Aspect of Historical Present (split from Augment and Aspect)

Aspect of Historical Present (split from Augment and Aspect)

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 1st, 2012, 4:42 pm

I reviewed what Andrew Sihler's comparative grammar of Greek and Latin has to say about aspect and the augment, and here's my distillation of it.

Sihler regards the parent language (PIE) as distinguishing eventive verbs and stative verbs. Stative verbs did not have tense and eventually became the Greek perfect. The Greek pluperfect and future perfect are later developments.

As for eventive verbs, Sihler holds there is a distinction between durative (imperfective) verbs and punctual verbs (aorist). According to Sihler, punctual (aorist) verbs did not have tense.

As for durative (imperfective) verbs, Sihler holds that they are distinguished by tense. The default is the imperfect tense, and it has the default so-called "secondary" endings. The primary endings are actually derived from the secondary endings and they mark the durative verb as "non-past." Durative verbs with primary endings then became present-tense verbs.

At some point in Greek, holds Sihler, the augment, derived from some kind of adverb, began to be attached to imperfects and anterior aorists to mark them as past tense. Only the first verb of a narrative sequence needed to be marked for tense (augment) and mood, and it could be followed by augmentless secondary ending verbs. Eventually, the augment takes over the imperfect and aorists, and originally augmentless aorists either acquired the augment or got re-analyzed as historical presents.

So, if I understand Sihler correctly, the original Greek verbal system was primarily aspectual, but there was an unmarked past / marked non-past tense distinction for durative, eventive verbs. Then, the augment was added to mark imperfects and certain aorists for past tense, and then generalized for all aorists. The historical presents in this scheme derive from aorists that were unmarked for time. So tense was indeed marked in Greek verb system according to Sihler, but originally only for imperfective indicatives, where non-past duratives were marked with primarily endings and then, later, past duratives were marked with the augment.

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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 2nd, 2012, 4:44 am

thank you for the Sihler summary.

the aspectual proto-history of the Greek verb is pretty obvious. One would think that the temporal function of the augment is equally obvious.
Naturally, like all things in developmental explanations, the original etymology is not the synchronic meaning. Just for a playful example, it would not matter if the augment came from a proto-Greek ἐχθές 'yesterday' or ἐκεῖ 'there'. As the verbal augment it was time oriented, certainly not distance. And just what is it that people find wrong with a 100% co-occurrence of the imperfect with past time (excepting counterfactual conditions, which by definition don't exist)? Or is it only 99% co-occurrence, I forget, something possible with my 'mapping' view of language and verbs.

The historical present explanation is interesting. It correctly captures the fact that historical presents function aoristically in narrative, directly against the projections of some NT Greek 'aspect-only' theories. In fact, the "aoristic" historical present and past-referring augment are the two most powerful contraindications of 'aspect-only' NT theory. The lack of *αὔριον ἦλθον isn't bad, either. (Things like ancient Greek testimony, and the lack of a demonstrable change of the system, et al., are secondary. [Actually, aspect has expanded in the future, where modern Greek now distinguishes imperfective future from perfective future].) I'm on record for over a decade on b-greek that the aoristic historical present subverts 'aspect-only' and has been grossly mis-read and mis-represented by 'A-O' practitioners.
However, I haven't studied the pre-history and PIE enough to commit to Sihler's morphological interpretation of the historical present. (I don't plan on learning Sanskrit, either. I'd rather speak Koine--I threw that in for Mike.) I would also be happy with a pragmatic genesis of the historical present phenomenon. Seems to me that the ancients would have had a few good storytellers around a campfire.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 2nd, 2012, 9:53 am

I should clarify that Sihler thinks that historical presents come from both imperfect and aorists that were augmentless. He mentions that this origin of the historical present has been "convincingly argued" but due to the nature of his grammar there are unfortunately no citations to the literature that support this.

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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby Mark Lightman » March 2nd, 2012, 11:10 am

Randall wrote: I haven't studied the pre-history and PIE enough to commit to Sihler's morphological interpretation of the historical present. (I don't plan on learning Sanskrit, either. I'd rather speak Koine…


Hi, Randall,

I can’t comment on your καλὸν λόγιον because we are not allowed to discuss pedagogy here on the Greek Language and Linguistics Subforum. Rather than start a new thread, I will send you a Private Message. In case I forget to mention it in my Private Message, remind me to say that over on B-Sanskrit they have the same argument about the value of learning about proto-Greek versus the value of speaking Sanskrit. They had a thread over there, “Why not start with Hindi?” in which one wag wrote:

εἰ μὲν οὖν θέλει τις τὴν γλῶσσαν τὴν Σανσκριτικήν, λαλείτω δή Σανσκριτιστί


As to the substance of your argument about the augment and aspect, I completely agree.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 2nd, 2012, 1:36 pm

Carlson:
I should clarify that Sihler thinks that historical presents come from both imperfect and aorists that were augmentless. He mentions that this origin of the historical present has been "convincingly argued" but due to the nature of his grammar there are unfortunately no citations to the literature that support this.


thanks for the clarification. However, that doesn't change the overall argument.

Why? Because 'aspect-only' requires that the historical present be naturally 100% imperfective. When it becomes obvious that many a historical present would naturally require an aorist, they must recognize the the structure is being used for rhetorical effect AGAINST its common meaning. Which is what everyone has been saying about the Greek historical present for over 2000 years already. Using an imperfective PRESENT time structure in a past context against its normal meaning can make for more interesting storytelling.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 3rd, 2012, 9:45 am

RandallButh wrote:thanks for the clarification. However, that doesn't change the overall argument.


Good!

RandallButh wrote:Why? Because 'aspect-only' requires that the historical present be naturally 100% imperfective. When it becomes obvious that many a historical present would naturally require an aorist, they must recognize the the structure is being used for rhetorical effect AGAINST its common meaning. Which is what everyone has been saying about the Greek historical present for over 2000 years already. Using an imperfective PRESENT time structure in a past context against its normal meaning can make for more interesting storytelling.


It is not exactly clear to me what the aspect-only folks think about the aspect of the historical present. I don't think they are unified except to note that it is a problem for the tense people. I do agree with the point you've been making that the historical present is not only a mismatch in tense but also in aspect.

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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 3rd, 2012, 1:27 pm

It is not exactly clear to me what the aspect-only folks think about the aspect of the historical present.


The 'A-O' 'present', is imperfective. Their claim is that there is no semantic problem with a historical 'present' since the present is an
IMPERFECTIVE aspect without any tense and can therefore occur in past contexts.
But they do not explain why it occurs in contexts that would call for perfectives. Actually, they got a free ride on this at the beginning of the discussion in the 1990's. That is why I blame the field to some extent for being gullible. I don't have the Carson book on the debate at home. I would be happy to hear that the issue was discussed, and I will stand corrected.

If I remember correctly, Con Campbell tentativley agreed on this list last year that the historical present appears to occur in contexts that would expect perfectives.
If so, then his overall system will be changing in the near future. When one item in a closed system changes, the other items re-orient.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby KimmoHuovila » March 4th, 2012, 2:23 am

Randall,

Are you saying that
(a) the historical presents are semantically perfective. They are morphologically marked in that the present stem codes the perfective aspect.

or

(b) the historical presents are semantically imperfective. They are pragmatically marked in that they occur in slots where the perfective aspect would be unmarked.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 4th, 2012, 5:30 am

χαιρε Κιμμω

(b) the historical presents are semantically imperfective. They are pragmatically marked in that they occur in slots where the perfective aspect would be unmarked.


The answer is 'b', of course. Thank you for the clarification.

And as Greeks have been saying for 2000 years, the historical present is marked for time, too, because they are semantically 'present' but occur is slots where a non-present would be expected.

This point is crucial. Once the AspectOnly people recognize that their 'semantic theory' gets overridden by pragmatics with aspect, they should have no theoretical objection to having their semantic theory overridden by pragmatics in time. their argument unravels from that point.

The only difference between a pragmatic use of aspect and time is that 'past time' is easier to define on absolute terms, and 'perfective' requires more finesse and careful reading before the audience realizes that they are being sold the Brooklyn Bridge. (That is American slang for something bogus, false.) Because in theory, it is illegitimate for a person to allow a pragmatic use of aspect but then forbid a pragmatic use of 'absolute time'. This is why prototypicality theory and cognitive linguistics and complexity theory can be friends.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby KimmoHuovila » March 4th, 2012, 9:24 am

RandallButh wrote:χαιρε Κιμμω

(b) the historical presents are semantically imperfective. They are pragmatically marked in that they occur in slots where the perfective aspect would be unmarked.


The answer is 'b', of course. Thank you for the clarification.



I agree.


And as Greeks have been saying for 2000 years, the historical present is marked for time, too, because they are semantically 'present' but occur is slots where a non-present would be expected.

This point is crucial. Once the AspectOnly people recognize that their 'semantic theory' gets overridden by pragmatics with aspect, they should have no theoretical objection to having their semantic theory overridden by pragmatics in time. their argument unravels from that point.



I am not sure about this argument. I see a difference between aspect and tense here. The imperfective of the historical present does not contradict the semantics of the sentence, it is just pragmatically marked. I do not expect to see any Vendlerian achievements (temporally indivisible as far as the linguistic expression goes) in historical presents, and if I understand you correctly, you don't either. With tense, the picture changes somewhat. Past time is incompatible with present time, whereas the imperfective aspect is compatible with anything that is not a Vendlerian achievement, even if it is marked. Therefore there is a fundamental difference between the two.

The issue may be somewhat related to how one defines the border between semantics and pragmatics. If one holds a view that semantics is uncancelable and that the semantics of the historical present cannot be imperfective present time because of historical presents, there is still no contradiction here, and it seems to me that your argument does not bite. I do not mean that I would agree with these presuppositions, but I suspect that many aspect-only people do.


The only difference between a pragmatic use of aspect and time is that 'past time' is easier to define on absolute terms, and 'perfective' requires more finesse and careful reading before the audience realizes that they are being sold the Brooklyn Bridge. (That is American slang for something bogus, false.) Because in theory, it is illegitimate for a person to allow a pragmatic use of aspect but then forbid a pragmatic use of 'absolute time'. This is why prototypicality theory and cognitive linguistics and complexity theory can be friends.


I agree that prototype theory is the way to go here, and the methodological foundation of aspect-only seems to contradict prototype theory, but I am not sure how convincing your argument is to those who have not bought the theory. For those who have, I am not sure how much it adds. Am I missing something or do I misunderstand your argument in some way?
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