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Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (2)

For part 1 click here.

Today I’m going to talk my way through Chapter 3 of Aubrey’s thesis. What did Aubrey do in Chapter 2? He told you all about Role and Reference Grammar and then said, “hey, why doesn’t it do a good typology/classification of tense and aspect? Wouldn’t that be handy-dandy?” Chapter 3 sketches out what an approach to tense and aspect in RRG would/could/should look like.

Aubrey starts off by talking about some of the meta-issues; for example how categories relate to a particular language and to universal grammar, or at least a universalising concept of language (p29). Similarly, simply choosing what terminology to use, what distinctions or categories to draw up, is itself a step of interpretation, before we even get to the empirical questions (p30). There is, almost inevitably, a back and forth between the more theoretical and the more ‘on the ground’ levels of analysis here (p31). This issue of the “bidirectional relationship between” the two levels, quoting Bache, then gets applied to Porter’s analysis by way of critique. Porter introduces the label ‘remote’ to refere to the past/non-past distinction in Greek. But this choice of label, and especially how Porter uses it, do not match with more generalised applications of the term in linguistics. That is, remoteness is generally used to refer to temporal remoteness in languages, to temporal distance. But Porter repurposes the term to use it precisely for non-temporal remoteness that may be used temporally. This is idiosyncratic at best.

In the following section Aubrey considers a very interesting element of methodology. It has to do with example sentences, replacement, and minimal pairs. A typical way of teasing out linguistic differences is to use example sentences, and change a single element, to demonstrate the difference this makes in utterance. Drawing on Bache, Aubrey gives us a typology of 4 types: (I) Replacement is not possible due to a gap in the grammar, (II) replacement results in an ungrammatical sentence, (III) replacement results in a distinct change of meaning (non-synonymy), (IV) replacement involves slight to zero change of meaning (near synonymy). Aubrey runs through examples, with reference to English and to Koine, and demonstrates how all 4 categories need to be examined for linguistic typology, but also how the boundaries of these types are sometimes unclear. Further on (p.45f) he points out that generally Type II and III are the categories that best demonstrate claims about “morphological and syntactic forms”, but a responsible use of example sentences will be one that considers what type of contrast is in play, not merely what contrast is set up.

Careful attention to this typology of contrast sentences is important because misplaced emphasis on the wrong categories can lead to unjustifiable claims. This is seen in the Koine tense/aspect debates from the late 80s (p.47). Undue emphasis on type 4 contrasts supported claims that Greek was tenseless, whereas alternate understandings of the contrast pairs would support a different explanation that saw these as extensional differences. What’s the upshot at this point of Aubrey’s argument? That Porter argued for something on the basis of Type IV examples, when he should have given more argument on the basis of Types II and III, and that this undermines the strength of Porter’s analysis and conclusion.

Now Aubrey moves on (p.50) to a select examination of work on typology of tense and aspect. Here’s some real meat for you. First up, Comrie’s “definition of aspect as involving the grammaticalization of the ‘internal temporal constituency,’ of a situation” (p.51), then Bhat’s 3 classes: (1) perfective vs. imperfective, (2) phasal (distinctions of temporal constituency: e.g. ingressive, resultative, progressive, etc., (3) quantificational (distinctions of countability).

Almost everyone who has heard about aspect in Greek is familiar with the first distinction here. The second is a set of terms that many will be familiar with, and generally in Greek assign as ‘usages’, or ‘senses’ of particular verbs in context (so-called “ingressive imperfect” for instance). The third similarly so, “habitual present”, “iterative imperfect”). This has really just been a way for typological Intermediate grammars to explain/classify usages of Greek tense-forms that don’t match grammar-translationists default glosses.

This 3rd category of Bhat’s is also “difficult…in descriptive practice”. Languages just don’t neatly have/define/contrast their aspectual markings along lines that one would like.

When it comes to tense, things are more simply (p53), I mean you can only really have three deictic tense references: past, present, future, in relation to the point of speech. Any variation on this is only going to do one of two things: mark degrees of temporal remoteness from the point of speech, or using non-deictic reference, e.g. indicating past/present/future from a different point of time. Of course, one can combing deictic and non-deictic reference systems, to indicate combinations of temporal reference in relation to both time of speech, time of event, time of relative event, etc..

I’m going to stop here for today. In the next half of chapter 3 Aubrey goes on to talk about typology and the Perfect more specifically.


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