Tense a Aspect: 1a. A Brief History


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Tense and Aspect: 1a. A Brief History of Time (and Tense) - Part One

The relationship, if any, between time and tense is one of the themes of the series of threads I am submitting to this forum. This post contains very boring lists, mentioned here, of what some writers have had to say on the subject. It may be of marginal interest to those who share my nerdish interest in the topic.

The large number of (near-) synonyms in English and the reason for this have been noted by many writers. Thus time, from the old English tima, and tense, from the Old French tens/temps (= time) have co-existed at least since the first use (1315) of time recorded by the OED. Originally both words were used in the temporal sense, though the OED notes that the use of tense in this sense is now obsolete or archaic, the last convincing citation (apart from one from James Joyce in 1922) being from 1843.The use of time in the grammatical sense is labelled obsolete by the OED. It was first recorded in 1530, and it was still being used by Cobbett (1823.42). In the form tens, tense is recorded as being first used in the grammatical sense in 1388.

For the word in its grammatical sense, some early writers on grammar used only time (e.g., Cobbett (1820), Hume (c 1617) Lowth (1762 )) some used only tense, ( e.g., Johnson (1755), Murray ([1795] 1852), Priestley (1761?)) and some both (Johnson (1755), Murray ([1795] 1852), Priestley (1761)), often in some form such as:There are five Tenʃes, or Times (Ash [1763] 1785.39). Despite some early dislike for tense - […] several Times, which our Engliʃh Grammarians have by a barbarous Word call’d Tenʃes (Gildon and Brightland ([1711] 1746.104) – tense is now the word almost universally used in English. It is clear from these early grammars that the writers understood a difference in meaning between tense/time in the grammatical sense, and time in the temporal sense. The fact that they could have more than three tenses/times for the three temporal categories of past, present, and future (see Ash's words, above) is evidence for this. Similarly, writers in languages that do not have separate words for tense and time appear to separate the two concepts effectively (e.g., French temps and German Zeit). As early writers on English grammar were heavily influenced by earlier English and Roman writers on Latin grammar, themselves influenced by Classical Greek grammarians, often using the same grammatical terminology, albeit translated, it seems likely that the words time and tense were used because the Roman writers used tempus, the Latin translation of the Greek χρόνος. Exactly why the first Greek grammarian to distinguish tenses Laërtius Diogenes (fl 3[SUP]rd[/SUP]c CE), chose this word for inflected forms of the verb is not clear, given that The most important element in Greek tense is kind of action; time is regarded as a secondary element (Keating, 2010.II.1).

A correlation of tense and time has been a feature of English dictionaries and works of reference from Samuel Johnson onwards: Here are some examples, in chronological order. In the lists below, I have put the word time, or its equivalent in other languages in bold.

A Dictionary of the English Language (1775). Johnson, Samuel: TENSE [In grammar] Tenʃe, in ſtrict ſpeaking, is only a variation of the verb to ſignify time.

Encyclopædia Britannica (1771): GRAMMAR [...] a change may be produced in the time [of the verb], as in theſe examples: I do write, SCRIBO; I did write, SCRIPSI, I ʃhall write, SCRIBAM, &c. The variations produced from this cauſe have been called TENSES.

American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), Webster, Noah: TENSE: In grammar, time, or a particular form of a verb, or a combination of words, used to express the time of action, or of that which is affirmed; or tense is an inflection of verbs by which they are made to signify or distinguish the time of actions or events.

Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1913), Porter, Noah, (ed): Tense One of the forms which a verb takes by inflection or by adding auxiliary words, so as to indicate the time of the action or event signified; the modification which verbs undergo for the indication of time.

Webster’s Third New International Dictionary ([1961] 1993), Gove, Philip Babcock (ed) tense: a distinction of form in a verb to express past, present, or future time or duration of the act or state it denotes.

Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edn ([1989] 1993), Simpson, J A and Weiner, E S C (eds): tense: Any one of the different forms or modifications (or word-groups) in the conjugation of a verb which indicate the different time (past, present, or future) at which the action or state denoted by it is viewed as happening or existing.

Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary (https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/tense?q=tense_1 (2021) Tense: any of the forms of a verb which show the time at which an action happened:

The fact that ‘tense’ is defined in such ways would indicates that writers on grammar have used the word with this meaning. Lexicographers therefore have some justification for the ways in which they have defined tense in terms of time.

Continued here: https://www.usingenglish.com/forum/threads/287490-Tense-and-Aspect-1-b-A-Brief-History-Part-2
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