LINGUIST List 16.2237

Fri Jul 22 2005

Sum: Historical Present Outside of Indo-European

Editor for this issue: Megan Zdrojkowski <>


        1.    Keira Ballantyne, Historical Present Outside of Indo-European

Message 1: Historical Present Outside of Indo-European
Date: 22-Jul-2005
From: Keira Ballantyne <>
Subject: Historical Present Outside of Indo-European

Regarding query:

Many thanks to all who responded my Linguist List query asking for examples
of the historical present or similar phenomena outside of Indo-European.

Several people alerted me to the fact that the HP is found in Semitic

Yishai Tobin sent a reference to his article "Space, time and point-of-view
in the Modern Hebrew verb" (In Tobin, Yishai (ed). 1989. From Sign to Text:
A Semiotic View of Communication. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins).

Peter Daniels notes that "if you were to claim that Biblical Hebrew has
tenses" then it indeed has an HP, and provides several references to
analyses of Hebrew verbs: Driver, S.R. 1974. A Treatise on the Use of the
Tenses in Hebrew and Some Other Syntactical Questions; McFall, L. 1982. The
Enigma of the Hebrew Verbal System: Solutions from Ewald to the Present
Day. Sheffield: Almond Press; Waltke, Bruce K. and Michael Patrick
O'Connor. 1990. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Eisenbrauns.

Holger Gzella provided references to the phenomenon in Imperial Aramaic
(Gzella, Holger. 2004. Tempus, Aspekt und Modalität im Reichsaramäischen.
Eisenbrauns: Wiesbaden. and Gzella, Holger, forthcoming, Erscheinungsformen
des historischen Präsens im Aramäischen. Orientalia) and to instances in
classical Arabic (in accounts of dreams) (Nöldeke, Theodor. 1963. Zur
Grammatik des Classischen Arabisch, repr. Darmstadt p. 67).

Pete Unseth sent a short note letting me know that he had observed
instances of first person narratives told as if they were happening right
now in Amharic.

Outside of Semitic, all I have is a note from Aidan Coveney in which he
points out that the HP occurs in some European based creoles and a
suggestion that it might occur in Swahili.

Finally, Graham Shorrocks kindly offered to share with me his references to
works on the infinitive as a marker of narrative clauses as well as work on
the historical present in English.

Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Ling & Literature
Text/Corpus Linguistics