Immersion: Tense Shifting
While translating Immersion articles, I notice times when (in Spanish at least), the verb tense shifts from past to present. This especially seems to happen with cause-effect chains or other groupings of events, often following a phrase such as "en esta fase".
This kind of tense shift is called the "historical present," and it happens a lot in English too, especially when telling a story—
"The bridge was [past] still open then, and I was [past] up there one day mowing the grass alongside the road, just minding my own business, when I see [historical present] something moving out of the corner of my eye." (C.J. Fisher, The Legend of Diadamia.)
—but this kind of tense shift is generally considered bad form in formal writing, according to most writing style guides.
Is this acceptable in formal written Spanish, such as histories and biographies, or are these articles just poorly written in the first place?
Regardless of whether it's standard in the source language, in formal English it is not. If you come across the historical present in a history or biography, change it to past tense. If you find it in literature, leave it in the present.
If you're interested in this sort of thing, I really do suggest you buy a reference grammar. I like this one: "A New Reference Grammar of Modern Spanish: Fifth Edition" (Butt and Benjamin, 2011)
Section 14.3.3 tells us that the presente historicó is much more common in Spanish than in English, even though "it may sound unfortunate in serious English styles."
It's hard to really understand the pretérito and the imperfecto without first understanding the presente!
I've seen it enough to suspect that, indeed, historical present is acceptable in formal Spanish.
I just ordered a used copy of the 4th Edition (2004) of "New Reference Grammar." Previously, I bought "501 Spanish Verbs" on your recommendation to another user, but to be honest it was not all that I had hoped. It is useful, but the most informative parts are before and after the bulk of the book, which simply consists of lists of conjugated forms. I would have preferred that section to include a full page or so on each of those verbs, complete with idiomatic use and preposition pairings. (It has a limited selection of these, but you have to cross-reference them in the woefully skimpy appendices.)
Thanks for the recommendation. Have a Lingot. (Even if it is only a symbolic gesture, because I'm sure you have as much use for them as I do. Immersion breaks the bank, so to speak.)
I think you have me confused with someone else. I would never recommend "500 Spanish Verbs" to anyone--for precisely the reasons you give.
For some reason, the scene from "Being John Malkovich" with the cab driver who thinks he played a jewel theif comes to mind.