Greek ἀόριστος comes from |
So ὁ ἀόριστος means "the unlimited one", unlimited tense of course.
- the Greek verb ὀρίζω (I confine, limit) giving the verbal adjective "ὀριστός" (marked out by boundaries, limited)
- the negating prefix ἀ- corresponding to our "un-".
The term TENSE when applied to Greek
does not refer to time of action (except for the indicative modes which always refer to past, present or future)
but to aspect of the activity, i.e. the quality/function we are interested in, meaning: Is the verb-form referring to:
- an on-going action? I am typing. I was reading the news on-line (when my connection to the Internet dropped).
- a customary (or repeated) action or general truth? I drink coffee (not tea). I drive a very old car. The sun rises in the east. I used to smoke. Don't smoke (in general).
- a completed action? I have read someone's email (and am now answering it). I've fed the cats, the chickens, have watered the veg garden, drunk a second cup of coffee (and can now concentrate on this problem as all my chores for the morning are done, completed, finished).
I have sat down (meaning I'm now sitting)
- a simple, specific action (or several such actions): What did I do yesterday? I got up, washed, shaved, got dressed, fed the cats, had breakfast, went and opened the chickens, fed them.........
Tell me what happened! (2 simple, specific actions:
i. tell me (simple, specific request: imperative) and
ii. what happened? (simple, specific past fact).
What we need define now is the meaning of "unlimited".
1. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is right as far as aorist "indicative" denoting past time is concerned. But that is only half the story. What about Greek "aorist" imperatives, infinitives, optatives, subjunctives, participles? They are "not limited" to the past at all.
I'll give some examples to illustrate:
All of these aorist verb-forms can, depending on context, imply past, but they are "not confined/limited" to the past time alone.
- (aorist imperative giving a specific order for a specific single action to be performed):
Come here! ἐλθὲ δεῦρο. Nothing past about this.
- (aorist infinitive, expressing a single, specific action to happen):
I want to get there tomorrow: βούλομαι ἀφικέσθαι αὔριον.
- (aorist optative, here expressing a single, specific wish for the future):
I hope he comes soon. εἴθε ἔλθοι δι' ὀλίγου (ὡς τάχιστα)
- (aorist subjunctive, in the following example expressing a single, specific condition to be fulfilled so that an event will take place in the future):
If he gets here on time we'll go down to the beach. ἐὰν ἔλθῃ ἐν καιρῷ, καταβησόμεθα εἰς τὸν αἰγιαλόν.
- (aorist participle expressing, in this case, a single, specific event prior to some action in the future):
He'll write his mother a letter as soon as he arrives in Athens: εἰς τὰς Ἀθήνας ἀφικόμενος ἐπιστολὴν γράψει τῇ μητρί (= having arrived.... he will .....). "Prior", but not "past"
So, to sum up, in what sense is the Greek "aorist tense" unlimited? According to the examples I've given above,
Greek aorist denotes (as mentioned by the OED but dropping the "past" limitation) a simple, specific (= not general) occurrence, with none of the limitations as to completion, lingering effects, continuance, repetition or time [except for the aorist indicative which does indicate simple, specific events in the past.]
2. As for professor Haiim Rosen, he is wrong on 2 counts:
I. "The aorist is used of a verb, whenever the verbal content is not expressly referred to the past or future times or whenever it is not desired to do so."
Fine for "unlimited" as far as time is concerned (the flaw in the OED definition of aorist). But....
All the examples he cites for his "aorist" are rendered by "present tense" forms in most languages, including Greek (both ancient and modern).
I have added his examples and my translations into French and ancient Greek in the P.S. for whoever wants to check and refute my criticism of the professor's assertion.
He then explains why he chose the name "aorist" to give this tense:
II. "This term is here introduced in analogy to other languages in the grammar of -which a tense of similar function is called by the name of "aorist"."
Aorist comes from Greek and, as a tense, is a strictly Greek language phenomenon. There is "no" tense of similar function in any other language I have come across. The Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and French Simple Past tenses ARE the equivalent of the Greek aorist indicative, but that's where the similarity ends, no such thing as aorist-like subjunctives, infinitives, participles or imperatives.
P.S. Professor Rosen writes about his "aorist":
"It consequently appears:
Instead of French I could have chosen German, Dutch, Russian ...... All would use the forms they call "present tense". And all have present tense forms that relate to the past as well, to make the telling of past happenings more vivid ("historic present"). Professor Haiim Rosen chose the term "aorist" in Hebrew in preference to "present" because the label "present" seems to limit the actions to present time only, while the word "aorist" does not imply such limitation. Unfortunately, professor Rosen's aorist corresponds to Greek "present tense" which has those limitations mentioned by the OED. He obviously does not know any ancient Greek, which for a professor of lnguistics is rather odd and definitely a handicap if you want to use Greek terminology. Why not stick to the normal Hebrew term "hove" instead, as that term does not have any "present time only" connotations?
- in statements of general and timeless validity as the English "Simple Present" in The sun shines."
(Le soleil brille. ὁ ἥλιος λάμπει. Present tense),
- "in statements made with reference to the time within which the statement is made as the English "Present Progressive" in: The sun is shining"
(Le soleil brille. ὁ ἥλιος λάμπει. Present tense)
- "and in statements referred to a time otherwise expressed in the same sentence, e.g. by a word like "tomorrow" as the English "going to constructions", e.g. / am going to leave next week."
(Je pars la semaine prochaine. Greek would prefer to use the future, though "ἀπέρχομαι τῇ ἑπιούσῃ ἑβδομάδι would also be acceptable. Present tense in French, optional in Greek),
- "or in correspondence to the "English Present Perfect Progressive" as in I have been living in Jerusalem ten years."
(Il y a 10 ans que je vis à Jérusalem. οἰκῶ ἐν Ἱερουσαλὴμ/Ἱεροσολύμοις δέκα ἤδη ἔτη. Present tense).