Caragounis on Native Speakers.

I said previously that I thought Caragounis’ criticisms against Porter on the question of Aspect and Time in the Greek verb were not as good as they could have been. Okay, perhaps I was a little more extreme in my words than that. Regardless, let me explain.

Caragounis argues that the fact that no Greek grammarian or Greek in general has ever made such a claim is evidence that the Greek verb does in fact express time. He response rather angrily to Porter’s words that Greeks may have been fooled themselves regarding the grammar of their language (esp. 326ff.). But the fact is that the purpose of native speakers is not to ask them whether time exists or not, but for elliciting data for analysis. Simply asking native speakers questions about what tenses there are in a give language will easily result in inaccurate information.

To give a couple examples from English:

1) English Verb Tenses

English speakers think that our verbs mark past, present, and future, when they only denote past and present. The future cannot be called a tense because it is not marked on the verb. Tenses are a morphological part of the verb. Future meaning is marked by an auxillary. Thus while the English language expresses past, present, and future meaning, English verbs are only marked by past and non-past tenses. The non-past tense then combines with an auxillary in order to express future meaning.

2) The English Vowel System

if you ask any English speaker how many vowels there are in English, he or she will tell you there are five. But this is also false. There are five symbols that mark English vowels in the orthography, but there are actually 11 different vowel sounds: i, ɪ, ɛ, e, æ, a, ɑ, ɔ, o, ʌ, u (these vowel symbols might not appear on your screen unless you’re using an uptodate unicode font).

In both these cases, English speakers have been fooled by their own analysis and language! The very thing that Caragounis claims is rediculous in reference to Greek.

Now again, I must say that I have not been convinced by Porter’s arguments (particularly because he really doesn’t spend to much time to give evidence either – at least not that kind of evidence that my lingusitics professors demanded from me in my papers). But if Caragounis is going to demolish Porter’s view, he needs to find firmer footings for his argument. Simply saying that Greek native speakers believe time is expressed in the verb forms does not mean it does.