The Greek Future & Aspect: Evidence from Diachronic Morphology

Porter would have us believe that the the Greek Future tense is aspectually vague. That is, it does not participate in the perfective/imperfection system in any way.

I have argued in a past post (see that post both for reference to Porter’s discussion as well) that the best way of explaining the Future is that it forms a pair with the aorist in the same way that the imperfect forms a pair with the present. The benefit of this claim is that it solves the challenge of why the future for the most part does not appear in the oblique moods. It does not just as the imperfect does not. There is also a morphological parallel in that both the aorist and the future contain a –σ.

These are synchronic arguments. I’d like to put forward a diachronic argument here, if only in a sort of outline format.

  • It it generally agreed that the Greek future developed from the Aorist Subjective. The reference grammars are in general agreement on this point.
  • The Modern Greek future developed from the verb θέλω with an infinity (I want to X) which was over time shortened to θα with the indicative (I will X).
  • Modern Greek makes a distinction between the imperfective and perfective aspects in the Future:
    • Imperfective Aspect: εγώ θα ακούω… (I will be hearing… )
    • Perfective Aspect: εγώ θα ακούσω… (Ι will hear …)

Note that the difference between the Future Imperfective and the Future Perfective in Modern Greek continues to be the Sigma Suffix.

No matter how possible it could be, it does not at all seem plausible to me that a verb form that developed from the Aorist Subjective (which by definition is aspectually perfective) would lose its “perfective-ness” for the Koine Period only to regain it again in late Medieval and Modern Greek with the very same –σ suffix.

2 thoughts on “The Greek Future & Aspect: Evidence from Diachronic Morphology

  1. I’m curious about this: what reference grammars — those that consider the development of the language backwards to Homer as well as forward to modern Greek — do you find in agreement “that the Greek future developed from the Aorist Subjunctive”? I find rather (Sihler, Chantraine, Meillet & Vendryès) the view that the sigmatic future derived from a desiderative -s- infix. Meillet notes that a verb like ἄγω has a future ἄξω but its aorist is ἤγαγον and the aorist subjunctive is ἀγάγω. ἔρχομαι employs the root ἐλευθ/ἐλυθ for an aorist ἦλθον and a future ἐλεύσομαι — which future seems pretty clearly formed upon the root ἐλευθ. The aorist subjunctive of ἔρχομαι is ἔλθω, which clearly bears no relation to ἐλεύσομαι. It’s certainly true that Modern Greek has both perfective and imperfective futures, but that appears a later development from the quasi-infinitival ἵνα + subjunctive (present or aorist) used with the auxiliary θέλω (θὰ = θέλω + ἵνα).

  2. I was thinking Brugmann, Robertson, and such. My understanding had been that some had proposed that it developed from the subjective and others that it developed from the aorist and agreement was reached by combining the two views.

    As to the Modern Future forms. I confess to have made the mistake of knowing the Modern forms without knowing the Medieval development. I have seen the error of my ways, searched Google and found this article here:

    http://www.ling.ohio-state.edu/~bjoseph/publications/2002gkfuturerecent.pdf

    I’d e-mail you on such issues as this ahead of time, but I don’t like to take up your time.

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