Monday, 7 November 2011

Tense is Time !!

Grade school is where we learn how to parse a sentence and define the parts of speech. We were taught that the action word in speech is called a verb and that verbs contain not only info about the action as such but also indicate the timeframe in which it happens , whether it be the present , past or future. Linguistically speaking we call this grammatical time "tense". All languages reflect and inflect these three tenses in one way or the other .... many even having subdivisions of each ....... even the present tense as shown in the English ongoing present " he is reading a book" versus the habitual present " he reads three books a month" versus the present subjunctive "it is important he read at least three books a month" ...... plus the present of rapid action where the action happens so quickly one cannot use the ongoing present form .... "he shoots , he scores!" or " he swings and misses!" Ooops! .... I almost forgot the cereonial present ..... used when describing an event which has (written) rules of behaviour for the main actors ..... such as for the liturgy of the Catholic Mass where the TV narrator would say , " the priest now turns, faces the faithful , blesses them and says "Ite , missa est" ....

Whether it be "Let bygones be bygones" or the idiom "It's all water under the bridge" ..... both expressions make reference to the past ...... as do all languages in the structural or morphological make-up of their verbal systems. First of all there is the simple present or often called the preterite , " He milked the cows". Now should we have two actions or events in the past one of which preceded the other then the former is said to be in an ideal "pluperfect" situation .... grammatically speaking that is ! "After he had fed the chickens , he milked the cows". Feeding the chickens took place before .... was anterior to .... milking the cows .... so therefore , "had fed" is the pluperfect tense of the verb "feed". Some languages ( French and Italian ) even boast having two pretrites .... one more informal or colloquial ( yet correct ) composed of either of the auxiliary verbs "to have " or "to be" plus the past participle of the targetted verb .... the other more classical and often named the historical or remote past tense ..... the latter being highly inflected for all persons both in the singular and in the plural. An ongoing or incomplet action in the past when  expessed linguistically is referred to as being in the imperfect tense ... "I was feeding the chickens when the rooster crowed". The imperfect may likewise connote repeted or habitual past actions ...... " On y allait souvent" ou " Pendant ma jeunesse je dormais souvent chez ma tante Claire".

Now for the future .... time still moving toward us in the present and our attempt to place and describe "potential" actions that may or my not take place within that framework  ..... something like spending money we don't yet have but , given our present salary , all looks rosy for future purchases. There are three types of future or "tense gymnastics" in the future for English ...... the simple future , " I shall mow the lawn this evening". ...... the ongoing or progressive future , " I shall be mowing the lawn when you get here". ...... and the future perfect ( something like the pluperfect  , but applied to future action ) , " I shall have finished mowing the lawn by the time you get here". In English as in other Indo-European languages we use helper or auxiliary verbs "be" and "have"as well as such "helper" words as "shall and will" to assist in harnessing this movement called time by converting it linguistically into understandable units ... i.e. , ongoing , before and after, incomplete , past and present. And time marches on ......

No discussion about time , tense , past and present .... ongoing or static ... would be thorough without mentioning the monkey on every English learner's back..... the past present tense , either progressive or factual. This is a verb tense which combines , includes and portrays both past and present time as being ONE happening ... ONE action. It covers an act which began in the past and continues on into the present and the speaker may accentuate the fact or may wish not only to state the fact but also put emphasis on its ongoing , active nature. Thus ... I have worked here for three years ( statement of fact ) or I have been working here for three years ( statement of fact plus still ongoing ) .... Translating this sentence into French we would write , " Je travaille ici depuis trois ans". The word "travaille" is in the present indicative tense ... and does not express any past occurence. The past ... "trois ans" or "three years" is rendered by the preposition " depuis " ( for , since ) and is in no way included in the verb. The past present is particular to the English language ...... and mastery of this tense is essential for all those laying claim to advanced knowledge of the language.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Time is of the Essence !

Whether time is fleeting , fleeing , being wasted , killed or standing still or marches on .... time and tide wait for no man  ,,,,,, time out ! all in due time .... time's up ..... time's run  out ........ then into overtime ..... doing time .... the untimely demise of a two-timing timekeeper ..... time after time .... suppertime .... in the meantime .... in the course of time ... no matter how thin you slice it , it\s still "time" ! .... and we don't really have a great amount of it when compared to "eternity "! As a matter of fact , there is no time in eternity at all !

In From Eternity to Eternity where I did my damnedest to detach myself from my formal scholastic training in Aristotelian and Thomistic philosophy and express my very own inner thoughts on the subject ,  I rambled on about my personal understanding of two fundamental notions : time and eternity. To my way of thinking , the night (?) my parents made love back sometime in early April , 1935 I was plucked from eternity ..... where I "stood " potentially on stand-by waiting to be "activated "....... then catapulted into the reality of time ..... the concrete world of movement where every thing and action is measured in terms of past , present and future ... the before , the now and the after of all that exists within the framework or dimensions of time ! In other words TIME is nothing other than a word -concept that mankind has invented to help itself grasp , rationalize , describe , justify and explain the durative framework in which all happens in real life. Nowhere is the notion of time better expressed than in the verbal systems of the languages we speak ... and no two languages in the world divide up the continuum of time in the exact same way. One thing seems sure though ... and that is that time seems to come out of the future towards us in the present .... then flow on by us like the slow-moving waters of a stream onto the beaches of eternity ...... well beyond the reaches of time...... thus we say , "Christmas is coming soon!" or " Old age will come upon you sooner than you think!", etc ....

Up until now I have neither mentioned God nor divine design in this soul searching journey of mine ... however, I am a firm believer in both ! I believe that when God created the potentiality of the world we know and live in and set the whole shebang in motion .... that time began at that precise moment. I equate God to eternity ... that is both  having neither beginning nor end. Time , on the other hand , shall come to a grinding halt sometime down the road ...... ceasing to  exist because of  its own innate , finite essence ! Time exists only because the universe exists ! Beyond the universe there is only eternity ..... a timeless "somewhere" movement , no motion , no linearity , no duration ..... simply and hopefully a blissful state of  peace and rest. Amen !

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

The Neverending Quest !

These last four years I have revived interest in a few of my old loves ...... namely the classical Latin authors and their works. By far my favourite is Cicero since his quest for knowledge and truth constantly crosses paths with my own ongoing search into life's ultimate whys and wherefores. Caesar's "Bella Gallica" ( Gallic Wars) impressed me greatly ...... portraying him as a worthy leader and warrior ...... and has provided me with an ample sketch of those ancient peoples who inhabited first-century-B.C.  Gaul , England and southern Germany. Back in 1954-55 I had "wrestled" my way through the Gallic Wars in order to pass the Ontario Senior Matrics exam and succeeded. However , in those days I was more into grammar ... especially at getting a good mark .....and not so much interested in the historical or semantic content of Caesar's exploits.  Works like those of Caesar gained my admiration and added much to my overall knowledge of history ... but left unquenched my thirst for philosophical question-answer queries so often associated with the pre-Christian Greek thinkers  such  as Aristotle , Plato , Socrates and so many more .... then I happened upon Cicero's work entitled De Senectute ... About Aging ..... and immediately knew I had hit paydirt ....                                                                              

Monday, 7 March 2011

From Eternity to Eternity !

We common mortals deal constantly in beginnings and ends……. days , weeks , months , seasons ,  years ,  baseball games ,  races , leases , relationships ,school semesters ,  snowstorms , TV programmes ,  trips , love – making , etc………. and , of course , the big one….. life itself !! Philosophically and religiously we refer to the aftermath of death as eternity…….. pay back time for all should our belief system teach such dogma……..either eternal punishment for the wicked or everlasting bliss for the good !! Now as far as I am concerned eternity is nothing else than endless or interminable duration  …. the length of which is totally unfathomable for our limited  minds ……. mainly because eternity has no lengths ….. or rather IS one long length of "foreverness" , "neverendingness"…….infinite in its very essence !! It is seemingly a continuum with neither beginning nor end !!…. a continuum without intermission !! When I was born I was drawn from eternity into parallel time that we call “life” with all its joys and sufferings ……….. and when I die   ,  much like the space shuttle which drops its booster rockets ,   I shall slough off ” this mortal coil”  ( Shakespeare’s Hamlet meaning flesh , blood and bones ) and soar back into eternity where I belong. Folks always told the story about the  atheist all dressed up in his coffin but nowhere to go. To my way of thinking he’s surely going somewhere …… whether he likes it or not…….. eternity !!!…….infinite duration…… total oblivion ....….and I guess that’s about as far as our linguistic and mental ability will allow us to go  ….????
Post Scriptum.
The big problem I have with the above rant is that I am using words such as time , duration , etc to describe and fathom the notion of eternity which , to my way of thinking , is not amenable to analysis using time-oriented terminology ..... yet , it's all we have !!..... or is it ?