03: The expression of past, present, and future

Exploring Albert Rijksbaron's book, The Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek: An Introduction, to see how it would need to be adapted for Koine Greek. Much of the focus will be on finding Koine examples to illustrate the same points Rijksbaron illustrates with Classical examples, and places where Koine Greek diverges from Classical Greek.
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03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 10th, 2013, 6:02 pm

In this section (§ 3), R. clearly places himself in the camp that the Greek tenses (also) convey the notion of absolute time in the indicative. The purpose of the tenses is to locate the state of affairs given by the verb relative to the moment of utterance.

R. identifies three tenses that are past (state of affairs located before the moment of utterance): the secondary present indicative (the imperfect), the secondary aorist indicative (the aorist), and the secondary perfect indicative (the pluperfect).

R. identifies three tenses that are present (state of affairs located at the moment of utterance): the primary present indicative (the present) and the primary perfect indicative (the perfect).

R. identifies two tenses that are future (state of affairs located after the moment of utterance): the future indicative (the future) and the future perfect indicative (the future perfect).

R. also divides the tenses into primary and secondary. The primary tenses express present or future, while the secondary tenses express past.

R. asserts that the three past tenses do not differ in temporal value (they are all past) but they differ in "the semantic value of the tense stems, as defined in § 1," that is, aspect. Similarly for the present and perfect: both of them refer to the present.

In note 1, R. concedes that the primary present indicative (the present) does not always describe states of affairs taking place at the moment of utterance. It also has (i) habitual and (ii) universal/timeless readings.

In note 2, R. promises to discuss the historic present in § 3.

In note 3, R. explains that there is no primary aorist indicative (which indicates 'completedness') because present states of affairs are not completed.

In note 4, R. notes that the primary indicatives are also called principal tenses, while the secondary indicatives are called historical tenses.

In note 5, R. claims that the imperative also expresses absolute time, that of the future.

R. presents a chart of his understanding of the indicative forms. I don't know how to format it for this forums, but it's basically a table with tenses (absolute times) in the rows and aspects in the columns.

R. then explains that the other moods (i.e., the subjunctive and optative) plus the infinitive and participle do not independently locate a state of affairs within time but interact with other verbal forms, especially the indicative. He gives some examples of this.

In note 6, R. details some restrictions on the subjunctive and optative.

That's the summary of this chapter. In the next post in this topic, I'll briefly indicate some differences with the Koine and other theoreticians.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 10th, 2013, 6:16 pm

The largest difference between the classical system and the Koine is that the synthetic future perfect in Koine has become extinct. It has been replaced by a periphrastic construction, so that there are only six tense forms to consider. Also, the optative is nearly dead in Koine.

The major theoretical issue is whether the Koine system (and presumably the classical one as well) actually does express tense or as R. put it, location in absolute time. In the Koine field, this has been a hotly debated issue at least since 1989 and shows no sign of ending soon. I will only note at this point that R. recognizes exceptions to his basic scheme in the notes. The primary present indicative, in addition to its present sense, also has habitual, gnomic, and historical readings. In the sections that follow, R. is well aware of other apparent exceptions to his claim of absolute tense. Thus, the issue rather becomes one of judgment, not knowledge: do the exceptions swallow the rule to such an extent that it's better to junk the notion of absolute location in time altogether? R.'s answer is clearly no, but some researchers in Koine argue the opposite.

Unfortunately, this issue has gotten the lion's share of the attention, without much to show for it. I think all of the leading advocates on all sides are aware of the complexities of the Greek verb and the non-temporal functions of the tenses. The issues are not so much the "facts on the ground," but on the theoretical framework used to explain it.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 10th, 2013, 9:04 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:The major theoretical issue is whether the Koine system (and presumably the classical one as well) actually does express tense or as R. put it, location in absolute time. In the Koine field, this has been a hotly debated issue at least since 1989 and shows no sign of ending soon. I will only note at this point that T. recognizes exceptions to his basic scheme in the notes. The primary present indicative, in addition to its present sense, also has habitual, gnomic, and historical readings. In the sections that follow, R. is well aware of other apparent exceptions to his claim of absolute tense. Thus, the issue rather becomes one of judgment, not knowledge: do the exceptions swallow the rule to such an extent that it's better to junk the notion of absolute location in time altogether? R.'s answer is clearly no, but some researchers in Koine argue the opposite.

Unfortunately, this issue has gotten the lion's share of the attention, without much to show for it. I think all of the leading advocates on all sides are aware of the complexities of the Greek verb and the non-temporal functions of the tenses. The issues is not so much the "facts on the ground," but on the theoretical framework used to explain it.
Very well put.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by MAubrey » July 11th, 2013, 6:57 pm

I would add that the "exceptions" can only be viewed as exceptions if they are not cognitively motivated in some way, i.e. are they accessible from prototypical tense usages. This is the fundamental question that, I think, needs to be asked if we want to move this debate forward--though I'm not convinced its much of a debate. The tensless forces did little more than establish a beachhead. They haven't been successful in pushing inland.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by RandallButh » July 12th, 2013, 10:21 am

I would agree with Mike that there isn't a real debate.

In addition, I cannot say there is basic agreement on 'facts on the ground' between 'tenseless' and 'tensed' positions on Greek.

The 'timeless' position mis-represented the aspectual incongruity of the historical present, gave implausible readings to the augment in the imperfect, skewed the statitistics, ignored blocked collocations like *αὔριον ἦλθον "*Tomorrow I came," and got prominence and foregrounding inside out and upside down. As a result, it did not read the aorist indicative according to the Greek framework.

Yes, the issue of time in the Greek verb created confusion for some in the NT field, but it did not do so in the classical field. As Fanning said twenty years ago, Porter has made as energetic a defense of the 'timeless' position as may be expected, but it fails to convince.

I would recommend that the NT field move on and join with the rest of the Greek field. Students can be given a brief summary about why Greek did include time in its verb, and they can then spend valuable time learning and internalizing the subtleties of the aspectual system.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 12th, 2013, 11:27 am

RandallButh wrote:In addition, I cannot say there is basic agreement on 'facts on the ground' between 'tenseless' and 'tensed' positions on Greek.
Sorry, I meant to refer to such basic facts such as the existence of gnomic, historical present, and pragmatic remoteness readings. You know, the ones that get trotted out every time to argue that Greek does not have tense.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 12th, 2013, 12:01 pm

MAubrey wrote:I would add that the "exceptions" can only be viewed as exceptions if they are not cognitively motivated in some way, i.e. are they accessible from prototypical tense usages
I would agree. I find it interesting that Porter seems to be aware of the notion of prototypicality but he explicitly rejects it:
Porter 1989, Verbal Aspect, pp. 79-80 wrote:One of the problems with investigating tense distinctions in languages is that the names for tense categories are often based only on typical functions of the tense forms concerned, and do not capture the full range of functions that a given category may express (see Porter, "Terminology"). This is potentially very misleading, because it is tempting to see that the typical function that motivates the form name as the function, i.e. to treat a short label as far more informative and exhaustive than it really is.
The paragraph goes on to say that "most grammars of Greek have taken a prototypical view."

I have not been able to get a hold of his "Terminology" article yet, so it's hard to tell what is really motivating him, but a comment on the next page ("Therefore tense categories must include some component to reflect their essential semantic (non-temporal) component.") suggests to me that he thinks that it is possible to formulate a fixed, basic meaning for every category. This meaning for the "tense" categories cannot be temporal according to Porter (historical present!!), so it must be something else. At least, that's how I understand the reasoning.

I can't tell whether he just doesn't like the notion of prototype or whether he just doesn't get what that notion is supposed to accomplish. In either case, a major theoretical move on Porter's part is to reject semantic prototypes and look instead for some constant basic meaning, no matter how vague or bleached.
MAubrey wrote:This is the fundamental question that, I think, needs to be asked if we want to move this debate forward--though I'm not convinced its much of a debate. The tensless forces did little more than establish a beachhead. They haven't been successful in pushing inland.
Well, it depends on "successful." I'm not aware of it seeping into the commentary writers much at all (and Porter has a blog post expressing his disappointment about that), and he hasn't convinced Bill Mounce and Dan Wallace, whose beginning and intermediate level books are so popular. But there have been a number of monographs promoting the tense-less view (Decker, Con Campbell, Mathewson), and that to me shows that there is some life in the tense-less view.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by MAubrey » July 12th, 2013, 3:02 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:The paragraph goes on to say that "most grammars of Greek have taken a prototypical view."

I have not been able to get a hold of his "Terminology" article yet, so it's hard to tell what is really motivating him, but a comment on the next page ("Therefore tense categories must include some component to reflect their essential semantic (non-temporal) component.") suggests to me that he thinks that it is possible to formulate a fixed, basic meaning for every category. This meaning for the "tense" categories cannot be temporal according to Porter (historical present!!), so it must be something else. At least, that's how I understand the reasoning.

I can't tell whether he just doesn't like the notion of prototype or whether he just doesn't get what that notion is supposed to accomplish. In either case, a major theoretical move on Porter's part is to reject semantic prototypes and look instead for some constant basic meaning, no matter how vague or bleached.
While prototype theory goes as far back as 1969 (Berlin & Kay), I think Porter's use of the term is more conventional, particularly since he's attributing it to the old grammars. So it isn't clear to me that he's rejecting prototype theory as a semantic framework specifically...

Porter's terminology article is in Trinity's library, I'll see if I can check it out on Monday when I'm on campus.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 12th, 2013, 4:28 pm

MAubrey wrote:While prototype theory goes as far back as 1969 (Berlin & Kay), I think Porter's use of the term is more conventional, particularly since he's attributing it to the old grammars. So it isn't clear to me that he's rejecting prototype theory as a semantic framework specifically...
Let me quote the context that refers to the old grammars more fully: "Dahl (Tense, 3-10) distinguishes prototypical from focused and extensional from intensional meanings of tense/aspect categories. My chapt. 1 shows that most grammars of Greek have taken a prototypical view, although some are extensional ... and others intensional ..." (Note that I've omitted his quotations of Dahl, one of which has a typo for the page number. Both come from page 9.)

Östen Dahl's Tense and Aspect is available on line, and I think that the text lays out prototype theory fairly clearly (at least to me) though succinctly. Although I must presume that Porter is aware of the theory, at least as laid out by Dahl, because he cited the pages, I can't tell if he's all that interested in the semantic theory behind Dahl's discussion. My quotations come from a section of Porter's monograph is about proper terminology, not semantics, and he seems to take his semantic theory for granted. However he understood prototype theory, that does not appear to be the semantic theory is using.
MAubrey wrote:Porter's terminology article is in Trinity's library, I'll see if I can check it out on Monday when I'm on campus.
Yes, I would appreciate that very much.
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Re: 03: The expression of past, present, and future

Post by MAubrey » July 14th, 2013, 12:52 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:Let me quote the context that refers to the old grammars more fully: "Dahl (Tense, 3-10) distinguishes prototypical from focused and extensional from intensional meanings of tense/aspect categories. My chapt. 1 shows that most grammars of Greek have taken a prototypical view, although some are extensional ... and others intensional ..." (Note that I've omitted his quotations of Dahl, one of which has a typo for the page number. Both come from page 9.)

Östen Dahl's Tense and Aspect is available on line, and I think that the text lays out prototype theory fairly clearly (at least to me) though succinctly. Although I must presume that Porter is aware of the theory, at least as laid out by Dahl, because he cited the pages, I can't tell if he's all that interested in the semantic theory behind Dahl's discussion. My quotations come from a section of Porter's monograph is about proper terminology, not semantics, and he seems to take his semantic theory for granted. However he understood prototype theory, that does not appear to be the semantic theory is using.
Right, well, I stand by my previous statement. Porter hasn't exactly filled me with confidence when it comes to his handling of the secondary linguistic literature--his interpretation of the terms markedness and grounding are notable examples on that front. He's also generally dismissive of Dahl in his literature review, though I can't find the page number just now (the lack of an author index isn't helpful).
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