Choosing between the Aorist and the Present Perfect: The Case of Modern Greek
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Choosing between the Aorist and the Present Perfect: the Case of Modern Greek1 Cornelia Paraskevas-Shepard An important issue in current linguistic theories is the role that context plays in the understanding and interpretation of a sentence. According to a widely accepted definition of semantics (presented in Kempson's Semantic Theory), the meaning of a sentence is the set of truth conditions under which the sentence is true; two sentences, then, which share the same truth conditions, should have the same meaning. It often happens, however, that although the truth conditions of two sentences are the same, there is a difference in "appropriateness " between them; in other words, the sentences differ with respect to the context/situation in which they can be used. For example , in Greek, the following sentences have the same meaning but differ in appropriateness; they are supposed to be used in different contexts: Eisai theios mou. You-2nd sg. are uncle mine "You are my uncle." Eiste theios mou. You-2nd pi. are uncle mine "You are my uncle." The first sentence implies that the speaker and the hearer perceive themselves as being at the same level; it can be used when there is a relatively close relation between the speaker and the hearer. In the second sentence, the speaker, by using the second person plural form, is indicating his respect for or "social" distance from the hearer. The sentences could be used interchangeably; however, they could be inappropriate given the particular circumstances. Similarly, the difference between the following two sentences (which mean the same) is context based; it is dependent upon the 51 52 Cornelia Paraskevas-Shepard previous knowledge that the speaker has about the reading habits of the hearer. 'Eheis diavásei Kazantzáki? You-have read Kazantzakis "Have you read any Kazantzakis?" and Diávases Kazantzáki? You-read Kazantzáki "Did you read any Kazantzakis?" In both examples, previous knowledge or "social" considerations , which we include in the notion of context, account for the differences between the sentences; these differences are not semantic, since they are not due to a difference in the truth-conditions of the sentences, but pragmatic, since they are due to contextual considerations . The important role that context plays in the interpretation of sentences can be seen in the distinction between the aorist and the present perfect in modern Greek. This paper attempts to describe this distinction on the basis of extra-linguistic/pragmatic factors, such as previous knowledge, shared knowledge and point of view; as such, it should be of importance to linguists investigating the role of context in the understanding of sentences. In addition, it should be of importance to anyone studying modern Greek; the difference between the aorist and the present perfect, being context-based, is hard for a non-native speaker to grasp, although grammar books and descriptions of modern Greek fail to state this fact, claiming that the distinction between the two tenses is a clear one. Thus, according to Tzartzanos' grammar book, the aorist is used for an event or an action that took place in the past and was completed, or it can be used instead of a present tense. As Mirambel (1978) and Seiler (1952) state, the aorist can also be used instead of a future, whenever the event/action is to follow immediately; in the latter case, then, the aorist has a future value (in Seller's terms "aoriste a valeur de futur ") and the actions represented by the aorist are viewed as completed . Thus, for example, if I am about to finish writing a paper, but not yet done, my answer to the question. 1. Pósi ora hreiázesai akóma? How-much-fem. hour you-need still "How much time do you still need?" can be either 1'. Teleióno. I-finish "I am finishing," or The Aorist and the Present Perfect 53 1 ' '. Teleiosa. I-finished "I will be done in a minute." The present perfect, then, is to be used for an action/event that took place in the past and whose effects are still lasting, or it is used for an action that took place in the past whose result is shown, or...


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