Aspect of Historical Present (split from Augment and Aspect)

Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2012, 1:59 am

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.


Now I'm a little confused. Vendlerian achievements are telic. Rijksbaron's claim was that historical presents have telic verbs.
So we do expect to find Vendlerian achievements expressed with historical presents. The irony is that the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway. This shows that a pragmatic marking is taking place beyond simple description. The choice of verb forces a change of perspective in the audience. That is exactly the same thing that happens with time. Using a present in a past situation forces a change of perspective in the audience. The 'now' is being reset and placed within the story.

Here is an example from thread on "historical present 'against the grain'"
Cf. Mark 8:22-23
ἔρχονται 'are coming' >> as if 'still on the way', but contextually this is complete 'came'.
φέρουσιν 'are carrying' >> as if 'still bringing', but contextually complete 'brought'.
παρακαλοῦσιν 'are begging' >> as if 'in the process of begging', but contextually complete 'begged'.
(Then with a new, central subject)
ἐπιλαβόμενος ... ἐξήνεγκεν 'he (having taken) ... brought out' >> this is definitely after all of the events in the above sequence, and these events 'taken ... brought out' are contextually complete and are presented as contextually complete.


Incidentally, I wonder if we have many historical presents with general temporal adverbs in their clause like 'now', 'then', 'at that time'?
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby Eeli Kaikkonen » March 5th, 2012, 4:45 am

RandallButh wrote:
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.

Now I'm a little confused. Vendlerian achievements are telic. Rijksbaron's claim was that historical presents have telic verbs.
So we do expect to find Vendlerian achievements expressed with historical presents. The irony is that the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway. This shows that a pragmatic marking is taking place beyond simple description. The choice of verb forces a change of perspective in the audience. That is exactly the same thing that happens with time. Using a present in a past situation forces a change of perspective in the audience. The 'now' is being reset and placed within the story.


But this has never been a point in discussions before, has it? The point of the aspect-only people have been that HP occurres in situations (discourse wise, not event type wise!) where imperfective tense is expected, while others have said that actually perfective aorist is expected. The argument given by Kimmo, that there's a theoretical difference between tense and aspect here, may be true for event type, but not for discourse. Am I correct?

And what Randall says about the present tense ("the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway") could be said about the imperfect tense, too. Unless the meaning of 'context' is refined further. 'Real world/historical context' and 'discourse context' are two different things.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby KimmoHuovila » March 5th, 2012, 7:13 am

RandallButh wrote:
Now I'm a little confused. Vendlerian achievements are telic. Rijksbaron's claim was that historical presents have telic verbs.


Sorry for confusing you. I was not referring to Rijksbaron, but rather the fact that whenever you have a Vendlerian achievement and you put it in the imperfective, the event becomes iterative. This is true because only an expression capable of taking linguistic time can be looked at from the inside without repeating the action. If historical presents are really aspectually perfective, there should be nothing surprising in having a Vendlerian achievement with a historical present. If they are really aspectually imperfective, they should not exist (without the event being iterative, and thus no longer an achievement). This is how we can tell whether historical presents are a pragmatically marked use of the imperfective or a real perfective. This is the distinction I tried to ask you before. Putting this together with Rijksbaron, historical presents are all Vendlerian accomplishments, if the aspect is imperfective.

So we do expect to find Vendlerian achievements expressed with historical presents.


If this is indeed true, then your argument will hold much better, and I was wrong that historical presents are aspectually imperfective, but that it is a marked use of the imperfective. Then they are really aspectually perfective. Then the quest is to find such historical presents (that are not used iteratively). Can someone find one?

The irony is that the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway.

This in itself does not prove a perfective aspect, since the end point may be outside of the scope of predication of the sentence, but still assumed to have taken place before the next sentence. This would be just a pragmatically marked use of the imperfective, used in a context where a perfective would be unmarked.

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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2012, 7:16 am

Eeli eipen
The argument given by Kimmo, that there's a theoretical difference between tense and aspect here, may be true for event type, but not for discourse. Am I correct?


I would like to hear Kimmo's comment on this. I see things as inverted from what he said, so I suspect that there is a miscommunication at some level. As I mentioned, these things need a delicate reading because many issues slide into one another. 'Achievement' is a Vendlerian category and is part of lexical semantics. It is not directly a part of 'aspect' on the macro-level, at least in most languages. I can never remember all of the in's and out's of slavic aspect and do not know any of the Slavic languages. Kimmo at least speaks a fair bit of Russian.

palin Eeli eipen
And what Randall says about the present tense ("the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway") could be said about the imperfect tense, too. Unless the meaning of 'context' is refined further. 'Real world/historical context' and 'discourse context' are two different things.


Thank you for bringing up the imperfect. Yes. It, too, can be used pragmatically 'against the grain' for a backgrounding effect in context. For example, it can take obviously complete events and prepare for a significant event to follow or it can provide a 'fade out' for a paragraph close.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby KimmoHuovila » March 5th, 2012, 8:45 am

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:The argument given by Kimmo, that there's a theoretical difference between tense and aspect here, may be true for event type, but not for discourse. Am I correct?


I am not certain if I understand your question correctly, so in case I answer the wrong question, please try again.

I think that historical presents are temporally anomalous in that they do not code a non-past tense like present indicatives usually do. This should not be a cause of alarm to anyone working within the framework of prototype theory, cognitive linguistics, or construction grammar, or anyone who has noticed that the English past tense does not code past tense in counter-factual conditionals but does elsewhere. I mention this because some aspect-only people base their argument on this view of mine being theoretically impossible. This past use of the present indicative is used for discourse level pragmatics.

However, historical presents, I assume, do code the imperfective aspect. Its use in a narrative context where a perfective will do is marked. It is not normal, and this adds to the pragmatic effect. However, the aspect is still imperfective instead of perfective. Here is the difference to tense.

So, at the level of discourse, we have historical presents that have a processing function. The effect is achieved by using both tense and aspect in a marked way. Yet, in terms of what events may legitimately be coded with historical presents, they need to be codable with an imperfective.

If I am shown to be wrong in my assumption that we do not find historical presents with Vendlerian achievements, then historical presents do not code imperfective aspect. In this case Randall's argument has more teeth in that tense and aspect behave similarly.

So, in case I understood your question correctly, my answer is yes.

RandallButh wrote: 'Achievement' is a Vendlerian category and is part of lexical semantics. It is not directly a part of 'aspect' on the macro-level, at least in most languages.


I am not sure to what degree this is relevant here, but I elaborate on the relationship between the two.

In my opinion, Vendlerian categories are aspectual categories and they are not exclusively lexical semantics. Many of those who have worked with them have noticed that (always or at least sometimes) it is a phrase level category. 'Build' is an activity, but 'build a house' is an achievement. The significance of this has not been appreciated enough in NT Greek aspect discussions, though. The two expressions are in a nested relationship with each other. That is to say that we have two layers of aspect, an imperfective 'build', which is bounded with 'the house'. The composite expression is perfective. Now the verb, if imperfective, will open it again, and make the expression imperfective. The end point of the action is there, but need not be reached within the scope of predication.

I think that Vendlerian categories and grammatical aspect have a similar relationship with each other than the lexeme 'build' and the phrase 'build a house' in that they both represent aspect, but different layers of it. Fanning did a great job in studying the interaction between lexical aspect and grammatical aspect (though he used different terminology). However, he limited his study to only two layers. Greek grammaticalizes one layer of aspect in the verb form. Bulgarian grammaticalizes two layers. These are on top of the lexical aspect.

My theoretical frame of reference is explained more fully at http://ethesis.helsinki.fi/julkaisut/hu ... wardsa.pdf.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2012, 9:54 am

Kimmo egrafen
...whenever you have a Vendlerian achievement and you put it in the imperfective, the event becomes iterative. This is true because only an expression capable of taking linguistic time can be looked at from the inside without repeating the action. If historical presents are really aspectually perfective, there should be nothing surprising in having a Vendlerian achievement with a historical present. If they are really aspectually imperfective, they should not exist (without the event being iterative, and thus no longer an achievement). This is how we can tell whether historical presents are a pragmatically marked use of the imperfective or a real perfective. This is the distinction I tried to ask you before. Putting this together with Rijksbaron, historical presents are all Vendlerian accomplishments, if the aspect is imperfective.


Good. Accomlishment is better. And you have raised an interesting point. Do we have iterative historical presents? I would guess few, if any, but I haven't looked. (I dug out an annotated copy of Hawkins Horae Synopticae, that I annotated sometime between 1975 and 1980. Opposite Mark's historical presents I found 66 aorist indicatives in Luke and 3 imperfects [Lu 4.1, 8.42, 23.32//Mk 1.12, 5.23, 15.27]) This in itself is interesting.

So let's look for iteratives in Hawkins' lists.
Mark 1.12 εκβαλλει seems close to a non-iterative achievement. Luke changes vocab to ηγετο (more dynamic/accomplishment).
Mark 1.30 λεγουσιν. The plural allows an iterative meaning, but as a verb of saying in Mark where the singular is frequently used it is doubtful that the iterative meaning is intended, at least not for the singular examples. Cf. 1.37-38, where the disciples speak 'historical present' and Jesus answers 'historical present.'
Mk 2.15 is humorous because γινεται is used as the functional equivalent of kai egeneto. This looks like a achievement mismatch but is softened by the continuative infinitive complement. see below 4.37
Mk 3.13 αναβαινει Another movement verb, accomplishment.
But προσκαλειται 'calls, invites' is an achievement type verb that is paralleled with a simple aorist indicative accomplishment (they came). I read this imperfectively against its lexical grain, making the verb into more of an non-iterative achievement.
Mk 4.36 παραλαμβανουσιν Again, this appears to be achievement in Greek lexis, but overridden by h.p. see more extended note below 5.40
Mk 4.37 γινεται This appears to be achievement, though the following imperfect is iterative.
Mk 4.38 εγειρουσιν This is a verb that seems to be able to mix accomplishment and achievement, partially because it is an extension from a literal movement verb 'to lift up' to a metaphorical change of state 'to wake up (both as transitive and as middle)'. The achievement side appears to be in focus and both Mt and Lk tell the same story with aorists at this point.
Mk 5.7 κραξας λεγει Assuming that the two verbs are describing the same speech, this is being marked as an aoristic h.p., even though, as we claim, the present is imperfective by definition.
Mk 5.15 θεωρουσιν This one is tricky. If the composite picture is in focus then it is an achievement, just like 'recognize', 'see the man'. See 5.38.
Mk 5.22 πιπτει Here we have a classic case. With 'at his feet' I can only read this as a non-iterative, achievement, pragmatically and surprisingly marked as open, incomplete.
**How do you read this?**
Mk 5.23 παρακαλει 'calls, is calling'. Again somewhat ambiguous between achievement and accomplishment, between iterative (many times) and intensive (many thing). This is one of the three places that Luke tells the story with an imperfect parallel to Mark's present. (PS: I assume that Luke and Mark are independent, which diminishes the weight of Luke's usage somewhat. The Gospel of Luke is not a mother-tongue interpretation of Mark, but nevertheless is a mother-tongue parallel telling of the identical story.)
Mk 5.38 ερχονται ... θεωρει. The first verb can be called an accomplishment (but completed in context, despite a potential gradual interpretation in other contexts), the second verb is difficult to analyze, like 5.15. But it is semantically similar to 'find' Mk 14.37.
Mk 5.40 παραλαμβανει appears achievement to me. It is clearly an achievement in a context like Matt 1.20. As predicted for an 'achievement' lexical item, it is extremely rare in Greek as a non-indicative continuative (aka 'present' participle, imperative, subjunctive, optative, infinitive). It does not occur in the GNT as an imperfect. Josephus appears to use it as an accomplishment, Antiq 4.94, were the 'taking possession' was gradual, though 20.229 was iterative. War 4.15 is not iterative and appears marked as 'backgrounded', Life 79 appears iterative. However, its rarity as an imperfect (6 times vs 32 aorist indicative in Josephus, and 0 vs 17 in LXX and 0 vs 17 in NT [yes, identical numbers for LXX and NT] suggests an 'achievement' verb.
Mark 10.35 προσπορευονται ... λεγοντες. The participle 'saying' makes the main verb perfective in interpretation even though it could be argued to be an accomplishment verb of movement to a goal. This illustrates the 'irony' of the tense. It marks an 'open-ended' viewpoint in an explicitly closed context.
Mark 11.1-2 αποστελλει. I take 'send' as inherently achievement and prototypically iterative when imperfective, though I can imagine situations where an author might view the sending from the perspective of a goal and say that the thing sent was in a process of arriving, treating the lexis as an accomplishment.
Mark 11.4 λυουσιν, 11.7 επιβαλλουσιν ...τα ιματια The second of these is prototypically achievement. LYEIN seems that way, too, especially with an object, but it can be viewed as a process in places like Acts 27.41 (gradual process+goal=accomplishment).
Mark 14.37 ευρισκει A classic example of achievement. The only time that ευρισκειν is imperfect in the NT is with a negative, implying the lack of achievement.

In sum, remarkably, we find cases of h.p. with non-iterative, achievement events. Mark 5.22 and 14.37 are the clearest, though several others probably fit the pattern in Mark's mind.
I do not have a problem with any of this, because I have room for pragmatic overriding of semantics in my worldview. The A-O do not allow pragmatic overriding of semantics with interpretations involving time, and they appear to look the other way (purposefully ignore this) when dealing with aspect.

So I still think that there is 'bite' in this argument. Naturally, it is strengthened when joined with details like the augment with imperfect in past contexts and the lack of *ἦλθον αὔριον.







So we do expect to find Vendlerian achievements expressed with historical presents.

If this is indeed true, then your argument will hold much better, and I was wrong that historical presents are aspectually imperfective, but that it is a marked use of the imperfective. Then they are really aspectually perfective. Then the quest is to find such historical presents (that are not used iteratively). Can someone find one?

The irony is that the historical present expresses the event as open, 'unachieved', but the context shows that it was achieved anyway.

This in itself does not prove a perfective aspect, since the end point may be outside of the scope of predication of the sentence, but still assumed to have taken place before the next sentence. This would be just a pragmatically marked use of the imperfective, used in a context where a perfective would be unmarked.


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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby Stephen Carlson » March 5th, 2012, 10:06 am

KimmoHuovila wrote:My theoretical frame of reference is explained more fully at http://ethesis.helsinki.fi/julkaisut/hu ... wardsa.pdf.


Thank you for sharing this link.

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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2012, 10:39 am

I should probably add that if we only had historical presents for analyzing the aspect of the structure I would argue that the historical present was "perfective". However, it is because we have the present used elsewhere in imperfective present contexts, with the continuative stem of non-indicative contexts, and the simultaneous mismatch in time in h.p. contexts, that I take a different approach and read the h.p. as a purposeful mismatch of both time and aspect.

Hence, I argue that the aspect of the h.p. remains 'imperfective' just like the present tense elsewhere, and the h.p. remains present in time, just like the present tense elsewhere. And while reading Greek I naturally interpret the events as complete pasts within their context, though I feel a 'zoom-in effect' as the audience's perspective is reset to a different time and close-up. A full description of the phenomenon is linguistically complicated, which, in fact, is the traditional understanding.
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby RandallButh » March 5th, 2012, 1:19 pm

And a PPS:

there is an interesting PDF on Russian aspect and Vendler categories at
http://faculty.biu.ac.il/~rothss/Bragin ... ersion.pdf
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Re: Augment and Aspect

Postby KimmoHuovila » March 5th, 2012, 2:40 pm

RandallButh wrote:Mk 5.7 κραξας λεγει Assuming that the two verbs are describing the same speech, this is being marked as an aoristic h.p., even though, as we claim, the present is imperfective by definition.

This is a nice example.
Mk 5.22 πιπτει Here we have a classic case. With 'at his feet' I can only read this as a non-iterative, achievement, pragmatically and surprisingly marked as open, incomplete.
**How do you read this?**

I can understand πίπτει also as an accomplishment, but I have not done any study on the way the verb is used aspectually.
Mark 14.37 ευρισκει A classic example of achievement. The only time that ευρισκειν is imperfect in the NT is with a negative, implying the lack of achievement.

I could argue that since there are several people to be found, there is iteration. But I think this example is convincing enough for me. Thank you for this counter-example.
So I still think that there is 'bite' in this argument.

With this last study of yours, I agree. Thank you for the examples.
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