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The development of the Imperfect in Ancient Greek from simple past to imperfective as a blocking phenomenon

In: Journal of Greek Linguistics
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Ian Hollenbaugh University of California USA Los Angeles, CA

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Abstract

This article seeks to combine the viewpoints of formal semantics and pragmatics, typology, historical linguistics, and philology, in order to give a diachronic overview of the semantic and pragmatic changes observable for the Imperfect indicative within the recorded history Greek. Since its development does not adhere to typologically expected stages of semantic change, I provide a pragmatic account by taking into consideration not only the Imperfect but also the rest of the past-tense system of Greek, namely the Aorist and Perfect. With this holistic approach, I am able to motivate a development that is otherwise typologically anomalous.

Abstract

This article seeks to combine the viewpoints of formal semantics and pragmatics, typology, historical linguistics, and philology, in order to give a diachronic overview of the semantic and pragmatic changes observable for the Imperfect indicative within the recorded history Greek. Since its development does not adhere to typologically expected stages of semantic change, I provide a pragmatic account by taking into consideration not only the Imperfect but also the rest of the past-tense system of Greek, namely the Aorist and Perfect. With this holistic approach, I am able to motivate a development that is otherwise typologically anomalous.

Let me say straightaway that for all the acute and careful attention that has been paid to the use of the aorist and imperfect, we have yet to achieve a full understanding of them.

Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 221

1 Introduction

1.1 Problematization

The Imperfect (Ipf.) in Ancient Greek is typically described as expressing imperfective aspect (ipfv.) in the past (e.g., Comrie 1976: 17 and passim; Ö. Dahl 1985: 83; Napoli 2006: 64–70), and it is said that it “characterizes the state of affairs as ‘not completed’” (Rijksbaron 2002: 11). Such descriptions run into trouble, however, when it comes to data like that in (1), which shows the Imperfect in Homer characterizing states of affairs as complete and occurring side by side with Aorists (Aor.) in sequential past narration (cf. Delbrück 1879: 105–106). In all numbered examples of this paper the relevant verb and its translation are in boldface. Underlining is used for other contextual (mostly adverbial) information in the passage that helps motivate the particular interpretation of the verb that I favor, or which is relevant to the reading in some way but is not the primary focus of the example.

(1) Imperfect characterizing a state of affairs as complete

a. Ἀτρεὺς δὲ θνήισκων ἔλιπεν[Aor.] πολύαρνι Θυέστηι, / αὐτὰρ ὃ αὖτε Θυέστ᾿ Ἀγαμέμνονι λεῖπε[Ipf.] φορῆναι (Hom. Il. 2.106–107).

‘And Atreus, upon his death, left[Aor.] (the scepter) to Thyestes rich in flocks, and Thyestes in turn left[Ipf.] it for Agamemnon to bear’ (ex. Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 235).1

b. ὠιχόμεθ᾽[Ipf.] ἐς Θήβην, ἱερὴν πόλιν Ἠετίωνος, / τὴν δὲ διεπράθομέν[Aor.] τε καὶ ἤγομεν[Ipf.] ἐνθάδε πάντα (Il. 1.366–367).

‘We went[Ipf.] to Thebes, the holy city of Eetion, and then we sacked[Aor.] it and led[Ipf.] hither all (its spoils)’.2

The use of the Imperfect to characterize states of affairs as complete continues into Classical Greek prose as well (cf. Rijksbaron 2002: 18–19, with examples, as well as (11)–(12) in § 5.2 and Appendix § A.2.6). To explain such uses of the Imperfect, where one might “expect” an Aorist, Delbrück (1879: 105) points out that, from an Indo-European perspective, “Das alte Tempus der Erzählung ist das Imperfectum und nicht der Aorist” (‘The old tense of narration is the Imperfect and not the Aorist’), comparing the use of the Greek Imperfect’s formal counterparts in Sanskrit and Iranian, which characterize states of affairs as complete almost invariably, very often ordering such events chronologically in sequential narration of the past. Wackernagel (1926–1928 [2009]: 235) concludes likewise, as follows:

Often, particularly in early Greek and later in the most polished prose, to our way of thinking imperfect and aorist are used completely interchangeably in reports about the past … Homer has in fact many imperfects which serve as straightforward narrative forms, without depicting the action or the process any more than the corresponding aorist. We simply have to recognize, especially in view of comparison with related languages, above all Sanskrit, that the imperfect was often the narrative tense, just as later Herodotus and Thucydides generally use the imperfect in plain narrative. [emphasis added]

The problem, of course, is that perfective aspect (pfv.) is typically defined as characterizing states of affairs as complete (Comrie 1976: 18–20), whereas the imperfective aspect is supposed to depict events as incomplete. So, the Homeric Imperfect is at odds with the typical definitions of both perfective and imperfective aspect, in that it can be used to characterize states of affairs as either complete or incomplete. In view of its commonly supposed association with imperfective aspect, then, the question arises: How can the Imperfect represent an imperfective category if it is so regularly used to characterize states of affairs as complete? The most recent answer to this question, argued for in Hollenbaugh 2018, is that the Homeric Imperfect simply does not mark imperfective aspect and does not represent what in the typological literature is referred to as an “imperfective gram” (cf. n. 4 below). Rather, the Homeric Imperfect is found to be neutral in aspect—permitting perfective- and imperfective-like interpretations of the verbal predicate—and is best classified as an instance of the cross-linguistic category called “simple past” (similar, for example, to the English Preterite). The Homeric Aorist, meanwhile, marks not perfective aspect simply but is found regularly to have a perfect-like value, especially resultative (i.e., indicating that the state resulting from the completion of the past event referred to by the verb still holds at the moment of utterance). So, the difference between the Imperfect and Aorist to the same verb in Homer, if any,3 is typically that the Aorist can be used with a resultative value (cf. n. 53 and n. 57 below), as in (2a), while the corresponding Imperfect, when it refers to a completed state of affairs, is instead used to sequence events narrated in the past—a context in which the Aorist is also regular—as seen in (2b) (cf. Bianconi 2019: 177–179 on these examples).

(2) Imperfect vs. Aorist to the same verb in Homer

a. Ἀτρείδη ποῖόν σε ἔπος φύγεν[Aor.] ἕρκος ὀδόντων? (Il. 4.350 = 14.83)

‘Son of Atreus, what kind of word has escaped[Aor.] the fence of your teeth?’.

b. αὐτὰρ ἐγὼ σὺν νηυσὶν ἀολλέσιν, αἵ μοι ἕποντο[Ipf.], / φεῦγον[Ipf.], ἐπεὶ γίνωσκον[Ipf.], ὃ δὴ κακὰ μήδετο[Ipf.] δαίμων. / φεῦγε[Ipf.] δὲ Τυδέος υἱὸς ἀρήϊος, ὦρσε[Aor.] δ᾽ ἑταίρους (Hom. Od. 3.165–167).

‘But I with the crowded ships that were following[Ipf.] me took flight[Ipf.], when I realized[Ipf.] that a divinity was intending[Ipf.] evil. And the warlike son of Tydeus fled[Ipf.] and urged on[Aor.] his companions’.

Thus it can be said that φύγε characterizes the action flee as complete in the past and occurs in contexts where the result state either persists at speech time (‘has fled’) or not (‘fled’). The Imperfect φεῦγε, on the other hand, characterizes the action flee as either complete in the past (‘fled’) or incomplete in the past (‘was fleeing, used to flee, etc.’).

Assuming the account of the Aorist and Imperfect given in Hollenbaugh 2018 is correct for the Homeric language, the question remains open how these morphological categories are to be understood in the rest of Ancient Greek literature: in particular, What, if any, changes in usage can be observed over time, and how can they be accounted for? Problematically for the account of Hollenbaugh 2018, the Imperfect of the later authors does appear to be more “imperfective-like” (cf. Johanson 2000: 95, 98–99), in that it regularly characterizes states of affairs only as incomplete in the past and becomes less and less regular in contexts where the event is presented as complete in the past, where instead the Aorist is most common (or, in post-Classical Greek, sometimes the Perfect (Pf.)). This amounts to a diachronic change whereby the range of expression available to the Greek Imperfect is reduced over time (often called semantic “strengthening”), such that in Homer (Archaic Greek) the Imperfect regularly characterizes states of affairs as either complete or incomplete, but in the later language it regularly characterizes states of affairs only as incomplete. To account for this change ends up posing some difficulty given the state of typological studies on diachronic aspect shifts. In particular, the change observed for the Greek Imperfect does not conform to well-established paths of change described in the linguistic literature on tense–aspect systems.

Two robustly attested grammaticalization pathways for tense–aspect gram types4 are shown in (3) (cf. especially Bybee et al. 1994; Deo 2015b; Condoravdi & Deo 2014).

(3) Grammaticalization pathways (robustly attested across languages)

a. stative-resultative >> perfect >> emergent perfective >> perfective, simple past

b. progressive >> general imperfective, simple present

These cross-linguistic grammaticalization pathways have in common that the range of expression available to a particular form tends to increase over time rather than decrease (or to “weaken” rather than “strengthen,” to use a common metaphor). So in (3a), for instance, the perfective gram type has a broader range of contextual applications than does the perfect gram type, since (among other things) perfectives can be used to sequence events in past narration, while perfect grams typically cannot (Condoravdi & Deo 2014: 266).5 At the same time, perfective grams are commonly found in resultative and experiential (i.e., “perfect-like”) functions cross-linguistically. Taken together, this means that perfectives uniformly have a wider functional range than perfects, as they can be used in all the contexts that perfects can, plus some other contexts that are unavailable to perfect grams (id.). An example of the change from a perfect to a perfective gram is the French Passé Composé, which originally had only “perfect-like” functions but now is functionally perfective, being used to sequence complete events in past narration, while still retaining its perfect-like uses as well (cf. Bybee et al. 1994).

Likewise, progressive grams (3b) tend to develop into general imperfectives (Deo 2015b): Though both can characterize an event as being in progress (type was doing X), only the latter can be used in generic-habitual or continuous-state values (respectively of the type used to do X and knew X (NB: *was knowing X); cf. Deo 2015b: 4). The English Progressive may be an example of this change in progress (cf. Comrie 1976: 37–38; see Deo 2015b: 6–8 for examples from other languages). In this way, each gram type in (3) (explained in more detail below) can be seen to always have a wider range of application than the gram type(s) to its left, and the grams belonging to these gram types tend to change in linear order from left to right over time in the languages of the world, with changes in the opposite direction being scarce. So, for example, a general imperfective in a given language is predicted not to become restricted to use only as progressive at a later stage in the development of that language. Accordingly, these paths of change are observed to be “unidirectional” and “uniformly generalizing” by Condoravdi & Deo (2014: 261–262).

Given these typological facts, the development of the Greek Imperfect from being aspectually neutral in Homer to imperfective later on, if accurate, would pose a serious challenge to the generalizations in (3), in that its meaning seems to become more specific over time rather than more general (cf. Johanson 2000: 95, 98–99). The Greek Imperfect is thus, on the face of it, typologically aberrant and cannot be accounted for in terms of semantic “weakening” of the typical sort. Its development can therefore be better explained by a pragmatic account of the data, with reference to the entire Greek past-tense system, particularly the Imperfect’s interaction with the Aorist and Perfect, whose semantic denotations are in flux along the trajectory in (3a). Pressures from these changing categories restrict the usage of the Imperfect in particular ways without affecting its semantic denotation until late in the history of Ancient Greek.

1.2 Structure of the paper

The rest of this paper is organized as follows: Section 2 restates the research question and proposal in straightforward terms. Section 3 establishes the typological and theoretical groundwork necessary for understanding the analysis put forth in the later sections. Section 4 lays out the assumptions of this paper in terms of linguistic stages of Ancient Greek, my methods of data collection and assessment of evidence, including discussion of the usage labels ascribed to the various functional categories, and an account of which forms are under consideration and which are excluded and why. Section 5 presents all of the readings regularly available to each functional category (= morphological form or “gram”) at each stage, according as I have been able to determine on the basis of the procedures and evidence given in the appendix (on which see the next paragraph). Some discussion is given, with relevant examples, insofar as it establishes the overall trend in usage from one stage to the next. Once the facts of the three linguistic stages have been established in Sections 5.1–5.3, the diachronic development of the functional categories is examined in more detail in Sections 5.4–5.5. The analysis is presented in Section 6, which includes a formalization of each denotation for each functional category at each stage of development, such that exactly those readings observed to be available to each form in Section 5 are available under the denotations provided. Also included is discussion of the pragmatic processes that influence the change in usage observed for the Imperfect up to the post-Classical stage (Section 6.2) and its subsequent reinterpretation as an imperfective gram (i.e., semantic change) in the later linguistic stages of Greek (Section 6.1.4). The pragmatic processes at work in Ancient Greek are further explored in Section 6.2 and Section 6.3. Section 7 summarizes and concludes.

I have also created an appendix (§ A) containing information and examples for all readings established in Section 5 (except pluractional and habitual readings), so that the reader can see on what bases the functional ranges assumed for each category rest. This is divided into three subsections, corresponding to Tables 8–10 and the three linguistic stages of Ancient Greek adopted here. It is available online (see p. 141) as an essential supplement to this paper, and the reader is encouraged to consult it wherever questions arise regarding the various readings here discussed. To make such consultation easier, I give references to the appendix throughout, where applicable, by section number and example number (which always begin with the letter A).

2 Proposal

Following Hollenbaugh 2018, I assume that the Greek Imperfect started off (i.e., in its earliest attestations) as what in the typological literature is called a “simple past tense,” which is aspectually neutral, while the Aorist was in Homer a kind of late-stage perfect, which I will call here emergent perfective.6 Though descriptions of the Imperfect at later stages of Greek seem to suggest that its meaning strengthens over time (from simple past to imperfective; cf. Goodwin 1889: 7–8, 25), I argue that, in fact, its denotation remains stable, at least until the end of antiquity. Its apparent functional restriction over time is explained as a blocking phenomenon on the part of the Aorist (less so the Perfect and Pluperfect (Plpf.)), which demonstrably becomes more and more grammaticalized as a perfective gram within the attested history of Greek. In addition to accounting for the observed data, this pragmatic account maintains that Ancient Greek is, strictly speaking, not an exception to the typical semantic developments of (3).

3 Typological and theoretical preliminaries

There are basically three things one can mean when referring to “an imperfective,” which I classify into three Types (capitalized to differentiate these from “gram types”), presented in Table 1. The pseudo-denotations in Table 1 are deliberately crude and greatly simplified, in order to give a “big picture” overview of the Types. Far more sophisticated formalisms and analyses are available, e.g., in Deo 2015b; Condoravdi & Deo 2014; Altshuler 2014; Arregui et al. 2014; Grønn 2008a,b.

Table 1

Typology of imperfective grams

Types:

1. imperfective allows tE ⊃ tA

2. imperfective allows tE = tA

3. “imperfective” allows tE ⊂ tA

Denotations:

tE ⊃ tAa

tE ⊇ tA

tE ∘ tAb

Examples:

Central Semitic, Romancec

Eastern Slavicd

Sanskrit, Western Slavice

a Cf., e.g., Klein 1994: 108; Arche 2006: 172–173; Grønn 2008a: 155, 157 (precise implementations vary).

b This is Grønn’s (2004) and E. Dahl’s (2010: 88) “neutral aspect,” based on Smith’s (1997: 77–81) “neutral viewpoints.” Note, however, that Grønn (2008b: 127) defines the Russian Imperfective with a disjunction: tE ⊇ tA or tE ⊆ tA, which he notes amounts to essentially the same thing as tE ∘ tA.

c Grønn (2008a: 158) claims that the imperfectives in Romance must belong to what I call Type 2 (tE ⊇ tA) to allow for the “narrative Imperfect.” This usage, however, occurs mostly to achievement predicates (id.: 159–161) and requires specific reference “to a definite point in time” (Arregui et al. 2014: 335).

d The “general-factual” Imperfective is taken to denote the coextension relation, tE = tA, which most often corresponds to “complexive” uses, as is clear from examples and discussion in Ö. Dahl 1985: 74–77; Altshuler 2014; Arregui et al. 2014: 330–334; Janda & Fábregas 2019: 699–708 (though it also has “experiential” perfect uses). Janda’s (2019: 498) metaphor that the “Imperfective situation can fill whatever time is available” is thus captured quite nicely by this denotation. Note that complexive or “general-factual” uses of the Russian Imperfective “can never move the narration forward” (Grønn 2008a: 151), though this appears not to be true of the complexive uses in Greek.

e Dickey (2015, 2000, 1997: 90–115) shows that the Eastern Slavic group, including Russian, does not use the Imperfective in sequential narration (similarly Arregui et al. 2014: 335), while the Western Slavic group does. However, the Western Slavic Imperfect is, according to Dickey (1997: 102), “unsuitable to refer to single achievements in the past” (in contrast to the Sanskrit type), while the Eastern Slavic Imperfective allows this (id.: 103).

In Table 1, tE stands for an interval called “eventuality time.” “Eventuality” refers to states and events taken together (Bach 1981, 1986), on which cf. n. 18 below. tA stands for “assertion time.” Assertion time (Demirdache & Uribe-Etxebarria 2000) is also called “topic time” (Klein 1994: 36–58) or “reference time” (Reichenbach 1947), though precise notions vary (cf. Ramchand 2018: 106–107). Put simply, assertion time is the interval about which some claim is made (i.e., asserted), with respect to which the runtime of the eventuality is said to hold and may be assessed as either true or false. For instance, if I say, “What was your name again?” I do not typically mean to ask what your name was in the past and is no longer; rather, I am asking what it was that you told me your name is. The eventuality be your name in this case holds at the moment of my speech act, but the assertion time interval—the interval that is being asked about—is located in the past relative to my speech act, and so the past tense was your name is used. Tense is therefore defined (following Klein 1994: 4–5, 124) as a relation between the temporal parameters assertion time (tA) and speech time (tS, defined just below).7 Counterintuitively, then, it does not matter for tense where the eventuality time interval is located with respect to speech time. Aspect, on the other hand—that is, “grammatical” or “viewpoint” aspect (as opposed to “Aktionsart” or “lexical aspect,” cf. Smith 1997: 61 ff.)—is defined as a relation of the two temporal parameters eventuality time (tE) and assertion time (tA). Various specific aspect types and “readings” can be defined by the several relations that can hold between these two temporal parameters. Thus, tE can include/properly include (⊇/⊃), be included/properly included in (⊆/⊂), coextend with (=), or overlap with (∘) tA. I will later introduce the precedence (≺) and partial precedence (⪯) relations as well (cf. n. 50 below).

The denotation of Type 1 imperfectives in Table 1 says that eventuality time properly includes assertion time (tE ⊃ tA), meaning that the coextension of the two intervals is ruled out. In terms of “readings,” Type 1 permits (i.e., may be interpreted in some context as) what are commonly called the progressive/continuous-state (e.g., I was running/sleeping) and habitual (e.g., I used to run) imperfective uses. I represent this in Figure 1. Here and below, tS stands for “speech time” (also called “utterance time” or “time of utterance”): the point or interval at which the utterance or speech act is made (typically the “now” of the present moment). The speech time may be thought of as a special case of the broader term “evaluation time” (t0), which technically does not need to coincide with tS (it can be past or future “shifted”) but most often does, as a kind of default case. The term evaluation time (t0) will be more fully introduced in the denotations of Section 6.1 below (see n. 42). The term t0/S is meant to be read “speech time or time of local evaluation,” used to indicate that speech time is to be understood by default but that past or future shifting are not excluded from consideration.

d9194552e810

Figure 1

Progressive/continuous-state and habitual interpretations, past tense (available to Type 1, 2, and 3 imperfectives)

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

It is sometimes assumed that the coextension relation tE = tA with an event cardinality greater than 1 represents the habitual reading (e.g., E. Dahl 2010: 71–72). It is not uncommon, however, to regard the habitual reading as compatible with the proper inclusion relation (tE ⊃ tA), which I follow here (cf. Klein 1994: 108; Arche 2006: 173; Grønn 2008a: 155, 157). Others have proposed modal analyses for habitual readings (e.g., Boneh & Doron 2010: 343, 358–360, 362–363; Arregui et al. 2014: 317, 343). Such accounts of habituality seem quite attractive, and it is highly likely that more machinery is necessary to adequately account for habituality than I have represented here in my deliberately simplified denotations. I thus treat the habitual reading (artificially) as purely aspectual in nature, while acknowledging that this is not the whole story. For the purposes of this analysis, however, what matters is that the given denotations be compatible with all readings attested for the form in question. In this capacity, tE ⊃ tA is sufficient to capture the readings available to Type 1 imperfectives.

The denotation of Type 2 imperfectives in Table 1, by contrast, says that eventuality time includes assertion time (tE ⊇ tA), allowing either total inclusion of tA within tE (tE ⊃ tA) or coextension of the two intervals (tE = tA). Type 2 thus permits a reading not permitted by Type 1, namely the “complexive” reading (e.g., I slept all night), which I take to be captured by the coextension relation tE = tA and represent in Figure 2, showing how the entire span of tA is saturated by tE (as applied to a non-transformative8 eventuality like sleep).

d9194552e899

Figure 2

Complexive interpretation, past tense (available to Type 2 and 3 imperfectives)

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

As for the Type 3 “imperfective” in Table 1, it requires only that the two intervals overlap (tE ∘ tA), thus permitting the inclusion of either interval within the other (tE includes tA or tE is included in tA) and the coextension of the two intervals (tE = tA). The main difference between Type 3 and the other two types is that Type 3 permits a reading that I call “concentrative” (tE ⊂ tA),9 so called in reference to its “concentration” of the event entirely within the bounds of the assertion time. The concentrative reading is regularly found in sequential narration, where eventualities are characterized as complete in the past (of the type Mary ate the cake, then went to bed).10 While sequential narration is typically concentrative, the concentrative relation (tE ⊂ tA) may in fact hold even in isolated, non-sequential contexts, such as Mary ate the cake (and did nothing else of relevance) while I was away. Accordingly, a form that has concentrative as a use is not automatically preferred in sequential narration (as shown by post-Classical Greek, discussed below). I will therefore specify sequential or concentrative-sequential wherever a form is regularly used in sequential contexts, while concentrative is used where no such specification is necessary or relevant. I represent the concentrative reading in Figure 3.

d9194552e984

Figure 3

Concentrative interpretation, past tense (available to Type 3 “imperfectives” (= simple pasts))

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

I thus distinguish in Figures 2 and 3 two main types of what I will call “terminative” readings, which are not a priori restricted to any particular morphosyntactic category. I use the term terminative to mean that the eventuality is ‘bounded’ by assertion time (cf. E. Dahl 2010: 73–76), designating the total set of readings compatible with the relation tE ⊆ tA. Terminative interpretations may be either concentrative (tE ⊂ tA) or complexive (tE = tA), depending on context and situation type of the predicate (activity, achievement, state, etc.).11 Other subcategories of the terminative relation tE ⊆ tA include the inceptive and egressive readings (discussed below).

Typologically speaking, imperfective Types 1 and 2 are taken to constitute the imperfective gram type (cf. Ö. Dahl 1985: 69–79) and may be said to express imperfective aspect (tE ⊇ tA). Type 3, on the other hand, represents not the imperfective but the simple past gram type (Bybee et al. 1994: 84–85, 92–95; Klein 1994: 102; Comrie 1976: 53, 55, 58), which may be said to be neutral in aspect (tE ∘ tA) (following Smith 1997: 77–81; Grønn 2004; E. Dahl 2010: 88). Accordingly, I will hereinafter refer to Type 3 “imperfectives” as simple past grams, since this is a more accurate characterization based on their functional range—i.e., expressing any sort of aspectual relation between tE and tA in the past (where past is defined as the relation tA ≺ t0/S (assertion time precedes speech/evaluation time)). The aspect expressed by a simple past tense will be referred to as neutral aspect (relation tE ∘ tA).12

The contrast between imperfective Types 1 and 2 is exemplified by Janda & Fábregas (2019: 700), showing how Russian (like Eastern Slavic generally) uses its past Imperfective for sentences like I read all night (čital vsju noč’) where Spanish, like Romance generally, must use its “Preterite” or past perfective (leyó toda la noche). As is suggested by these examples, the perfective gram type (tE ⊆ tA) must also come in at least two varieties (Types): The “Spanish type” (Type 1, tE ⊆ tA) and the “Russian type” (Type 2, tE ⊂ tA). Perfective grams characteristically have concentrative as a use (cf. Figure 3 above), but it depends on the language whether a perfective gram is open to complexive interpretation (cf. Figure 2 above) or not. The former will be said to be a Type 1 perfective, such that tE ⊆ tA (coextension permitted, has the complexive reading, as in Spanish); the latter will be said to be a Type 2 perfective, such that tE ⊂ tA (coextension not permitted, lacks the complexive reading, as in Russian).

Putting the two Types of imperfectives together with the two Types of perfectives just discussed, we can observe a systematic difference across languages, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2

Aspectual systems differing by complexive use

Imperfective

Perfective

Type 1:

Spanish

tE ⊃ tA

tE ⊆ tA

Type 2:

Russian

tE ⊇ tA

tE ⊂ tA

In other words, the Russian Imperfective is semantically slightly “weaker” (i.e., permits a broader range of interpretations) than the Spanish Imperfective, while the Spanish Perfective is slightly “weaker” than the Russian Perfective. Accordingly, Spanish encodes complexive readings by means of its Perfective morphology, while Russian does so with its Imperfective. Whichever form has the “stronger” denotation blocks the application of the semantically “weaker” form in just those contexts where the “stronger” form can apply.

This is also true in languages that have a simple past tense standing in contrast to a perfective, where the complexive use falls to the perfective (Dickey 2015: 30), which is the semantically stronger form, as shown in Table 3.

Table 3

Western Slavic aspect

“Imperfective”

Perfective

(= simple past)

(Type 1)

Western Slavic

tE ∘ tA

tE ⊆ tA

Similarly, as shown in Hollenbaugh 2018, Homeric Greek has an aspectual contrast of the type in Table 4.13 As the Homeric Aorist does not appear to regularly permit the coextension relation, the complexive reading (i.e., coextension of tE and tA in the past) is regularly expressed only by the Imperfect in Homer, as (4) demonstrates.14 Here, παννύχιος ‘all night long’ overtly indicates the bounds of the assertion time interval (tA), and the actions of the verbal predicates (tE) are asserted to last for exactly that long. Hence, the two intervals are coextensive, yielding the complexive reading.

Table 4

Homeric aspect

“Imperfect”

Aorist

(= simple past)

(= emergent pfv.)

Homeric Greek

tE ∘ tA

tE ⊂ tA

(4) Complexive Imperfect in Homer

παννύχιοι μὲν ἔπειτα κάρη κομόωντες Ἀχαιοί / δαίνυντο, Τρῶες δὲ κατὰ πτόλιν ἠδ᾽ ἐπίκουροι· / παννύχιος δέ σφιν κακὰ μήδετο μητίετα Ζεύς / σμερδαλέα κτυπέων· (Il. 7.476–479).

‘Then, all night long the long-haired Achaeans feasted, and the Trojans likewise throughout the city, and their allies; and all night long Zeus, the counsellor, plotted harm against them, thundering terribly’.

Homeric Greek thus resembles the “Western Slavic type” system (cf. Table 1 above), in that it shows a simple past tense gram (= Type 3 “imperfective”), namely the Imperfect, rather than an imperfective gram (of Types 1 or 2). As mentioned earlier, despite the fact that the relation tE ⊇ tA is compatible with the coextension relation and so with the complexive reading, the Imperfect of Homer cannot represent a Type 2 imperfective, since it is also compatible with use in sequential narration (unavailable under the relation tE ⊇ tA, as Russian shows (cf. Table 1 note e)).

By the time of Classical Greek, however, the Aorist (i.e., past perfective) competes with the Imperfect in the complexive use (where tE = tA), as exemplified by (5).

(5) Complexive Aorist and Imperfect in Classical Greek

Ψαμμήτιχος δὲ ἐβασίλευσε[Aor.] Αἰγύπτου τέσσερα καὶ πεντήκοντα ἔτεα, τῶν τὰ ἑνὸς δέοντα τριήκοντα Ἄζωτον τῆς Συρίης μεγάλην πόλιν προσκατήμενος ἐπολιόρκεε[Ipf.], ἐς ὃ ἐξεῖλε. (Hdt. 2.157.1).

‘Then Psammetichus ruled[Aor.] Egypt for fifty-four years, for twenty-nine of which he besieged[Ipf.] Azotus, a great city in Syria, besieging it until he took it out’ (ex. Basset 2009: 213–214).15

In addition, by the end of the Classical period and the beginning of the post-Classical period, the Imperfect is no longer regular in sequential narration, where the Aorist or Perfect are employed almost exclusively (cf. discussion in § 5.3), and is much more restricted in concentrative function generally. The complexive function of the post-Classical Imperfect is also greatly restricted, again in favor of the Aorist. The Greek of later antiquity thus comes to resemble the “Eastern Slavic type” system (with differences of detail), in that it shows an imperfective gram (of Type 2), namely the Imperfect, standing in contrast to a perfective gram (in this case of Type 1), namely the Aorist, as shown in Table 5.

Table 5

post-Classical Greek aspect

“Imperfect”

Aorist

(= Type 2 ipfv.)

(= Type 1 pfv.)

post-Classical Greek

tE ⊇ tA

tE ⊆ tA

The basic claim of this paper is that, in terms of usage, the “Western Slavic type” Imperfect found in Homeric Greek (Type 3 in Table 1) develops into an “Eastern Slavic type” (Type 2) at least by the end of the Classical period. This ends up as a “Romance/Semitic type” (Type 1) Imperfective in Medieval and Modern Greek, as shown in Table 6. These developments are indicated by the Imperfect’s gradual dispreference for (Stages iiiii) and eventual loss of (Stage iv) of its concentrative and complexive functions. Meanwhile, the Aorist undergoes semantic change along the typical grammaticalization pathway shown in (3a) above. Starting from an emergent perfective of Type 2 in Homeric (tE ⊂ tA), it develops into a Type 1 perfective thereafter (tE ⊆ tA), indicated by its gaining of regular complexive usage and significant decrease in “perfect-like” usage. In addition, by the time of Polybius (Plb.), the inceptive and egressive readings of the Aorist are restricted to prefixed forms of the verb (Purdie 1898). Table 6 has brief labels under each “mini-denotation,” as a mnemonic to indicate, in practical, usage-based terms, how each semantic development is reflected in the functional rage of each category. Only the most important points are represented here, with the actual details being much more complicated and discussed in depth in the subsequent sections.

Table 6

Development of Greek aspect

Stage i:

Stage ii:

Stage iii:

Stage iv:

Homeric

>>

Classical

>>

post-Classical

>>

Medieval/Modern

Imperfect

tE ∘ tA

>>

tE ∘ tA

>>

tE ⊇ tA

>>

tE ⊃ tA

Aorist

tE ⊂ tA

>>

tE ⊆ tA

>>

tE ⊆ tA

>>

tE ⊆ tAa

(Ipf. sequ./cplxv.,

(reg. cplxv. Aor.)

(losing sequ./

(lost conc./

frequ. pf. Aor.)b

cplxv. Ipf.)

cplxv. Ipf.)c

a Despite Hedin 2000: 227–228, cf. discussion in § 6.1.1.

b Abbreviations: sequ. = sequential, cplxv. = complexive, frequ. = frequent, reg. = regular, pf. = “perfect-like” readings (viz. resultative, experiential, stative), conc. = concentrative.

c See Hedin 2000: 229, 232–233.

Table 7 substitutes the denotations of Table 6 with their associated grams at each stage of development. For completion, I include here the (synthetic) Perfect as well, which is lost after antiquity (cf. BDF: 176). The “Types” (1 or 2) of each perfective and imperfective gram refer to those in Tables 1 and 2 above.

Table 7

Typological categories (i.e., “grams”) in the diachrony of Greek aspect

Stage i:

Stage ii:

Stage iii:

Stage iv:

Homeric

>>

Classical

>>

post-Classical

>>

Medieval/Modern

Imperfect

simple past

>>

simple past

>>

imperfectivea

>>

imperfectiveb

(Type 2)

(Type 1)

Aorist

emergent perfective

>>

perfective

>>

perfective

>>

perfective

(Type 1)

(Type 1)

(Type 1)

Perfectc

stative-resultative

>>

perfect

>>

perfective

>>

a Browning (1983: 29, 34) says that by the time of the Koine the Greek aspectual system had become a genuine perfective/imperfective system, contrasting “polar opposites.”

b Browning (1983: 64, 78, 124, 135) says that early (and late) Medieval Greek opposed “continuous and momentary actions,” expressed by the Imperfective and Perfective (= Aorist) respectively, which continues into Modern Greek, with some variation according to dialect.

c For the diachronic stages presented here, see Gerö & von Stechow 2003. The form is moribund in Hellenistic Greek (Browning 1983: 30, 34), vestigial by the early medieval period (id.: 64), and completely gone (✗) in Modern Greek, except for εύρηκα (as an Aorist) (BDF: 176).

The change in usage of the Imperfect summarized in Tables 6–7 does not, however, entail a change in its denotation during the Ancient Greek period, since at Stages 1–3 the Imperfect is never incompatible with terminative (i.e., concentrative and complexive) uses, permitting interpretations such that tE ⊆ tA (i.e., “perfective-like” aspectual relations). Yet the application of the Imperfect in complexive or concentrative-sequential contexts becomes highly restricted in the Koine, being regularly blocked by the Aorist and Perfect in these functions. Thus, the Koine/post-Classical Imperfect may be understood as semantically identical to the Homeric/Archaic and Classical Imperfect (tE ∘ tA), even if its range of application has been pragmatically restricted in the manner shown in Tables 6–7 (discussed in detail below). When, however, the blocking of the Imperfect by the Aorist in complexive and concentrative-sequential contexts becomes categorical at the Medieval stage, such that the Imperfect’s compatibility with these interpretations is no longer recoverable to learners, then I consider it most straightforward to assume that the denotation of the Imperfect was reinterpreted to exclude its grammaticality in such contexts altogether. This last step amounts to genuine semantic change and yields the “Type 1” imperfective found in Modern Greek. The changes observed for the Aorist and Perfect (i.e., along the typical grammaticalization path of (3a) above) also constitute semantic change, which establishes the pre-conditions driving the pragmatic restrictions on the usage of the Imperfect over time, ultimately leading to its own semantic change. Thus, while the Aorist and Perfect display semantic change in the form of grammaticalization of a well-known sort, the Imperfect shows pragmatically driven semantic change that, while cross-linguistically atypical, is nonetheless entirely systematic in its development and explainable in these terms.

4 Methodology

4.1 Linguistic stages of Greek

As just discussed, this paper makes use of three main “stages” of Ancient Greek: Archaic (or “Homeric”), Classical, and post-Classical (or “Hellenistic”). These stages are, as all linguistic stages, a somewhat arbitrary means of tracking a particular change over time. As will be clear in what follows, both the stages and the observed changes should not be regarded as abrupt and absolute, nor entirely discrete and uniform across all dialects or even individual authors. It is simply the case that without defining stages of some kind, one cannot clearly track a linguistic change. I have therefore adopted stages that have been used in other scholarship to track similar changes (e.g., Gerö & von Stechow 2003) and which can be defined by a set of independent linguistic criteria not directly related to tense and aspect. In addition to a thorough examination of the Ancient Greek stages, I provide more cursory remarks about the Medieval and Modern stages of the language for the sake of completeness, so that one may get a full picture of the trajectory of the relevant morphological categories in terms of their usage over time. These latter remarks are accordingly almost entirely based on observations of others found in the philological and semantic literature. I exclude Mycenaean Greek from consideration here because the nature of the documents, particularly as regards verbal usage, is far too uncertain to be adduced as evidence of historical change.

The first stage, Archaic/Homeric Greek, covers roughly 700 to 500 BCE and encompasses the epics of Homer (Iliad (Il.) and Odyssey (Od.)), the fragments of the Epic Cycle, the Homeric Hymns (HH), Hesiod (Hes.) (Theogony (Th.), Works and Days (WD)), the Shield of Heracles (SH) (Pseudo-Hesiod (Ps.-Hes.)), and archaic lyric (up to Pindar (Pind.)). However, given the nature and limitations of the lyrical genre, as well as the relatively small corpus size of Hesiod and the Homeric fragments, the epics of Homer have generally been found to be most informative in regards to the usage of the functional categories of this period. Wherever they are informative, though, I include discussion of the non-Homeric witnesses of the Archaic period in the appendix (§ A.1). It should be noted, nonetheless, that remarkable differences in usage—especially of the Aorist—are observed between the Homeric epics and Hymns and the non-Homeric authors of the Archaic period (cf. discussion and Figures 4–6 in § 5.4). Partly for this reason and partly for other considerations, I subgroup the non-Homeric authors of the Archaic period as “late Archaic” (i.e., all except the Homeric epics/fragments, Hymns, and the works of Hesiod/Pseudo-Hesiod), though for the purposes of tracking the changes in usage of the Imperfect this distinction is non-essential.

The second stage is Classical Greek, spanning approximately 500 to 300 BCE and including many Classical authors and a variety of genres (Attic drama (tragedy and comedy), history, dialogue, oration, etc.). Since the authors, genres, and dialects are inevitably more varied at this period than at the Archaic stage, I include discussion of the variety met with in the data wherever it is relevant to the present investigation (see especially Appendix § A.2). For instance, we find numerous occurrences of the so-called “tragic Aorist” in drama but few in prose. On the other hand, we find many examples of Imperfects used in sequential narration (i.e., concentrative use) in the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides but relatively few in (e.g.) the dialogues of Plato. Such differences are generally to be attributed primarily to stylistic influences based on genre. It should thus not be expected that every reading be attested in every author with equal frequency, nor is such uniformity required for piecing together the functional range of the morphological categories under investigation. Crucially, such variation has more to do with the relative frequencies of the occurrences of readings than with their presence or absence from the grammar outright. To the extent that “Classical Greek grammar” refers to a particular sphere of usage within a particular period of time, I therefore take readings like the “tragic aorist” (i.e., performative/reportive use) or concentrative-sequential Imperfect to belong to the general grammar of Classical Greek, despite their partial (but crucially not total) distribution by genre. To do otherwise would be to construct a separate grammar for each genre (or even for each author), which would fail to yield a coherent picture of the general diachronic developments of interest here. Hence, I consider all data available and regard a usage as marginal or absent from the grammar only when it is wanting in general, rather than in this or that roughly contemporaneous author or genre.

The third stage I refer to as “post-Classical” and take to include the Hellenistic Koine and the Greek of the Roman Empire (cf. Browning 1983: 19–52), spanning roughly 300 BCE to 400 CE. Due in part to its considerably longer time span (700 years as opposed to 200), I have relied extensively on discussions in grammatical treatments and their citations of the primary texts for my supposition of the readings available to the functional categories at this stage, somewhat more so than was necessary for the readings of the prior stages. However, as with the previous two stages, there is no reading here supposed for which the relevant section of the appendix (§ A.3) does not contain either a textual citation or reference to a handbook treatment containing such citations (or both). Key witnesses to the grammar of this period come from early Judeo-Christian literature (the New Testament (NT) and Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures), as well as scholarly and literary writings, such as the works of Polybius (Plb.) and Plutarch (Plut.). Of course, caveats similar to those given for the Classical period apply here as well. What emerges quite clearly, however, is that many uses attested marginally already in the Classical period are more firmly established in the post-Classical period. For example, though the Perfect is used in Classical Greek to refer to complete past events (i.e., concentrative) in a manner similar to the Aorist or Imperfect, the Aorist and Imperfect are strongly preferred to the Perfect in sequential narrative contexts. By the time of the Koine, however, the Perfect in sequential narration occurs quite regularly alongside Aorists in the same function (Browning 1983: 30), while the Imperfect is rarely so used. This is yet another testament to how gradual and gradient the changes observed here are—emergence at one stage leading to regularity at a later stage—though they necessarily appear abrupt when one looks only at the data for each stage separately (§ 5). Whether gradual or abrupt, however, the point here is that a clear and definable change can be observed between the usage of Classical authors and that of post-Classical authors. This paper aims only to track such developments, to assert that some change has taken place within the history of Ancient Greek, without making any firm claims about its rate of change or precisely how and when the first stirrings of the change arose or at what threshold they can be considered to have been fully grammaticalized. What is important is the mere fact of change, keeping in mind that this paper seeks to explain what developments gave rise to the palpable difference in usage of the Imperfect from the Archaic to the post-Classical stage.

So, though the generalizations made here cannot be hoped to be exceptionless at any stage, nevertheless their value will be clear in that they explain major changes in the regular functional range of the categories in question, helping to address the question at hand: Why does the Imperfect in Homer differ so markedly in its usage from that of later Greek, and how did this change come about?

4.2 Forms under consideration

I have chosen to consider only the Aorist, Imperfect, and Perfect/Pluperfect indicative in this investigation. There are several reasons for this. First and most important, these are the functional categories for which aspectual contrasts are most readily observable. It is a well documented fact that, across languages, aspectual contrasts are most robust in the past tenses of the indicative (see Comrie 1976: 71; Ö. Dahl 1985: 81–84; Napoli 2006: 25–26; inter alios). This is partly because perfective aspect does not typically operate in the present time (though there are exceptions to this, such as the performative/reportive and stative uses, discussed below) and therefore does not stand in direct contrast to the imperfective aspect in the indicative except in the past tense.16 Moreover, it seems that present tenses tend to be somewhat “biased” toward imperfective-like meaning, regardless of whether they are built to what might be termed an imperfective gram or not, due largely to the fact that the present typically requires an event to be ongoing at the time of speech (tA ⊇ t0/S).17 In this way, whether a morphological stem expresses imperfective or, say, neutral aspect is somewhat obscured in the present indicative. This, coupled with the fact that the perfective aspect contrasts with the imperfective aspect most prominently in the past, points to the Imperfect in Greek as the form maximally informative of the functional range of the Present stem in Greek, standing in clear contrast to the Aorist indicative in its various aspectual uses in the past time.

The Perfect is considered here as well, for reasons similar to those just described for the Imperfect and Aorist. In the oldest documented language, it represents a “stative-resultative” gram type, which shares at least two uses (stative and resultative) with the Aorist. Further, the Pluperfect, in its expression of states ongoing in the past, shares at least one reading in common with the Imperfect (in fact it shares many). As time goes on, the Perfect and Aorist come to overlap more and more in terms of their functional ranges, until the Perfect can be used in sequential narration alongside the Aorist in the post-Classical period (Browning 1983: 30). So, even though the Perfect is not properly past referring until at least the Classical stage, and is not regularly used in sequential narration until the post-Classical stage, it is included in this investigation because it shows clear interaction with the aspectual system of the other past-referring categories of Ancient Greek, namely the Imperfect and Aorist—competing with these in some uses, but also having several uses for which it is the preferred means of expression (e.g., experiential perfect). Moreover, all three of these functional categories in Greek belong to the same cross-linguistic grammaticalization pathway (see (3a) above), whereby stative-resultatives may become perfects, and perfects may become perfectives or simple pasts (sometimes called “aoristic drift”; cf. Willi 2018: 411–412). Note that, even though the Aorist and Perfect are, strictly speaking, not past tenses but respectively a perfect(ive) and a stative-resultative (later perfect, then perfective) gram, I will sometimes use the cover term “past tenses” to refer to the Imperfect, Aorist, and Perfect/Pluperfect together, simply as a shorthand for their more precise labels. These are also referred to throughout as “functional” or “morphological” categories.

As for the non-indicative forms of the verb (i.e., modal, participial, and infinitival forms), these are set aside for the purposes of the present investigation not because they do not show aspectual contrasts, but because these contrasts are far more difficult to form reliable philological judgments about. In the imperative mood, for instance, it is often impossible to feel confident in one’s understanding of why an author has chosen to use the Aorist or the Present stem on any given occasion, such that any claims that might be made about them would be unreliable at best and virtually unfalsifiable. Moreover, the inclusion of such forms would stray too far afield from this paper’s stated subject: the Imperfect, which is necessarily indicative, just as it is necessarily past in tense. Hence, I limit myself here to the three indicative “past tenses.”

It remains only to be explained why, in a paper purportedly about the Imperfect, I bother discussing the Aorist and Perfect/Pluperfect at all. This is because much of what I observe in the development of the usage of the Imperfect is detectable only insofar as it contrasts with the other past-referring aspectual categories in the verbal system. For example, the shift in preference from the Imperfect (in Homer) to the Aorist (in Classical and post-Classical) for the expression of complexive readings (see below) would be impossible to discover without recourse to the Aorist. In this way, observing a functional change belonging to the Imperfect crucially depends on consideration of morphological categories other than the Imperfect. Similarly, it requires looking at the entire past-tense system to observe the regular competition in sequential narration (concentrative use) that exists, on the one hand, between the Imperfect and Aorist at the Homeric and Classical stages, but between the Aorist and Perfect at the post-Classical stage. It is, therefore, a basic methodological assumption of this paper that aspectual forms are best understood as operating within a system. Accordingly, to understand the role of a single member of the aspectual system of a language, particularly in diachrony, it is essential to understand the roles of all other forms that stand in contrast to it within that system, in this case the Imperfect versus the other past-referring indicative forms of Ancient Greek, namely the Aorist and Perfect/Pluperfect.

4.3 Evidence and its assessment: a usage-based approach

The evidence for the claims of this paper is taken to be all the readings available to each of the tenses under investigation (Imperfect, Aorist, and Perfect/Pluperfect) at a given historical stage of Ancient Greek. In the next section (§ 5), I present this evidence in tabular form, with discussion of points relevant to the overall trajectory of observed functional shifts, highlighting how each subsequent stage differs from prior stages in terms of readings. The aim of collecting and presenting the readings in this way is as follows: I assume that changes in usage can be detected by taking the complete set of readings available to a given morphological category at stage A of a language and comparing it to the complete set of readings available to the descendant of that morphological form (assuming it survives as such) at stage B of the same language. Whatever differences are observed at stage B as compared to stage A with regard to losses or gains of individual readings for a particular form are taken to be innovations of usage at stage B. Whether changes in usage correspond to semantic change requires consideration of the rest of the verbal system (Is the change pragmatically motivated?), as well as typological considerations (Is the change likely when considering cross-linguistic tendencies or parallels?). Thus, while an addition, subtraction, or modification to the set of readings for a given gram entails a diachronic change in usage, it does not necessarily indicate a change to the semantic denotation of that gram. Given this set of assumptions, I adopt the following procedure for tracing semantic/pragmatic change in diachrony: I first seek (in § 5) to determine the changes in usage at each stage of Greek (as designated in § 3). Then, in Sections 5–6, I seek to determine what may be attributed to pragmatic and what to semantic change, with a corresponding analysis for how these two types of change work and interact.

The readings are based, of course, on attestations in the primary Greek texts, as well as on reliable grammatical treatments (such as Kühner–Gerth or Schwyzer–Debrunner), which can be followed up by interested readers for further examples and discussion of particular usages. In order to maintain focus on the shift in general usage of these categories over time, however, I have elected to put the majority of the primary data and philological discussion in an appendix (§ A) published as a supplementary document online (see p. 141). I emphasize that this is not done in order to downplay the importance of the primary texts. On the contrary, my claims fundamentally depend on the validity of the readings supposed at any given stage, for which primary attestation is indispensable. I have therefore included careful discussion of such attestations in the appendix, with references to standard handbooks and linguistic treatments where relevant.

In the appendix the reader will find examples of each reading assumed for each functional category at each stage of Ancient Greek, or else references to grammatical treatments containing such examples. In the first section of the appendix (§ A.1), each reading is introduced and discussed with reference to semantic and typological literature, as well as each reading’s status within the Greek grammatical tradition, including discussion of the often bewildering variation in terminology. The division of usage into readings is necessarily somewhat arbitrary, of course, but I have aimed to give all the major readings that are commonly found in handbook treatments of Greek grammar, supplemented and refined by treatments in the linguistic literature. I have tried to make note of any significant departures from prior research (such as treating the recent past as a special case of the resultative reading, or the conative as a special case of the progressive). I have also had to make some decisions about what to call certain readings, which have a wide variety of labels in the literature, most especially what I call “complexive” and “concentrative.” I aim in my choice of labels for transparency of meaning, insofar as this is possible, though I yield to the standard labels wherever they are firmly established, even if these are not particularly transparent (e.g., “experiential” or “intensive-frequentative”). In all cases, I explain my reasoning for adopting non-standard terminology in footnotes and/or the appendix, and define each reading in terms of temporal relations between assertion time and eventuality time (see Appendix § A.1), such that the precise meaning can be understood, even if the chosen label is found to be deficient.

In all sections of the appendix I try my best to give an accurate sense of how well or poorly attested each reading is at a particular stage of development (as near as can be determined) and whether any regular variation or deviation from an observed tendency occurs from author to author or genre to genre within that stage. Where there is a possible but unlikely example of a given use of some form, I present it with discussion of why its validity is in doubt. Throughout § A.3, besides detailed discussion of post-Classical usage, I indicate the status of each reading within the Medieval and Modern stages of Greek, to the extent that I have been able to determine from reference to available grammatical treatments alone. The focus of this paper being Ancient Greek, I have not conducted first-hand research to verify the assertions of the grammatical treatments regarding Medieval and Modern usage as I have done for the Ancient stages. Still, my cursory treatment of the non-Ancient periods should suffice to give a reasonably accurate sense of the later trajectory of the usage of the forms here considered.

It should be made clear that this is not a corpus study. There is no particular text sample that I have exhaustively investigated and prioritize as representative of a given stage of the language (though certain texts have, for various reasons, contributed more than others). This is because, for present purposes, what matters fundamentally is whether a particular reading is attested regularly, marginally, or never for a given form at a given stage. The exact frequencies of each reading are not of primary importance, nor could such information be acquired without careful reading of the whole of Greek literature, tracking each instance of, say, experiential uses of the Perfect or complexive uses of the Aorist. To my knowledge such an enterprise has not been carried out on a large scale. I have therefore pieced together what the results of this kind of investigation might yield, namely what readings are available to a particular form at a given stage. Though this approach cannot provide exact counts or frequencies, the grammatical treatments that we have are quite thorough in their descriptions and presentation of the data. These treatments are coupled with my own investigation of various Greek texts—for example, I have exhaustively charted the readings of these functional categories in the first book of the Iliad for Hollenbaugh 2018—in order to present what I believe is a reasonably thorough and complete characterization of the functional range of the three morphological categories here considered (viz. Imperfect, Aorist, and Perfect/Pluperfect) at each stage of their development.

To this end, I have made extensive use of various reference materials, including not only grammatical treatments but also dictionaries, concordances, digitized and searchable corpora, and, above all, Perseus under PhiloLogic (last accessed November 2, 2019). This has allowed me to search for various sequences of forms within range of some adverbial or other contextual element that tends to elicit a particular reading. For example, to confirm claims that the complexive use of the Aorist is lacking in Homer and Hesiod (cf. Jacobsohn 1933: 307–309), I searched for the Aorist indicative (ind.) alongside various adverbial expressions indicating extent of time, such as τρία ἤματ᾽ ‘for three days’ or παννύχιος ‘all night’. This returned few and mostly doubtful results (enumerated and discussed in the appendix, § A.1.9). In contrast, a series of searches for the Imperfect with these same adverbials returned a remarkable number of examples in Homer and Hesiod (discussed with many textual citations in the appendix, § A.1.9). Though of course these had to be read carefully to verify their complexive meaning, and though only a subset of the items returned by the search turned out to be genuinely complexive, there are nonetheless dozens upon dozens of complexive Imperfects that can be readily cited for this stage, beside just a few probable complexive uses of the Aorist. Conducting such searches—with the returned passages always checked manually to verify that they represent the reading under investigation—has thus helped me to confirm or deny the existence of a particular usage for a form at a given stage without reading through the entire set of corpora that each stage comprises. Further, this has served as an additional check on the assertions and denials of various readings as reported in the grammatical literature.

It bears emphasizing that readings are fundamentally sensitive to context and actionality (also called “Aktionsart” or “lexical aspect”)18 of the lexical item or predicate combined with a particular functional category. To clarify, “reading” (also “use,” “function,” “interpretation,” or “(functional) value”) is defined as follows: some interpretation within the semantic range of a particular morphological form that is available in certain contexts and/or with certain types of predicates (or situation types). In other words, the semantic contribution (or “notional content”) of a particular functional category (for our purposes, the Imperfect, Aorist, or Perfect/Pluperfect) determines what sorts of contexts that form will be felicitous in and, therefore, what sorts of readings it can have. Accordingly, not only should one not expect every reading to be possible for every morphological category, but one should also not expect to find every reading available in all contexts or to all predicate types. Certain contexts license certain readings. For example, a verb meaning ‘they ran away’ in the context after a participle meaning ‘having gotten scared’ is likely to receive an inceptive interpretation: ‘having gotten scared, they ran away (i.e., took off running)’ (cf. Thuc. 2.12.3 in Appendix § A.2.8). This is a contextually determined reading of a form whose semantic range is sufficiently broad to allow it to occur in such contexts (viz. inceptive). If its semantics did not allow inceptive as a use, we would expect it to be ungrammatical in such contexts and therefore not to occur in them, or else to be coerced into some special interpretation in order to render the utterance grammatical. Similarly, many readings are sensitive to situation/predicate type, such that only certain types of verbs or predicates can yield certain readings in combination with a given morphological form. For example, the stative use of the Aorist at the Archaic stage (see (6) below) arises when the Aorist morphology is combined with a verbal predicate that is a state, such as φιλέω ‘love’. This is also true of the complexive and inceptive readings of the Aorist. It is not true, however, for some of the analogous readings of the Imperfect: While the continuous-state reading of the Imperfect does require a state predicate (type ‘he was sleeping’), just like the stative use of the Aorist, in its complexive and inceptive uses the Imperfect attests predicates of all types (mainly activities, accomplishments, and states, in Vendlerian terms), in contrast to the Aorist usage. Restriction of a certain reading to a certain situation/predicate type is thus in part a property of the morphological category that the lexical verb or verbal predicate combines with and, in this way, reveals something about the semantic range of that category. This kind of evidence has been indispensable in determining the denotations of the various functional categories at each stage of Greek. I therefore include information about the Vendlerian categories that license particular readings of functional categories in the summary tables of § 5 enclosed in curly braces.

The total set of uses regularly available to a particular functional category indicates its functional range, which must be permissible under the semantic denotation associated with that form (as formalized in § 6). The functional range for a given form is thus discerned on the basis of what readings we find actually attested for that form. Any sufficient formalization of the denotation of a given form must capture exactly this functional range (i.e., how broad or narrow its semantics must be) and be neither too “weak” nor too “strong” as to permit more or fewer readings for that form than are actually available to it.

This paper is structured so as to develop a synchronic analysis of functional categories at each stage of their development, then observe the changes from one stage to the next, thereby achieving a diachronic analysis. The synchronic component proceeds in the following way: First, the functional range of each form at each stage is determined on the basis of attested usage (§ 5). Once its functional range has been determined, a denotation for each form is formulated in Section 6 in such a way that it permits exactly the functional range observed for that form, and so is compatible with just those readings regularly attested for the form in question. Additionally, pragmatic matters are discussed and explained, involving the interaction of the various functional categories with one another, which limits their usage in predictable ways and depends on the synchronic grammar operative at a given stage of development.

Because it is the total set of regularly attested readings that determines a form’s functional range at a given stage, no particular function is regarded as more important or “central” to establishing the form’s denotation than any other. This approach contrasts strongly with the assumptions of many standard grammatical treatments and even prior theoretical treatments down to the present day: See, e.g., Chantraine’s (1953 [2015]: 220) notion that the Imperfect (and Present) expresses basically “duration,” or Smyth’s (1956: 423) generalization that it “represents an action as still going on … in the past”. More recently, Bary & Egg (2012) take an extreme approach of this kind in assuming that there is one particular reading that is essential to the Aorist (viz. concentrative, of the type ‘received in that moment’), and one that is essential to the Imperfect (viz. past continuous state, of the type ‘was king at that time’), and that all others must be explained by means of various “coercion operators.” These “coerced” readings include, remarkably, the inceptive (“ingressive”) and complexive (“phase interpretation”) uses of the Aorist and the progressive, iterative, and habitual uses of the Imperfect.19 By contrast to these approaches, I assume instead that all regular uses of a form operate essentially on the same “footing,” so to speak. Accordingly, a form’s denotation must be formulated in such a way as to accommodate all of its regular functions, rather than just one or another reading that receives some special status in the (inevitably arbitrary) view of the analyst.

However, that is not to say that there are not certain readings that help us home in on a particular diachronic change more than others. In this analysis, the complexive and concentrative readings may appear to have some special status over and above the other readings for determining the aspectual value of a functional category at a given stage. Yet this is only because it is precisely with respect to these readings that the most significant changes have been observed—and can thus be tracked over time—for the Imperfect and Aorist. So, while it is not the case that the complexive use is more “essential” to the Aorist’s denotation than any other reading available to it at the post-Classical stage, it can be truly said that the functional range of the Aorist at this stage differs most notably from that of the Homeric Aorist precisely with respect to this reading, and so its post-Classical denotation is formulated as permitting the coextension relation (tE ⊆ tA) that its denotation at the Archaic stage had excluded (tE ⊂ tA). In this way, a particular reading may emerge as especially important to the diachronic analysis in a non-arbitrary (and non-circular) way, simply from examination of the data, without having been artificially endowed with this privileged status by the analyst. In conducting my analysis in this way, I hope to have avoided undue confirmation bias and, above all, to have hit as near the mark as possible in understanding the full functional range of these forms at each stage in terms of their attested usage.

4.4 The notion of regularity

In the tables of Section 5 below, I have summarized the readings available to each of the three functional categories at each stage of development, based on my investigation of the data detailed in the appendix. The point is to determine the regular functional range of each category at each stage, so that I can then assign to it a semantics (or denotation) that accounts for this functional range in Section 6 and, finally, explain the observed shifts from one stage to the next in these terms, taking into account both semantic and pragmatic factors.

I distinguish in this treatment the notion of regularity of usage from that of commonality or frequency of usage. Crucially, just because a usage is regular does not entail that it will occur frequently, though high frequency of occurrence can ordinarily be taken to imply regularity. This is because there are many cases in which one would consider a certain usage to be part of a form’s regular functional range and yet find that it occurs with less frequency than other uses regularly available to that form. For instance, the inceptive use of the Imperfect is certainly of rarer occurrence than, say, its habitual or characterizing uses, simply because the kinds of discourse contexts that elicit the inceptive reading tend to be more specific than for the other uses, typically requiring that something has just occurred in the immediate discourse which leads to the initiation of a related action in the Imperfect (cf. Rijksbaron 2002: 17–18). Yet, if the inceptive use occurs less frequently than the habitual, still it is met with on nearly every page of, say, Herodotus or Thucydides, and good examples of it are, in my experience, much easier to come by than truly solid examples of the Imperfect’s progressive use, which most assume to be fundamental to the meaning of the Imperfect (e.g., Smyth 1956: 423). Therefore, ordering readings on a sliding scale of frequency of occurrence is problematic at best, and it is futile to attempt to determine at what critical threshold one should consider a usage “legitimate” or “illegitimate.”

Partly to avoid the problems brought on by notions of relative frequency, I have instead attempted only to determine what usage is regular for a form at any given stage. By “regularity of usage” I mean something similar to the notion of regularity met with in other areas of linguistics, such as regularity of sound change. This has two properties of interest to us here: (i) A regular sound law may or may not actually apply to very many forms, so long as (ii) it applies everywhere it can apply. Any historical linguist will be familiar with regular sound laws that are used to explain only a handful of data (or sometimes even a single form, so long as no counterexamples exist). So with regularity of usage, a form may be regular without being frequent. There are a number of factors that contribute to relative frequencies, such as the kinds of discourse contexts that give rise to particular readings (just mentioned) and, most tellingly, categorical or partial blocking. Just as a regular sound law applies wherever it can but may be blocked (or “bled”) from applying by some other rule that precedes it, so, analogously, a regular synchronic usage of a form will apply in every context that it can, though its application may meet with interference due to competition with another form in the same function. Given this assumption, it follows that, when two forms compete for the same semantic space, the semantically stronger form will apply in those cases where its particular functional range is most appropriate, not because the other form cannot express that nuance, but because the more specific form must apply in all instances that it can. Since the more specific form applies in a subset of the contexts that the less specific form does, it will block the application of the less specific form in exactly those contexts.

Whether this blocking is partial or categorical depends on numerous other factors of the particular verbal system, but either variety can be overridden by lexical or other considerations. For example, the English Preterite cannot have past progressive interpretations. Yet it would be rash to conclude on this basis that the Preterite is semantically incapable of expressing these shades of meaning. On the contrary, the English Preterite is generally regarded as a simple past gram (e.g., Bybee et al. 1994: 85; Denison 1998: 133), neutral in aspect, which we know in earlier forms of the language—when the Progressive construction was not fully grammaticalized—was used to characterize states of affairs as complete or incomplete in the past (Fischer 1992: 245–246; Rissanen 1999: 226). Further, even in Present-day English the simple Preterite is regular and even required for certain state predicates characterized as ongoing in the past, where the Progressive is impossible, as in Mary knew (*was knowing) the answer. It is thus inaccurate to say that the English Preterite does not regularly characterize states of affairs as incomplete or ongoing in the past. Rather, the event-in-progress readings that could apply to the Preterite (and used to do so) are categorically blocked in Present-day English by the Progressive construction (cf. Deo 2015b: 5), which applies in all contexts where it can apply, namely to charatcerize events as being in progress, in preference to the semantically more general Preterite (simple past gram). Such is the effect of blocking that readings which are well within the semantic scope of a form are not actually realized with complete freedom, since another form in the verbal system that is more highly specified for use in those contexts blocks the application of the more general form. Still, such readings may be realized by the more general form in a restricted domain, applying wherever the more specific form cannot, as in the case of state predicates in English that do not readily build Progressives, such as know, where the Preterite is used instead. Thus, all regular uses of a functional category will apply in all contexts that they can apply in, though these contexts of application are often restricted by interaction with other forms in the same verbal system.

And so, I understand a reading or set of readings to be regular when it is compatible with the denotation of a particular morphological category at a given linguistic stage. Empirically, a usage of a form is taken to be regular if: (a) it is very common and virtually unrestricted lexically, syntactically, or pragmatically; or (b) it is not very common or is even uncommon and of restricted occurrence, but the restrictions on its application are definable and predictable, whether in terms of lexicon (predicate types), syntax, discourse context, or blocking relations with other functional categories in the verbal system (pragmatics). When there is no good reason to suppose that a usage that is marginal or completely lacking in secure attestation for a verb form at a given stage comes by its scarcity due to regular pragmatic or other restrictions along the lines of (b), then the usage is considered not to be regular for that form at that stage.

It is possible for a usage to meet this definition of regularity but never actually be attested for a particular form, but crucially only if its lack of occurrence is regular and definable as the result of a blocking relation with another form in the verbal system. Such is very nearly the case of the resultative-perfect use of the Imperfect in Homer, which has only a few plausible attestations. One way of analyzing its near absence could be to include a stipulation in its semantic denotation against applying this form in a resultative function. But since the Aorist is systematically applied in resultative contexts, the more economic approach is to view the lack of resultative uses of the Imperfect as due to blocking on the part of the Aorist in the appropriate contexts, rather than as an entailment inherent in the meaning of the Imperfect itself (cf. the categorical blocking of event-in-progress readings of the Preterite in English by the Progressive, discussed just above). This allows us to suppose that the Imperfect denoted “neutral aspect,” which can explain its extremely wide functional range, without stipulating more than is necessary or appropriate, since taking blocking into account gets this restriction, as it were, “for free,” while also rendering the few possible instances of resultative Imperfects in Homer semantically unproblematic.

By contrast, sporadic, unsystematic, and unpredictable uses are considered not to be regular. In such cases, no particular lexical restriction on the usage can be identified, no predictable syntactic or discursive environment can be pointed to as eliciting the reading across occurrences, and no regular blocking relation with another form in the verbal system can be observed. There are some cases where an especially marginal or dubious reading of a form is found in a particular syntactic environment or discourse context, but, crucially, these environments or contexts cannot be generalized in order to predict where the form will occur when one looks at similar contexts in other utterances, because other forms are found there instead. Such cases must not be regarded as “regular” under the definition put forth here. An example of this is the English Perfect, which is ordinarily banned in contexts of definite past time deixis (the so-called “present perfect puzzle”; cf. Klein 1994: 208), as in *I have seen him at three o’clock yesterday. Nonetheless, there are occasions in which one will hear or produce the Perfect in contexts of this kind, as I once did when writing an email to a professor, saying, “I have already taken Ling 200A last fall.” Clearly the use of the Perfect with definite time reference to the previous fall, added at the end, was triggered by a special set of circumstances at the discourse level: I wanted to make clear that I already had the prerequisite filled for the upcoming course (hence the experiential perfect) but also wished to specify when that prerequisite had been completed (hence the definite time adverbial). Yet we cannot use this one-off example to make reliable predictions about where the Perfect can and cannot occur in English, or even in my own idiolect of English. In fact, when we look at similar contexts in other utterances, we find the simple Preterite almost invariably (of the type I took it last fall). So it would be unreasonable to suppose that the denotation of the English Perfect is such that it regularly permits co-occurrence with adverbials of definite past deixis.

Still, such sporadic occurrences can, over time, lead to changes in regularity. In fact, it is thought that one of the mechanisms driving the grammaticalization of a perfect gram to a perfective or simple past is its over-application, extending into contexts where it could not previously be applied (cf. Deo 2015a: 193). Eventually, this usage becomes part of the form’s denotation (i.e., semantically regular). Thus, sporadic, contextually or pragmatically motivated over-extension in usage can lead to systematic, regular usage at a later stage. It is therefore important to keep the two notions distinct to the extent possible. This concept will be relevant in what follows, as (e.g.) I deem the complexive uses of the Aorist in Archaic Greek to be irregular, even though they are attested a few times at this stage, since their occurrence is in no way predictable on the basis of their attestations or on regular interactions of the Aorist with the verbal system at large (similarly, cf. the marginal concentrative use of the Perfect at this stage). At the same time, however, I take these sporadic early occurrences as evidence of the type of over-extension of usage just described, which I assume led to the regularity of such uses in the later stages of the language: The complexive use of the Aorist and the concentrative use of the Perfect are clearly regular at the Classical and post-Classical stages, so it is unsurprising that we should find an occurrence or two at an earlier stage (Archaic Greek), when these uses were first emerging.

4.5 Presentation of the data

In the tables that follow in Section 5, I summarize the functional ranges of the three “past tense” categories (Aorist, Imperfect, and Perfect/Pluperfect) at each of the three stages of Ancient Greek defined above (Archaic, Classical, and post-Classical). In each cell of a table a functional label (i.e., a “reading”) may or may not be found. If a functional label appears in a cell and is unadorned, without further marking, it means that I take that reading to be part of the regular functional range of the category to which it is assigned (i.e., in the corresponding column). If, instead, the symbol “×” appears (without further adornment), it means that that particular functional slot finds no attestation in the data for that category at that stage of the language. As discussed above, lack of attestation may or may not correspond to a semantic entailment against that particular usage. In the case of the Imperfect, for instance, lack (or near lack) of attestation can in several cases be straightforwardly attributed not to limitations entailed by its semantic denotation but to restrictions imposed on it by pragmatic interaction with the Aorist, called categorical blocking. In the case of the Aorist, on the other hand, pragmatic conditions preventing certain uses that it could hypothetically have cannot readily be established, so a semantic account is more reasonable, wherein the denotation of the Aorist is taken to be such that it entails that the Aorist’s application in certain contexts is not regularly admissible. The lack of regular attestation of the Aorist in such contexts is thus explained, in general, as a limitation imposed under its particular functional range, rather than by interaction with another form in the verbal system (via blocking). In any case, the symbol “×” in the tables that follow is meant to be silent about this distinction, with the matter of whether a certain absence of attested usage is to be attributed to semantics or pragmatics taken up in the following section (§ 6).

The rows of each table group readings according to functional similarity (if not absolute identity) across morphological categories (columns). Thus, if the symbol “×” appears in a particular cell, the reader must look to its right or left to see what the overall character of that row is like, in order to understand what sort of reading is unattested for the form in question. For example, the first “×” in the Aorist column of Table 8 falls in a row including the progressive-conative use of the Imperfect and the intensive-frequentative use of the Perfect/Pluperfect. This row thus groups readings that refer to an event in progress at evaluation time. Therefore, the “×” in the Aorist cell can be understood to mean that the Aorist does not attest any secure examples of a progressive use (or occur in progressive-like contexts) at the Archaic stage.

When a row would otherwise consist entirely of “×” symbols, thereby rendering the row’s intended functional parameter opaque, but its inclusion in the table is relevant with respect to diachrony, the intended funtional label is enclosed in square brackets. This notation is identical in meaning to the “×” symbol, except that it additionally indicates information about what functional parameter is meant to be reflected in the whole row (the rest of which will contain “×” symbols), as seen in row 11 of Table 8.

In addition to this basic contrast between a usage that is regularly attested (indicated by an unadorned usage label in the relevant cell) and one that is entirely unattested (indicated by “×” or a usage label enclosed in square brackets), there are several other notational strategies that I have adopted, in order to indicate various degrees of attestation, as this can often be quite complicated when one looks closely at the data and the grammatical literature written about it. Some of these are practical, such as the use of square brackets to indicate the functional parameter of a row (no different in meaning from “×”), while others have distinctive meanings. I summarize all of these notations in the following list.

Unadorned usage label (e.g., “stative”): The stated reading is regularly attested for the form in question at the linguistic stage indicated. Boldface type (e.g., “universal”) indicates an innovation of usage from the immediately preceding stage (i.e., an addition to the form’s functional range). Boldface type also applies for uses that have become regular or ceased to be rare or questionable (see below) since the time of the immediately preceding stage (e.g., the universal and complexive uses of the Aorist and the resultative use of the Perfect in Table 9).
× (unadorned): The reading proper to this cell of the table (as indicated by the row to which it belongs) is unattested for the form in question at the linguistic stage indicated, without an indication of whether this lack of attestation is semantically or pragmatically motivated (clarified in § 6). The boldface equivalent is “✗,” which indicates a loss in attestation compared with the immediately preceding stage.
Usage label enclosed in square brackets (e.g., “[performative/reportive]”): The stated reading is unattested for the form in question at the linguistic stage indicated, without an indication of whether this lack of attestation is semantically or pragmatically motivated (clarified in § 6). The “×” is avoided because the row in question would otherwise consist only of “×” symbols, in which case it would not be clear what manner of usage was being referred to. A row of null attestation is included for its interest to diachrony. Labels of this kind may be put in boldface to indicate an innovation from an immediately preceding stage (e.g., “[performative/reportive]”).
Usage label with question mark (e.g., “resultative?”): The reading is of uncertain regularity, productivity, or legitimacy. In the face of doubt, the reading is considered to belong to the regular functional range of the form in question at the linguistic stage indicated. In all such cases, the available evidence, its treatment in the handbooks, and reasons to doubt its legitimacy are discussed in the relevant portions of the appendix. The question mark may be put in boldface to indicate a change in security of attestation or certainty of regularity from the immediately preceding stage (e.g., “stative?”).
Usage label enclosed in square brackets with question mark (e.g., “[complexive]?”): The stated reading is deemed not to belong to the regular functional range of the form in question at the linguistic stage indicated. Such readings may be attested, however, whether dubiously or securely, but not regularly. That is, no rule can be established governing or predicting the reading’s occurrence—whether semantic (entailed by denotation), lexical (predicate types it combines with), syntactic (adverbial or clausal environment), contextual (discourse), or pragmatic (blocking). Discussion of readings so labeled is always included in the appendix, where the motivations leading to the adoption of this label are explained, and the evidence and its treatment in the grammatical literature are carefully assessed. This label may be put in boldface (e.g., “[sequential?]”) to indicate an innovation (loss) from an immediately preceding stage.
Usage label in boldface with strike-through line (e.g., “complexive”): Indicates that the stated usage has become restricted in its occurrence, though it is securely attested, for the relevant form in comparison with the immediately preceding stage of the language. This is to be attributed (in § 6) to pragmatic interference (partial blocking) on the part of another form in the verbal system. Motivations for such a notation in any given case are discussed in the body of the text in Sections 5–6 and in greater detail with citations in the relevant portions of the appendix.
“(rare)” after an otherwise unadorned usage label (e.g., “resultative (rare)”): Indicates that the use in question, while regular, is not of frequent occurrence for the relevant form at the stage indicated. This label may be put in boldface to indicate an innovation in scarcity of occurrence from an immediately preceding stage (e.g., “futurate? (rare)”). Various other stipulations or qualifications may be added to it (e.g., “(rare unless prefixed))”.
“(drama)” after a usage label (e.g., “stative? (drama)”): Indicates that possible examples of the use are only found in Attic drama, so far as I am aware or have been able to determine from the grammatical treatments and my own investigation of the data (see Appendix ad loc.).
Predicate type label in curly braces following one of the above labels (e.g., “{states}”): Indicates the predicate type(s) (cf. n. 18 above) for which the reading in question is available for the relevant form at a given stage, as discerned from its attestation. So, for example, the Aorist attests stative uses in Archaic Greek only when it is built to state predicates. When the restrictions on predicate type change from one stage to the next, the predicate type label is put in boldface in the table of the later stage (e.g., “{non-achiev.}”). Where the predicate type restrictions remain unchanged from a prior stage, however, I omit its label from subsequent tables. Events is the cover term used to pick out all non-state situation types (viz. achievements, accomplishments, and activities). Transformative (= achievements and accomplishments) is abbreviated “transfm.”; non-transformative (= states and activities) is abbreviated “non-transfm.” (cf. n. 8 above). When all but one situation type is available for a reading but does not form an established natural class, I simply put “non-” in front of the excluded situation type (e.g., “non-activities” picks out states, accomplishments, and achievements). Accomplishments is abbreviated “accomp.”; achievements is abbreviated “achiev.”
(Plpf.): Designates readings not available to the Perfect but only to the Pluperfect at the stage indicated. Note that the Pluperfect matches the Imperfect almost entirely in its functional range, particularly at the Archaic stage (cf. Appendix § A.1.6).

Various other qualifiers (e.g., “‘attained state’ only”) will be sufficiently transparent to the reader in consideration with the discussion accompanying each table, supplemented by the relevant portions of the appendix. “CF” stands for counterfactual.

5 Data

5.1 Archaic/Homeric Greek (c. 700–500 BCE)

In overview, the readings available to the three “past tenses” in Archaic Greek are presented in Table 8. For an explanation of the notation, see Section 4.5 just above. For philological and theoretical details motivating the readings assumed in this and subsequent tables see the appendix.

In the appendix (online supplement, see p. 141) the reader will find discussion of every reading in Tables 8–10 except the generic, gnomic, habitual, and pluractional uses (iterative and distributive). The decision to exclude these readings from the appendix was made late in the drafting of this paper and solely for considerations of space, since these groups of readings do not significantly affect the findings here presented and, though interesting in many ways, do not vary much from stage to stage in ways relevant to the current investigation. The denotations in Section 6 have been made with these readings in mind, however, such that the habitual reading of the Imperfect, for instance, is fully compatible with the semantics assigned to the Imperfect at all stages (i.e., either tE ∘ tA or tE ⊃ tA). In other words, these readings are assumed to be part of the functional ranges of their respective morphological categories (as shown in the tables), even though they are not explicitly discussed.

Table 8

Attested readings of the Archaic Greek Aorist, Imperfect, and Perfect/Pluperfect ind.

Aorist

Imperfect

Perfect/Pluperfect

1.

stative {states}

continuous state {states}

stative {non-activities}

2.

×

progressive-conative {events}

intensive-frequentative {events}

3.

resultative/“hot news” {transfm.}

resultative? (rare) {transfm.}

resultative (rare) {transfm.}

4.

experiential {any}

experiential? (rare) {any}

experiential {any}

5.

present universal? {any}

(present/past) universal {any}

universal {any}

6.

concentrative-sequential {events}

concentrative-sequential {events}

[concentrative]? {events}

7.

counter-sequential {events}

counter-sequential {events}

(Plpf.)

8.

inceptive {states}

inceptive {non-achiev.}

(Plpf.)

9.

[complexive]? {states}

complexive {non-transfm.}

(Plpf.)

10.

past CF {any}

past CF {any}

(Plpf.: past CF)

11.

[performative/reportive]

×

×

12.

futurate? {transfm.}

×

×

13.

egressive (rare) {accomp.}

×

×

14.

pluractional {any}

pluractional {any}

×

15.

gnomic {any}

past habitual {any}

generic uses {any}

The rows of Table 8 correspond to groups of similar “readings” or interpretation types (i.e., uses) across morphological categories. So, for example, row 2 column 3 reflects the traditional label for the use of the Perfect designating an event (not a state) ongoing at speech/evaluation time, namely intensive-frequentative. This is qualitatively not very far from the progressive-conative uses of the Imperfect (row 2 column 2), though the former has present reference and the latter has past reference, and so I place them in the same row of the table. The progressive and conative are grouped together because I take the conative reading to be a special case of the progressive (e.g., ‘was persuading’ but had not yet accomplished the persuasion, and hence ‘was trying to persuade’), though nothing depends on this assumption.

To take another example of a natural class of readings from Table 8, row 1 has to do with states that are ongoing at or before speech time (or local evaluation time, cf. n. 42 below), a use which outside the perfect and perfective aspects is called “continuous state” (vel sim.) in the semantic literature (cf., e.g., Deo 2015b: 4, of the type was standing). I maintain this distinction to differentiate the use of the Imperfect from that of the Perfect. In this use, the Imperfect designates states that are ongoing in the past and does not imply an event preceding the state that resulted in the state’s holding true. This is what I call “continuous state” (type οὐκ … ἥνδανε ‘was not pleasing’). The Perfect, on the other hand, can designate both “attained states” (to transformative predicates, type τέθνηκε ‘is dead’) and continuous states (to state predicates, type ἔολπα ‘I hope’). Attained states differ from continuous states in that they imply a preceding event that has resulted in the state holding true at speech time (or time of local evaluation). Hence, I use the broader term “stative” to refer to this reading of the Perfect.20

The Aorist can also, though in a much more limited way, combine with state predicates to refer to a state ongoing either in the past (e.g., Il. 9.481, Od. 8.63) or, unlike the Imperfect, at speech time (cf. (6) below). I refer to this use of the Aorist as “stative” as well, but for a different reason than that of the Perfect. Whereas the label is used of the Perfect to account for its vagueness as to what kind of stative is meant (attained or continuous), the corresponding use of the Aorist is called “stative” here due to a lack of complete understanding (given the limited data available) about its nature and function (whether attained or continuous or neither), such that the unmarked term seems best (see the appendix § A.1.1 for a full discussion). Moreover, while the Aorist in its stative function can refer to present or past time, the Imperfect refers only to the past, so it is desirable that the two usage labels not be identical. Of course, the Aorist to state predicates may have other readings as well, such as inceptive (see below).

In most other rows, the usage labels are identical or nearly identical across morphological categories. This reflects a functional similarity of these readings across categories, though again distributional details and restriction according to predicate type may vary. Again, the reader is referred to the appendix for a full account of what is meant by each reading label, references to discussion in the grammatical and linguistic literature, and citations from the Greek texts. Note that the readings here presented are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For instance, an experiential perfect reading may at the same time be iterative (e.g., I have read that book many times), and so forth.

Though accounts of aspectual usage inevitably focus on the differences between functional categories, there is in Greek, from the Archaic period on, a remarkable amount of overlap in terms of usage across categories. I have everywhere sought not to suppress functional overlap of this kind, which I take to reflect semantic overlap (i.e., similarity in the denotations of different morphological categories), but to let the data speak for itself. I have thus drawn my conclusions about the functional range of each category solely on the basis of its attested usage (rather than, say, received wisdom about what that category “should” or “should not” be capable of doing).

We return to the sets of readings in Table 8 when we come to the Classical period in Section 5.2, in order to compare the two and observe any diachronic changes. For now, it is enough to emphasize two uses particularly characteristic of the Homeric stage. The first of these is the stative use of the Aorist. Though the Aorist is typically interpreted as having eventuality time (tE) precede speech time (t0/S), (6) shows that, in Homeric at least, the Aorist could also be interpreted as having eventuality time overlap with the time of speech (or evaluation), such that it can be felicitously used to refer to states that are ongoing in the present (or past, where t0 is “past shifted”). In (6), where Aphrodite is addressing Helen, the Aorist must be read simply as ‘I love’ and cannot be interpreted otherwise in such contexts without violence to the text (cf. Chantraine 1953 [2015]: 214).

(6) Stative use of the Aorist indicative in Homer

μή μ᾽ ἔρεθε σχετλίη, μὴ χωσαμένη σε μεθείω, / τὼς δέ σ᾽ ἀπεχθήρω ὡς νῦν ἔκπαγλ᾽ ἐφίλησα[Aor.] (Il. 3.414–415).21

‘Don’t provoke me, stubborn woman, lest having been angered I cut you loose, and I come to despise you so terribly as I currently love[Aor.] you’.

[NB: #‘have come to love/been loving’]

Another use of particular prominence in Homer is the concentrative-sequential Imperfect (Goodwin 1889: 7–8, 25), referring to an Imperfect used to characterize events as complete in the past, such that eventuality time is fully contained in assertion time (tE ⊂ tA), which is often employed to sequence events chronologically in past narration, relative to other Imperfects or Aorists in the local discourse. Examples of the Imperfect used concentratively in sequential narration have been given in (1) above (cf. Appendix § A.1.6 for further discussion), where they are coordinated with likewise concentrative-sequential Aorists (cf. Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 235). Another example is (24a) in Section 6.3.1 below.

As shown above in (4), the Imperfect is also regular in the complexive function in Homer, rather than the Aorist (cf. Appendix § A.1.9), which is quite rare in this use (and lexically restricted) until the later stages of Greek (Purdie 1898). This is an important point to which we return in the next section.

Thus, the Imperfect of Homer shows a very wide range of aspectual uses, some of which are not typically considered to belong properly to the notion of “imperfective aspect,” particularly the concentrative-sequential and complexive uses, both of which involve the imposition of “boundaries” (i.e., the upper and lower limits of the assertion time interval) on whatever predicate they are built to (respectively transformative/telic and non-transformative/atelic), such that tE ⊆ tA. For this reason, I have identified the Imperfect not as a past imperfective gram (which would entail tE ⊇ tA) but as a simple past, which is neutral in aspect (tE ∘ tA) and therefore compatible with tE ⊆ tA as well as tE ⊇ tA.

The Aorist, meanwhile, is rather more restricted in its use and is found regularly in a number of “perfect-like” functions, such as resultative, experiential, and stative (cf. Kiparsky 2002: 113 on the association of these readings with the perfect aspect). While some of these uses remain available to the Aorist in the later language, their frequency of occurrence in Homer sets them apart from later usage (cf. § 5.4), and the stative use in (6) is virtually restricted to the Archaic period (with some exceptions in Attic drama). Moreover, the Aorist does not regularly have complexive as a use at this stage, suggesting that it does not yet permit the coextension relation, which would impose an upper and lower “boundary” on a state predicate (of the type ‘reigned for twelve years’), so it must not denote the relation tE ⊆ tA, but rather tE ⊂ tA.22 This predicts that when combined with a state predicate23 the Aorist will not yield a complexive reading but will instead coerce an event of entry into the state in question (inceptive reading), such that tE ⊂ tA can be true. Putting these facts together has led me to conclude that the Aorist was at the Archaic stage an “emergent perfective,” showing a high degree of “perfect-like” behavior and lacking, as yet, a full range of “perfective-like” uses (e.g., the complexive reading or serving as the default tense of sequential past narration). Its full denotation is given in Section 6.1.1 (17) below.

The Perfect is a stative-resultative gram at this stage, showing a strong preference for stative usage (type τέθνηκε ‘is dead’), as well as the “intensive-frequentative” use (type βέβρυχε ‘roars, keeps roaring’), which is generally assumed to be archaic. Still, it shows some early signs of a shift along the grammaticalization pathway of (3a) above, moving toward being a full-fledged perfect gram, as it is not uncommonly found in the experiential use, as well as in a few cases of resultative and universal uses (cf. Appendix §§ A.1.3–A.1.5).

5.2 Classical Greek (c. 500–300 BCE)

In overview, the readings available to the three “past tenses” in Classical Greek are presented in Table 9. See Section 4.5 above for an explanation of the notation; cf. the appendix (§ A.2) for details about individual readings.

Table 9

Attested readings of the Classical Greek Aorist, Imperfect, and Perfect/Pluperfect ind.

Aorist

Imperfect

Perfect/Pluperfect

1.

stative? (drama)

continuous state

stative

2.

[conative]? {transfm.}

progressive-conative

intensive-frequentative? (drama)

3.

resultative/“hot news”

resultative? (rare)

resultative/“hot news”

4.

experiential

(present) experiential {any}

experiential

5.

present universal (rare)

(present/past) universal

universal

6.

concentrative-sequential

concentrative-sequential

concentrative[-sequential?] {events}

7.

counter-sequential

counter-sequential

counter-sequential {events}

8.

inceptive

inceptive

inceptive {any}

9.

complexive {states}

complexive {non-achiev.}

(Plpf.)

10.

past(/present) CF

present/past CF

(Plpf.: present/past CF)

11.

performative/reportive {events}

×

×

12.

futurate {transfm.}

×

futurate {events}

13.

egressive {accomp.}

×

×

14.

pluractional

pluractional

(Plpf.)

15.

gnomic

past habitual

generic uses

Beginning with the Aorist column, we see that the stative use of the Aorist is only marginally attested in the Classical language, occurring only in a few isolated examples in Attic drama (cf. Appendix § A.2.1). Universal perfect usage of the Aorist is attested at this stage (type ‘have been (in some state) since some time ago and continuing up to or into the moment of utterance’), and the complexive use of the Aorist to state predicates has become regular (see below). In addition, we now find clear performative/reportive usage of the Aorist (Bary 2012), which is especially common in (but not restricted to) Attic drama, as shown in (7).

(7) Performative Aorist in Classical Greek

τὴν ἐμὴν ψυχὴν κατώμοσ᾽[Aor.], ἣν ἂν εὐορκοῖμ᾽ ἐγώ (Eur. Or. 1517).

‘I swear[Aor.] by my soul, for which I would keep my oath’.

There is also (very dubiously) said to be a “conative” Aorist usage (see Appendix § A.2.2). This is probably better classed with the well attested “futurate” use of the Aorist indicative (Appendix § A.1.12), which is typically used where English or Latin would have a Future or Future Perfect (Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 228), as shown in (8). In this example, the ‘accomplishment’ in question has yet to occur and so is located in the future, but it must logically precede its being ‘ascribed’ to Xerxes and so is construed in the Aorist (rather than the Present or Future), thus yielding a “future perfect” sort of value.

(8) Futurate (≈ “future perfect”) use of the Aorist in Classical Greek

ἢν καταστρέψηται … σὸν τὸ ἔργον, ὦ δέσποτα, γίνεται[Pres.]· οἱ γὰρ σοὶ δοῦλοι κατεργάσαντο[Aor.] (Hdt. 8.102.2).

‘If he (Mardonius) subdues (all that he says he will), then the achievement will be ascribed[Pres.] to you, Sire; for your slaves will have accomplished[Aor.] it [i.e., it will be your slaves who have wrought it]’ (ex. and tr. Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 228).

The egressive interpretation of the Aorist is of clear regularity at this stage. It arises when only the culmination of an action is focused on, rather than its preparatory phase(s), which are typically expressed by the Imperfect (Gildersleeve & Miller 1900: 94). We return to the egressive use later on (§ 6.3.2), with an example in (26) below. Lastly, the Aorist’s use in sequential narration has expanded (Delbrück 1879: 114; Purdie 1898: 68), while its use in “perfect-like” contexts has diminished (see § 5.4). Given this functional range, the Aorist must minimally express the relation tE ⊆ tA, representing the a fully grammaticalized (Type 1) perfective gram (to be treated more fully below, § 6.1.1).

In the Imperfect column, we see most notably that the Imperfect is now regularly used for the expression of counterfactuality referring to the present time (though it may occasionally still have past reference under certain circumstances, particularly when the hypothetical event is imagined as ongoing in the past, on which see Smyth 1956: 518). Present counterfactuality is, according to Iatridou (2000: 239, 244–245), a characteristic function of imperfective aspect. Thus, the Imperfect of the Classical period, in terms of usage, better aligns with cross-linguistically paralleled uses of imperfective aspect than does the Homeric Imperfect. Though its denotation cannot have changed fundamentally from the Archaic period, as shown by its continued use in sequential narrative contexts (see below), it can be said to be losing functional “ground” to the Aorist (Delbrück 1879: 114), which is now preferred in a number of contexts previously favored by the Imperfect, such as complexive and inceptive to state predicates and concentrative-sequential (to all types of predicates). This pragmatic restriction favoring certain usages over others, without rendering any readings outright ungrammatical (and so not yet reflecting a change in the domain of semantics per se), shows early signs of what must have led to the eventual reinterpretation of the Imperfect as a grammaticalized imperfective gram within (or at least by the end of) the post-Classical stage.

Finally, the Perfect/Pluperfect column shows evidence of a now fully grammaticalized perfect gram, regularly expressing not only stative-resultative but also universal and experiential readings (see full discussion and analysis in Gerö & von Stechow 2003). In addition, it is occasionally found in the concentrative use, though not yet in clear sequential narrative contexts. The Perfect (in addition to the Pluperfect) may now also be used in anterior/counter-sequential contexts (Rijksbaron 2002: 77; Smyth 1956: 435), in competition with the Aorist, and it is on occasion found in inceptive and futurate uses as well (see Appendix ad loc.).

Despite the fact that the Classical Greek Imperfect and Aorist share several of the same uses, there is partial complementary distribution according to situation type, at least for some of these functions. In general, the Aorist has inceptive uses only to state predicates (Smyth 1956: 430; Rijksbaron 2002: 20–21). The same appears to be true of the complexive use of the Aorist (cf. Basset 2009: 214), as shown in (9).

(9) Complexive Aorist in Classical Greek: βασιλεύω ‘be king’

καὶ ἐβασίλευσε[Aor.] ἔτεα δυώδεκα, Σαδυάττεω δὲ Ἀλυάττης (Hdt. 1.16.1).

‘And he (Sadyattes) reigned[Aor.] for twelve years; then from Sadyattes Alyattes (received the kingship)’.

By contrast, the inceptive use of the Imperfect may occur with any situation type (with the possible exception of achievements, for practical rather than grammatical reasons, since achievements refer only to a culmination without its preparatory phase) (Hollenbaugh 2020b). The same is true of the Imperfect’s complexive uses, as shown in (10), which has an activity predicate (or possibly an accomplishment, if κομίζω is understood to mean basically ‘bring home’). Here one may contrast the Aorist to the same verb in the concentrative function.24

(10) Complexive Imperfect in Classical Greek: κομίζω ‘transport, carry away, bring home’

οἴκημα μουνόλιθον ἐκόμισε[Aor.] ἐξ Ἐλεφαντίνης πόλιος, καὶ τοῦτο ἐκόμιζον[Ipf.] μὲν ἐπ᾽ ἔτεα τρία … (Hdt. 2.175.3).

‘He (Amasis) transported[Aor.] from Elephantine a house made of a single stone, and they transported[Ipf.] it for three years …’ (ex. and tr. Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 234: “i.e. they were occupied with its transport for three years”).

The two complexive constructions can be seen side by side in (5) above, which shows a complexive Aorist to a state predicate beside a complexive Imperfect to an activity predicate.

The Imperfect in terminative uses (viz. concentrative and complexive) remains common until the end of the Classical period. The use of the Imperfect in sequential narration is, in fact, preferred to the Aorist in history (Rijksbaron 2019).25 Examples are given in (11) and (12), the latter of which shows coordination with the Aorist in the same function (just as in Homer; cf. (1) above).

(11) Sequential (and counter-sequential) Imperfect in Classical Greek

οὕτω δὴ μουνωθέντες Λακεδαιμόνιοι καὶ Τεγεῆται … ἐσφαγιάζοντο[Ipf.] ὡς συμβαλέοντες Μαρδονίῳ καὶ τῇ στρατιῇ τῇ παρεούσῃ. καὶ οὐ γάρ σφι ἐγίνετο[Ipf.] τὰ σφάγια χρηστά, ἔπιπτον[Ipf.] δὲ αὐτῶν ἐν τούτῳ τῷ χρόνῳ πολλοὶ καὶ πολλῷ πλεῦνες ἐτρωματίζοντο[Ipf.]· φράξαντες γὰρ τὰ γέρρα οἱ Πέρσαι ἀπίεσαν[Ipf.] τῶν τοξευμάτων πολλὰ ἀφειδέως … (Hdt. 9.61.2–3).

‘In just this way, having been left alone, the Lacedaemonians and the Tegeans … offered sacrifice[Ipf.] for the benefit of their joint attack on Mardonius and the army that was with (him). For their sacrifices did not turn out[Ipf.] favorable, and in this time many of them fell(-dead)/died[Ipf.] and by far more got/were wounded[Ipf.]; for the Persians, having barricaded with their shields, (had) shot out[Ipf.] an abundance of arrows unsparingly’.

(12) Sequential Imperfect (and Aorist) in Classical Greek

ἐκεῖθεν δὲ τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ ἔπλεον[Ipf.] οἱ Ἀθηναῖοι ἐπὶ Κύζικον. οἱ δὲ Κυζικηνοὶ τῶν Πελοποννησίων καὶ Φαρναβάζου ἐκλιπόντων αὐτὴν ἐδέχοντο[Ipf.] τοὺς Ἀθηναίους· Ἀλκιβιάδης δὲ μείνας αὐτοῦ εἴκοσιν ἡμέρας καὶ χρήματα πολλὰ λαβὼν παρὰ τῶν Κυζικηνῶν, οὐδὲν ἄλλο κακὸν ἐργασάμενος ἐν τῇ πόλει ἀπέπλευσεν[Aor.] εἰς Προκόννησον. ἐκεῖθεν δ᾽ ἔπλευσεν[Aor.] εἰς Πέρινθον καὶ Σηλυμβρίαν (Xen. Hell. 1.1.19–20).

‘From there (Proconnesus) the Athenians (with Alcibiades) sailed[Ipf.] on the next day against Cyzicus. The Cyzicenes, now that the Peloponnesians and Pharnabazus had evacuated the city, admitted[Ipf.] them. There Alcibiades stayed for twenty days, and obtained a great deal of money from the Cyzicenes, but without doing any further harm in the city, he sailed back[Aor.] to Proconnesus. And from there he sailed[Aor.] to Perinthus and Selymbria’ (ex. and tr. Emde Boas et al. 2019: 429).

5.3 Post-Classical Greek (Hellenistic Koine and Roman-Greek) (c. 300 BCE–400 CE)

In overview, the readings available to the three “past tenses” in post-Classical Greek are presented in Table 10. See Section 4.5 above for an explanation of the notation; cf. the appendix (§ A.3) for details about individual readings.

Table 10

Attested readings of the post-Classical Greek Aorist, Imperfect, and Perfect/Pluperfect ind.

Aorist

Imperfect

Perfect/Pluperfect

1.

[stative]?

continuous state

stative (“attained state” only)

2.

progressive-conative

3.

resultative/“hot news”

resultative/“hot news”

4.

experiential

experiential

5.

universal

past (only) universal

universal

6.

concentrative-sequential

concentrative-sequential

concentrative-sequential

7.

counter-sequential

counter-sequential

counter-sequential

8.

inceptive (rare unless prefixed)

inceptive

inceptive

9.

complexive {any}

complexive {states}

(Plpf.)

10.

past CF

present/past CF

(Plpf.: past/present CF)

11.

[performative/reportive]

×

×

12.

futurate

×

futurate? (rare)

13.

[egressive]? (prefixed only)

×

×

14.

pluractional

pluractional

×

15.

gnomic

habitual

generic uses

By the time of post-Classical Greek, the experiential and resultative readings of the Imperfect are no longer found, which suggests categorical blocking on the part of the Aorist and Perfect in these contexts and a further push of the Imperfect toward imperfectivity.26

Also by the post-Classical period (and perhaps even beginning in the late Classical), the Imperfect in concentrative use is virtually restricted to verbs of communication, above all ἔλεγεν/-ον ‘said’ (BDF: 169–170; Wallace 1996: 541–542; Robertson 1923: 882–884), as still in Modern Greek (Hedin 2000: 256–258). However, there are some occasional occurrences that seem genuinely sequential, as in (13).27

(13) Sequential Imperfect in post-Classical Greek (rare)

ἄλλα δὲ ἔπεσεν[Aor.] ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν τὴν καλὴν καὶ ἐδίδου[Ipf.] καρπόν (Mt. 13:8).

‘But other (seed) fell[Aor.] onto good soil and produced[Ipf.] a crop’.

Yet examples of this kind are quite rare, such that we may observe a far more limited application of the concentrative interpretation of the Imperfect at this stage than at the Classical and Archaic stages, seeing as it is restricted to a high degree by lexical item (mostly to verbs of communication) and syntactic/discursive environment (strongly dispreferred in sequential narration).

The complexive use of the Imperfect has also essentially disappeared by this period, having been taken over by the Aorist (Purdie 1898), except to verbs lacking an Aorist stem, such as εἰμί ‘be’ (Ipf. ἦν), which is common in this function, as in (14a). A possible exception is (14b), where a non-copular state predicate shows complexive function in the Imperfect.

(14) Complexive Imperfect in post-Classical Greek (very rare apart from ἦν ‘was’)

a. καὶ ἦν ἐν τῆ ἐρήμῳ τεσσεράκοντα ἡμέρας πειραζόμενος ὑπὸ τοῦ Σατανᾶ, καὶ ἦν μετὰ τῶν θηρίων, καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι διηκόνουν αὐτῷ. (Mk. 1:13).

‘And he was in the desert for a forty days being tempted by Satan, and he was among the beasts, and the angels attended/were attending him’.

b. καὶ κατεγινόμην ἐν τῷ ὄρει τεσσαράκοντα ἡμέρας καὶ τεσσαράκοντα νύκτας (Deu. 9:9).

‘And I stayed on the mountain for forty days and forty nights’.

With these two near losses—admitting regular exceptions, as in the case of ἦν ‘was’, and sporadic others—the Imperfect effectively loses its terminative functions (viz. concentrative and complexive), becoming practically restricted to use in “canonical” imperfective (i.e., non-terminative) contexts, namely those uses compatible with the relation tE ⊃ tA. Still, given the existence of the attested concentrative and complexive uses of the Imperfect at this stage, it seems best to view this restriction as pragmatic in nature, rather than semantic, such that the denotation of the Imperfect remains that of an aspectually neutral simple past gram (tE ∘ tA), thus predicting the grammaticality of sentences like those in (13) and (14) above, while admitting that such sentences have come to be dispreferred in favor of alternative constructions involving the Aorist or Perfect. Due to the pragmatic limitations on the use of the Imperfect in terminative contexts at the post-Classical stage, I suggest that its denotation as aspectually neutral became unrecoverable to learners at a later stage, and so the Imperfect was ultimately reinterpreted as semantically imperfective (tE ⊃ tA), as it remains in the Modern language.

As for the Aorist, it now seems to be freely used in the universal-perfect function, whether past or present, as shown in (15) (cf. Appendix § A.3.5 for further discussion). I take this innovation of usage to be due to the fact that the Perfect is no longer functionally a perfect gram and so no longer takes precedence over the Aorist in universal contexts (cf. discussion in § 6.1.1 below).

(15) Universal Aor. in post-Classical Greek: present (a–b) or past (c) reference

a. καθὼς ἠγάπησέν με ὁ πατήρ, κἀγὼ ὑμᾶς ἠγάπησα, μείνατε ἐν τῇ ἀγάπῃ τῇ ἐμῇ (Jn. 15:9).

‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Remain in my love’.

b. μετὰ Λαβαν παρῴκησα καὶ ἐχρόνισα ἕως τοῦ νῦν (Gen. 32:4).

‘I have been residing with Laban and have been spending time (there) until now’.

c. καὶ συνετέλεσεν ὁ θεὸς ἐν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ τῇ ἕκτῃ τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ ἃ ἐποίησεν (Gen. 2:2).

‘And on the seventh day god finished the work that He had been doing’.

In addition, the Aorist has taken over the complexive use to all predicate types (cf. Appendix § A.3.9), rather than just states as it had in Classical Greek. Examples are given in (16), which shows the Aorist built to state predicates (16a) and event predicates ((16b)–(16d)) in complexive value. The event predicates range from activities (16b) to accomplishments (16c) and even achievements (16d).

(16) Complexive Aor. in post-Classical Greek: states (a) and events (b–d)

a. ἐκεῖ ἔμειναν οὐ πολλὰς ἡμέρας (Jn. 2:12).28

‘They stayed there for a few [lit. ‘not many’] days’.

b. ἐπορεύθητεσσαράκοντα ἡμέρας καὶ τεσσαράκοντα νύκτας (1 Kings 19:8).29

‘He traveled for forty days and forty nights’.

c. καὶ ἐπλήρωσαν αὐτοῦ υνδτεσσαράκοντα ἡμέρας οὕτως γὰρ καταριθμοῦνται αἱ ἡμέραι τῆς ταφῆς καὶ ἐπένθησεν αὐτὸν Αἴγυπτος ἑβδομήκοντα ἡμέρας (Gen. 50:3).30

‘And (the physicians) embalmed him for forty days, for thus were the days allotted for burial. And Egypt mourned him for seventy days’.

d. καὶ ἐγένετο ὁ ὑετὸς ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς τεσσαράκοντα ἡμέρας καὶ τεσσαράκοντα νύκτας (Gen. 7:12).31

‘And the rain occurred/came about on the earth for forty days and forty nights’.

This change completes a fundamental shift in the means by which Greek expresses the complexive reading: from Homer’s regular use of the Imperfect and exceptional use of the Aorist in complexive contexts to Classical Greek’s use of the Aorist for state predicates and the Imperfect elsewhere to the post-Classical Greek situation, wherein the Aorist is regularly complexive for all predicate types and the Imperfect is exceptional. This development is summarized in Table 11, with parentheses enclosing forms used marginally at a given stage (see Appendix for details).

Table 11

Development of the regular means of expressing the complexive reading in Greek

state predicates

elsewhere

I. Archaic

Imperfect(/Aorist)

Imperfect

II. Classical

Aorist(/Imperfect)

Imperfect

III. post-Classical

Aorist(/Imperfect)

Aorist

Meanwhile, according to Purdie (1898), what had been the inceptive and egressive functions (“perfective” in Purdie’s (1898) terms) of the simplex Aorist have been largely taken over by the Aorist with various prefixes, while the simplex Aorist is practically restricted to the complexive and concentrative readings (Purdie’s (1898) term is “constative,” a category which overlaps partly with my complexive and partly with my concentrative; cf. n. 65 in Appendix § A.1.9). Accordingly, the Aorist is at this stage used in sequential narration to the near exclusion of the Imperfect (Delbrück 1879: 114; Purdie 1898: 68). Thus, as the Aorist comes to be more and more “perfective-like” in terms of its functional range (conforming to the cross-linguistic grammaticalization pathway in (3a) above) the Imperfect comes to be increasingly “imperfective-like” in its usage, in what appears to be a sort of “push-chain” effect.

5.4 “Aoristic drift”

The diachronic change in usage of the Imperfect, I claim, depends crucially on interaction with the Aorist (and to some extent with the Perfect). Due to its semantic change along the lines of the grammaticalization path in (3a) above (so-called “aoristic drift”), the Aorist comes to be preferred to the Imperfect in contexts where it had not been previously (such as complexive) or to be predominant in contexts that had previously admitted of a high degree of variability between the Aorist and Imperfect (such as concentrative-sequential). Thus, to explain the observed changes of the Imperfect, it is necessary first to explain the changes observed for the Aorist. This section explains how the grammaticalization path in (3a) above applies to the Greek Aorist and provides some further evidence for its taking place within the historical stages under investigation here. I will then suggest how these changes interact with the Imperfect to bring about its own functional changes observed in the data.

As seen above, in the course of Ancient Greek the Aorist loses its stative function,32 while the complexive and futurate readings become more common over time. The conclusions of Hollenbaugh 2018 suggest that the Aorist in Homer expresses perfect aspect more readily, at least, than in later Greek.33 This is why the Homeric Aorist has been identified here as an “emergent perfective” gram, which is a cross-linguistically motivated category (gram type) that expresses perfect aspect (showing readings typically expressed by perfect grams) that also has uses properly belonging to the perfective aspect (typically expressed by perfective grams) (cf. § 6.1.1). The respective functional ranges of the Aorist summarized in Tables 8 and 9–10 above suggest a diachronic change from the Homeric Aorist as an emergent perfective gram—expressing perfect aspect but regularly compatible with “perfective-like” uses—to the Classical and post-Classical Greek Aorist as a perfective gram—expressing perfective aspect, which is compatible with some “perfect-like” uses.34

One way to check this claim and track its validity over the history of Greek is to search for Aorist forms in contexts that are especially conducive to “perfect-like” interpretations, including especially the resultative and experiential readings. The most reliable adverb that evokes such readings is νῦν ‘now’, since it is practically restricted to present time reference, such that tA ⊃ t0/S (accordingly, it is almost never found scoping over the Imperfect; cf. Hollenbaugh 2018: 45). This differs from other Greek adverbs meaning ‘now’, such as ἤδη ‘already, (by) now’, that allow use in past narration (such that tA ≺ t0/S), not uncommonly co-occurring with the Imperfect in the sense ‘was already/by now doing X’. νῦν is also favorable in that its use in the meaning ‘now’ spans the whole of documented literary Greek (to the present day), unlike other adverbs of currency, which are confined to one period or another, such as πω ‘yet’ (Homeric, cf. Hollenbaugh 2018: 43–45) or ἄρτι ‘just, now, presently’ (post-Homeric, at which time it occurs only rarely with the Aorist, as expected under the analysis put forth here).

Figure 4 shows the occurrence of νῦν followed within 5 words by an Aorist indicative, per 10,000 words (to account for differing corpus sizes), in rough chronological order by author (or text in the case of the Homeric works, their “authorship” being uncertain).35 Though this method necessarily includes a considerable amount of data in which νῦν does not actually scope over the Aorist (i.e., they just so happen to be within 5 words of one another), in the vast majority of cases the data points do represent genuine examples of an Aorist under the scope of νῦν. In Homer, where the occurrences are by far the most frequent, I have checked the data returned by Perseus under PhiloLogic against my data collected “by hand” for Hollenbaugh 2018 and have found that nearly all of them not only represent genuine examples of an Aorist under the scope of νῦν but also have a clearly resultative (or sometimes experiential) value.

d9194552e5165

Figure 4

νῦν ‘now’ within 5 words preceding the Aorist indicative

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

As can be seen in Figure 4, there is a general downward trend in the frequency of the Aorist indicative under the scope of νῦν ‘now’, which has resultative (or experiential) perfect readings ‘have (as of) now done/been X’. This is shown plainly by the logarithmic regression line (i.e., the curving dashed line) trending downwards from Homer to Demosthenes (chosen as an arbitrary cutoff within the Classical period, the trend line leveling off by this point). Authors/texts are ranked by time from most ancient to least ancient. The statistical hypothesis tests—namely the probability value (p-value) and the Pearson correlation coefficient (r-value)—given below the chart indicate a strong correlation between the two variables, viz. time (-axis) and frequency of the co-occurrence of the Aorist with νῦν (-axis): As time goes on, the collocation νῦν + Aorist becomes less frequent. This trend is expected if the Aorist is indeed becoming more “perfective-like” over time, such that its resultative and experiential uses become less central to its functional range.

A similar trend can be observed for the Aorist in anterior/counter-sequential contexts (also called “relative past,” of the type ‘had done X’; cf. Appendix § A.1.7), which are characteristic of perfect aspect and essentially equivalent to the resultative or experiential readings shifted into the past (cf., e.g., I have tried sushiOnce I had tried sushi, I realized I loved it). To verify this, I have conducted searches, using Perseus under PhiloLogic, for the Aorist within 5 words following the conjunctions ὅτε and ἐπεί(δή), both meaning ‘when’, in the same Greek authors as above. The results of these two searches are summarized in Figures 5 and 6. The same sort of downward trend line seen in Figure 4 is seen in each of these figures as well, again shown to be statistically significant by the results of the hypothesis tests (r- and p-values) below each figure, indicating a strong correlation between variables.

The data suggests that the Aorist is used less and less in characteristically “perfect-like” contexts over time (though it never becomes incompatible with such contexts). This is, no doubt, in part due to the fact that the morphological Perfect is also moving along the same “perfect(ive) cline” seen in (3a) above (as demonstrated already by Gerö & von Stechow (2003)), grammaticalizing into a perfect gram by the Classical period and so partially blocking the application of a number of uses formerly expressed more typically by the Aorist, particularly its resultative and counter-sequential/relative past functions. This seems to have contributed to limiting the Aorist’s application largely to terminative contexts, namely concentrative-sequential36 and complexive (cf. Purdie’s (1898) “constative”). This, in turn, puts pressure on the Imperfect not to be used in sequential narration or complexive contexts.37 Thus, the Aorist becomes more and more the default tense for complexive use and for sequencing events in past narration (concentrative), in preference to the Imperfect.38 This distribution, beginning already in Homer, is categorical by the time of post-Classical Greek (cf. Browning 1983: 29, 34)—a diachronic development explicitly observed by Delbrück (1879: 114): “Es ist … gezeigt, dass das Imperfectum das altüberlieferte Tempus der Erzählung ist, dass aber im Griechischen der Aorist demselben immer mehr Terrain ab hat” (‘It is shown that the Imperfect is the ancient tense of narration, but that in Greek the Aorist gains more and more ground from it’).

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Figure 5

ὅτε ‘when’ within 5 words preceding the Aorist indicative

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

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Figure 6

ἐπεί(δή) ‘when’ within 5 words preceding the Aorist indicative

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

5.5 Local summary: trends conspiring to bring about the simple past to imperfective shift

To summarize, the inceptive Aorist and Imperfect become increasingly common in the Classical stage (Hollenbaugh 2020b; Friedrich 1974: 10; Wallace 2006; Jacobsohn 1933: 308–309),39 as does the complexive Aorist (Jacobsohn 1933: 305–310; Schwyzer–Debrunner: 281), even being built to event predicates in the post-Classical stage.40 In other words, the Aorist indicative is built to state predicates—which is the only predicate type that regularly gives rise to inceptive and complexive readings of the Aorist in Classical Greek—with increasing frequency after Homer.

The Imperfect, meanwhile, is not used for present counterfactual conditions until after the Archaic stage, when it becomes the regular means of expressing present counterfactuality. As mentioned above, this is in line with a cross-linguistic observation of Iatridou’s (2000: 239, 244–245) that past-tense imperfectives tend to express counterfactuality only for the present time (type ‘if she were doing X …’). That the Homeric Imperfect lacks this use is therefore unsurprising only if it was not yet an imperfective (semantically or pragmatically) (cf. Hollenbaugh 2018: 2, 32). The post-Homeric Imperfect is thus more in line with a canonical imperfective (Type 1 or 2) than was its ancestor in Archaic Greek.

By the post-Classical stage the complexive use of the Imperfect virtually disappears41 (which may be related to the loss of its experiential use at the same stage), and the concentrative-sequential function has fallen almost entirely to the Aorist. In this way, there come to be fewer and fewer contexts in which the Imperfect is favored outside of its “backgrounding” functions in a discourse (such as its progressive and habitual readings), as the Aorist and Perfect emerge as the forms for characterizing events as complete or “bounded” in the past, whether complexive, inceptive, or concentrative-sequential.

Nonetheless, although the terminative uses (i.e., concentrative-sequential and complexive) of the Imperfect become more and more restricted both lexically and in frequency of use, at no period from Homer to the Hellenistic Koine is the Imperfect incompatible with terminative contexts (i.e., canonical “perfective” contexts), as Wackernagel (1926–1928 [2009]: 235) is careful to observe, and as is evident from their sustained attestation into the post-Classical stage (however infrequent). Therefore, a sufficient analysis must account for the grammaticality of terminative uses of the Imperfect at the post-Classical stage, while simultaneously explaining their restricted application in terminative contexts at this stage.

I accomplish this in the next section (§ 6) by supposing that the semantic denotation of the post-Classical Imperfect permits terminative readings (since it remains aspectually neutral) but that the realization of the Imperfect in contexts that would elicit terminative readings is partially blocked (pragmatically) by interaction with the Aorist and Perfect, whose perfective denotations make them preferred in terminative contexts. I further include in my analysis an account of how the post-Classical situation must have emerged out of the earlier two stages, in which the Imperfect was not averse to (and was even favored in) terminative functions. Finally, I suggest that the blocking of the Imperfect’s application in terminative contexts by the Aorist eventually became categorical, such that its semantic compatibility with terminative uses would no longer have been recoverable to learners. As a result, the Imperfect must have at last undergone genuine semantic change by the beginning of the Medieval period, being reanalyzed as denoting imperfective aspect (tE ⊃ tA), rather than simply being compatible with it, as it had been in the Ancient stages (IIII) under its “neutral” denotation (tE ∘ tA).

6 Analysis

6.1 Semantic denotations: specifying the stages

The denotations at the various stages of development outlined in Section 3 above are in need of some refinement in order to adequately account for exactly those readings regularly available to each functional category at each stage of development as presented in Section 5.

6.1.1 Semantics of the Aorist

As shown in Table 8 above, in Archaic Greek the Aorist must be compatible with readings typical of perfect aspect, including the stative use, while also being compatible with the concentrative use but not the complexive use. The affinity of the Archaic Aorist for readings more typical of stative-resultative or perfect grams suggests that it is not yet fully grammaticalized as a perfective gram, but neither does it fit the profile of a perfect gram, since perfect grams typically lack concentrative as a use. Technically speaking, then, the Homeric/Archaic Aorist is best understood as an emergent perfective (for details and comparative evidence, see Hollenbaugh 2018). The term “emergent perfective” is my (hopefully more intuitive) relabeling of a category with a variety of confusing names in the typological literature on aspect (“bad perfect” in Laca 2010: 6–7, “old anterior” in Bybee et al. 1994: 78–81). By this label I simply refer to a gram type that exists in the synchronic grammars of some languages (including the language of Homer) and has properties of both the perfect and the perfective gram types but cannot be adequately characterized as either one. From a diachronic perspective, this represents an intermediate stage between a perfect and perfective gram on the grammaticalization pathway shown in (3a) above. Yet it has real, synchronic status as a grammatical category, which can be defined semantically, as shown in (17) below.

In concrete terms, I take the difference between the perfect gram type and the emergent perfective gram type to be that the perfect requires that assertion time (tA) include speech time (tS) or local evaluation time (t0),42 while the emergent perfective does not.43 The difference between the emergent perfective and fully grammaticalized perfective gram types is that the former requires that eventuality time at least partially precede speech/evaluation time (tE ⪯ t0/S), while the latter does not (cf. (18) below). The simple past gram type (neutral aspect) requires only an overlap relation between eventuality time and assertion time (tE ∘ tA) and that assertion time at least partially precede speech/evaluation time (tA ⪯ t0/S), which is to say that it is past in tense. The change from perfect to emergent perfective to perfective or simple past over time is what is meant by “aoristic drift” (cf. Willi 2018: 411–412), which corresponds to the grammaticalization pathway (or “cline”) in (3a) above. Each subsequent stage on this cline shows a “weakening” (or broadening) of the semantics associated with the form in question (in this case the Aorist), as is clear from the denotations here presented.

Archaic Greek Aorist:

Based on the data summarized in Table 8 in Section 5.1 at the earliest attested stage the Greek Aorist can be identified as an emergent perfective gram, whose denotation is in (17). Here and below, for ease of comparison, I put in boldface the parts of the denotation that are most important with respect to the diachronic developments of interest to this analysis (such as those most relevant to the grammaticalization path of (3a) above). Note that “te” denotes the runtime or temporal correlate of the eventuality instantiating the eventuality description . That is, it corresponds to what I have been notating as “tE” so far. The lambda operator (λ) may be taken to abstract over the variables (P, tA) and to ensure that they pick out exactly the right set of referents.

(17) Emergent-perfective denotation of the Aorist in Archaic Greek

[λP.λtA.∃(te ⊂ tA ∧ tet0

For some eventuality , eventuality time te is properly included in assertion time tA, and the eventuality time at least partially precedes the local evaluation time t0 (by default equals speech time), and the eventuality description P applied to the eventuality e is true (1).

Since nothing is said in (17) about the relation between assertion time (tA) and speech/evaluation time (t0/S), assertion time is free to precede the evaluation time (i.e., tA ≺ t0), which corresponds to past tense (following Klein 1994: 124). This, coupled with the fact that (17) requires eventuality time to be fully included in assertion time, is what permits the various “preterital” uses associated with the Aorist, as enumerated in Table 8, above all the concentrative-sequential reading (represented in Figure 3 above).44 This is also what sets the Archaic Greek Aorist apart from plain perfect grams, which typically are not compatible with the temporal relation tA ≺ t0 (cf. n. 43 above), and distinguishes it as an emergent perfective (permitting but not requiring that tA ⊇ t0).

However, the denotation in (17) is also compatible with the relation tA ⊇ t0, which yields the present perfect readings of the Aorist (resultative, experiential, and stative), as represented in Figure 7. The perfect aspect readings, in general, come in four different varieties, for which the reader is referred to the appendix for full discussion. By way of example, the resultative reading is of the type Look how far we’ve come (result state still holds at t0/S), the experiential reading is of the type I have been to Paris (consequent state still holds at t0/S), the stative reading is of the type I’ve got something to tell you (the eventuality is itself a state that holds at t0/S), and the universal reading is of the type I’ve lived in LA for six years now (i.e., the eventuality proceeds from some point in the past and continues up to the present of t0/S). A consequent state is one that follows necessarily from the mere fact of an event’s having taken place. It is a property of a time such that it is preceded by a time which contains an eventuality of a particular sort, such as go to Paris. A result state is the target state of a change-of-state predicate. Given that the target state of come is be here, the result state implied by We’ve come is we are here.

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Figure 7

perfect aspect: resultative/experiential (tE) and stative (tE′) readings

Citation: Journal of Greek Linguistics 21, 1 (2021) ; 10.1163/15699846-02101003

Where the assertion time (tA) includes the speech/evaluation time (t0/S) (as admitted by (17)), if the eventuality time (tE) fully precedes t0/S (as also admitted by (17)) but is also included in tA (as required by (17)), this gives the sense of the “continued relevance” of that eventuality at speech/evaluation time. This configuration, represented by tE in Figure 7, may be interpreted as implying either that the result state of the eventuality continues to hold at speech/evaluation time (resultative perfect reading) or that its consequent state does (experiential perfect reading), the choice between the two being based on various factors, including pragmatic ones, whose details do not concern us here (factors such as context, predicate type, usage conventions in competition with other forms, and so on).

The relation tE ⪯ t0 in (17) requires only that tE at least partially precede t0. Because this precedence needs only to be partial, (17) permits a relation such that tE properly includes t0. I take cases of this sort to give rise to the stative perfect use of the Aorist of the type seen in (6) above (i.e., te ⊃ t0, where the eventuality is a state predicate), which is represented by tE′ in Figure 7. In this use, the state expressed by the Aorist is “ongoing” at speech/evaluation time in that its runtime includes that of the speech time or some contextually salient “past-shifted” evaluation time (cf. Appendix § A.1.1). On this reading of perfect aspect cf. Kiparsky 2002: 120–121.45

Crucially, (17) excludes the complexive reading, such that eventuality time and assertion time must not be coextensive (tE ≠ tA). Like the complexive reading, the universal perfect reading is also practically ruled out at this stage by the requirement of (17) that eventuality time (tE) be properly included in assertion time (tA), since the two intervals must be coextensive (or nearly so) in order to give rise to the universal perfect reading (i.e., tE = tA ∧ tA⊃ t0).46 As noted above and discussed in the appendix (§ A.1.5 and § A.1.9), both of these readings are found extremely marginally in Archaic Greek. I formulate the denotation of the Aorist in (17) so as to regularly exclude these readings (but, with a somewhat different treatment of the universal reading, see now Hollenbaugh 2021: § 4.5). However, under certain syntactic or pragmatic conditions, it seems that these readings (or, at least, readings resembling these ones) could occasionally arise even at this early stage. This is unproblematic, given that a basic assumption of grammaticalization adopted in this analysis is that an interpretation that is irregularly associated with some morphological category (such as the Aorist) only when triggered by an especially salient context (syntactic and/or discursive) at one stage of a language is often reinterpreted as part of the notional content expressed by that morphological category at a later stage of the same language. So, if we find that the Aorist at the Classical stage regularly attests complexive uses (as we do), it is assumed that its association with such interpretations must have come from somewhere, in order to have been available for reinterpretation as part of the notional content of the Aorist in the first place. In this way, I take grammatical “leakage” at one stage (i.e., contextually driven exceptional interpretations of a form) to give rise to grammaticality at a later stage (cf. Deo 2015a for discussion of how grammaticalization may proceed).

The futurate use of the Aorist is restricted by the requirement in (17) that tE ⪯ t0, such that tA (which includes tE) cannot follow the evaluation time (future tense being typically defined as t0 ≺ tA). This is desirable, since examples of futurate Aorists at the Archaic stage are few and isolated (Wackernagel 1926–1928 [2009]: 228–229; cf. Appendix § A.1.12, (A24) and (A25)). However, the few occurrences of futurate Aorists that we do find in Homer may be explained as “future shifted”, whereby t0 is located not at speech time but at some point after speech time, and thus, under particular pragmatic conditions, tA (which includes tE) may be located in the future with respect to speech time (cf. discussion in Appendix § A.1.12). Because the futurate reading is licensed only under special circumstances, all of the Homeric examples occur in a context of some salient future reference point, expressed by a verb in the Future tense.

The relation tE ⪯ t0 additionally rules out the performative/reportive reading for the Aorist at this stage. Following Bary (2012) and Lloyd (1999), I take the performative/r