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Here are 3 examples of 重きを置く.

  1. 昔は徳育に重きを置いた。People used to attach weight to moral culture. [斉藤和英大辞典]
  2. 聞くことと話すことに重きを置いた言語獲得の体系 system of language acquisition focusing intensively on listening and speaking [日本語 WordNet]
  3. うちの学校では特に語学に重きを置いている。Our school puts special emphasis on language studies. [Wisdom English-Japanese Dictionary]

There is not a simple matching between the tenses in Japanese and English for 置く. (I have mixed up the concepts of tense and aspect but let's not get there.) If I had written the Japanese sentences myself, I would have got the form of 置く right in #1 but not in #2 and #3. Because 置く is an abstract action, it is difficult to think about whether the action happened, is ongoing, or is a habitual state. If you had been asked to write the Japanese sentences by yourself and if you could get the forms of 置く right, what would be your reasoning for the forms of 置く in #2 and #3?

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  • Note that, in translation, which tense to use depends on your approach and what the client or audience requires. Are you translating to show how the Japanese is written? Are you translating to express the intent as cleanly and clearly as possible as an independent English text? Either are perfectly fine, but the resulting English won't necessarily be the same. Nov 11 '21 at 23:41
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Let’s first look at examples in which the verb 置く is used in a literal sense.

The following sentences all mean different things as indicated in brackets.

  1. 台にテレビを置く。[habitual or future action]
  2. 台にテレビを置いている。[current state]
  3. 台にテレビを置いた。[past action]
  4. 台にテレビを置いていた。[past state]

They can be converted into the following noun phrases.

  1. テレビを置く台 [habitual or future action, or static property (in this case, purpose)]
  2. テレビを置いている台 [current state]
  3. テレビを置いた台 [past action or current state]
  4. テレビを置いていた台 [past state]

Of these, the one with the た-form (#3) is somewhat special in that it can also be understood as describing a current state just like the one with the ている-form (#2). However, it doesn’t quite sound so natural as, say, 太った猫, possibly because having a TV set placed on it is not so much a permanent property of the table as being fat is of the cat. It seems more natural to explicitly describe it as a state with the ている-form (#2) if that's what you mean.

When 置く is used in a figurative sense as in 重きを置く, it loses part of its quality as an action verb and this seems to blur the distinction between the two sentences below.

  1. うちの学校では特に語学に重きを置く
  2. うちの学校では特に語学に重きを置いている

Outside of limited contexts in which it is understood as describing a future action, the first sentence is no longer about an action but a current, or permanent, state of mind of the people running the school. Personally, the second still sounds more natural, though. This could be precisely because the possibility of 置く referring to a future action cannot be ruled out completely.

The following pair in the past tense also means practically the same thing as one another.

  1. 昔は徳育に重きを置いた
  2. 昔は徳育に重きを置いていた

Although I would still choose the second if I have to choose one, the naturalness of the first sentence seems to somewhat increase compared to the first sentence in the present tense above. Even if 置いた is understood as a past action, the state that resulted from it is already a thing of the past. Then, it is not much different from what the second sentence says.

As for the noun phrases, the following three are all correct.

  1. 聞くことと話すことに重きを置く言語獲得の体系
  2. 聞くことと話すことに重きを置いている言語獲得の体系
  3. 聞くことと話すことに重きを置いた言語獲得の体系

The version with the た-form (#3) sounds more natural than テレビを置いた台 probably because the described property of the system is more permanent. The version with the ている-form (#2) sounds slightly less natural than the other two to me because it makes the described property seem like a transient state.

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I doubt it is particularly the problem of おく; possibly there can be similar issues in general (e.g. this article looks relevant).

The forms used in the question may be the most neutral, but other forms are certainly possible.

  1. This た indicates simple past. But with a slight change, 置く can be used. For example, in the context like「今の教育は・・・だけれども、昔の教育は徳育に重きを置く。たとえば・・・」 , the present tense sounds natural enough. Use of 置いていた/置いている are possible, and similar to 置いた/置く respectively.

  2. This た should be a indicator of perfect aspect rather than past. 置いている、置く both can be used without changing the meaning (much). 置いていた (to me) implies the system is obsolete, as such can be used if the system is compared with some other current system.

  3. 置く can replace 置いている, which sounds more natural possibly because the sentence describes a state; 置いた indicates a past event (of starting to put emphasis on language learning); 置いていた implies the speaker is no longer a student there.

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