b-greek] Sequence of actions between verb tenses

From: Mark House (mhouse@fuller.edu)
Date: Fri Aug 10 2001 - 15:19:07 EDT

"Wayne Leman" <Wayne_Leman@SIL.ORG> wrote:

> Mark, isn't the use of the Pres. Indic. following some other tense simply
> the default tense marking for Greek? What this means, as I understand it,
> that the Pres. Indic. is "unmarked" (a technical linguistic term) for
> semantic tense when another verb has set up the tense within a discourse
> segment, but takes its semantic tense from that preceding verb. Tenses
> within the discourse segment would often then be *relative* to the tense
> the verb which set the semantic tense for that section. I know that many
> languages work this way with tense, and I think I recall that Greek does
> well.

Thanks for your response, Wayne. You make a good point, although I'll leave
it to some of our more discourse-oriented list members to confirm or supply

In response, however, I would note that in the John 1 context, the present
tense does not seem to be functioning as a semantic "ditto" as you describe.
I say this because from verse 1 down through verse 14, the narrative is
dominated by repeated aorists (and imperfects of eimi). Then suddenly there
is a tense shift in v. 15, followed by a continuation of aorists after the
quotation from John the Baptist. If the present is merely functioning
neutrally to carry the previous tense forward, why did the writer wait until
v. 15 to use the device, and why did he abandon it when he continued the

Another point supporting my understanding of the present in v. 15 ("Iwannhs
marturei = "John provides this testimony"), which opens the John the Baptist
testimony section, is the statement of v. 19, which closes the section: "Kai
auth estin h marturia tou Iwavnnou," which I would (at this point) contend
means essentially the same thing.

Mark House

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