The function of the Historical Present tense: Evidence from Modern Greek
Thoma, Chrystalla A.
MetadataShow full item record
The purpose of this study is to investigate the function of the “Historical” present tense (henceforth HP) in Modern Greek oral and quasi-oral narratives by means of a qualitative and quantitative analysis. Previous studies have indicated that HP has a structural function on the episodic level, linked to narrative performance features. We suggest that HP has a similar function on the clause and sentence level. Based on the findings from previous studies on HP, combined with insights into the functions of language suggested by M.A.K. Halliday in the framework of Systemic Functional Linguistics, we propose that the main function of HP is to structure ‘given’-‘new’ information distribution on the clause and sentence level. More precisely, the main function of HP appears to be the introduction of ‘new’/‘important’ entities, either actions, in which case HP coincides with the inchoative verb, or ‘new’ (defined for our study as ‘discourse-new’ and ‘hearer-new’) elements, and, in the case of quotative verbs, a quote or a speaker. In previous studies, HP has been shown to co-occur with semantically bleached verbs. We propose that the combination of semantically weak verbs and minimum tense and aspect markings on the present tense serves to highlight the ‘new’ elements it introduce, thus aiding both narrative flow and reader comprehension.