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On Monday, June 28, 2004, at 08:37 , David Peterson wrote:

> I always get confused, 'cause lots of people say the "aorist" tense
> in a given natlang is pretty much just a simple past, or even a
> perfective.  But the "timelessness" definition is the one I know, and
> it's present in the following:

It possibly is used differently in the description of some individual
languages. I don't know where the "timeless" definition comes from,
however.

The word is of Greek origin and was first used in describing ancient Greek.
  The word is derived from ancient Greek _aoristos_ = "indefinite",
"unlimited" - the negative of _oristos_ "definable". (The negative prefix
is a- and not an- as would be expected before a vowel because the word was
earlier _woristos_)

The confusion arises because the word became used both to denote an aspect
and to denote a tense. Strictly it denotes an aspect.

The ancient Greek verb developed a system whereby four different stems
were used for four different aspects, namely:
- an durative aspect or imperfective (traditionally called 'present stem'
tenes. moods etc);
- a perfective aspect (traditionally called 'perfect stem' tenes. moods
etc);
- an aorist aspect (traditionally called 'aorist stem' tenes. moods etc);
- a futuritive aspect (traditionally called 'future stem' tenes. moods etc)
;

Each of these had, at most, two indicative tenses, and one each of a
subjunctive mood, an optative mood, an imperative mood (except the future)
, a participle & an infinitive.

The durative aspect was used both incompleted actions or states, or
actions and states still in progress or habitually occurring.
The perfective aspect denoted something that had already occurred and
whose effects were still felt.
The futuritive denoted what was was anticipated or likely to occur.
The aorist denoted just the action or state itself with no other
implication, i.e. was 'undefined' (with the 'strong verbs' inherited from
PIE, the aorist stem was normally just the root itself).

The durative & perfective stems each had two indicative tenses: a past &
non-past (the past being marked by a prefixed 'augment').
The futuritive stem had only a non-past indicative tense.
The aorist stem had only a past indicative tense (you can't have a
momentary or indefined present action; in the present either the actions
is still happening, however quick it is, or it's finished but its effects
are still with us).

This 'past aorist indicative' was more often than not simply called "the
aorist tense". It corresponded very closely to the English simple past
tense.

In modern Greek this rich system has been much simplified. The perfect &
future stems have gone; only the durative & aorist survive. The optative
mood & the infinitives have gone and the participle system is much reduced.
  The opposition now between 'present stem' & aorist is much like the Slav
imperfective & perfective as regards the subjunctives and the two futures.
  There is still only one present indicative, but two past indicatives: the
imperfective known as the 'imperfect tense' and the perfective known for
historical reasons as the 'aorist tense'.

Ray
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