Re: Two-timing aorists

Randy Leedy (
Fri, 13 Dec 1996 10:40:55 -0500

[I think maybe these messages are going to be in the right order
after all, since they all seemed to have address problems the first
time around.]

Jonathan wrote, responding to me:


>>In fact, Mari's theory predicts that the majority of aorist forms
>>will describe events which have occured in the past-not because the
>>aorist has a past *tense*, but because the *aspect* of the aorist
>>implies that the action has already taken place.
>As I understand aspect, it implies nothing of the sort. An event of
>unspecified aspect can take place in any time frame whatever, as I
>understand the meaning and usage of that term.

I don't know if you saw my other post where I explained that tense
and aspect relate to two different times, the time of discourse and
the time of depiction.

The other post seemed to cut off just at this point.

Not having read Mari's work, I don't know how she uses the term
aspect. What you are describing, Jonathan, is NOT the way I have
understood aspect. I don't have any grammars at hand just now, but I
do have my American Heritage Dictionary, which defines "aspect" just
as I have always understood it: "A property of verbs that indicates
inception, duration, completion, habituality, or other modes of
action or being." It's a misuse of terms to say that "tense"
indicates time relative to the time of writing while "aspect"
indicates time relative to some other point in time. Aspect has
nothing to do with relative time at all. If I need to be corrected on
this point, I hope someone will point me to relevant literature on
the basis of which I can modify my definition. But I'm pretty
confident of the ground on which I stand on this point. Until the
definition of this term gets settled, I don't see how the debate can
intelligently proceed.

Let me take a recent and vivid example:

> I get home yesterday and find out my daughter has thrown up.

My reaction: yuck!

This event happened in the past - yesterday, or the day before this
sentence was uttered. It occured before the time of discourse.
According to Mari, tense is concerned with time of discourse. Aspect
is concerned with the time depicted - in other words, it is the
"view" of the scene depicted, and that view may be of the event
happening (imperfective), or of an event which has happened

In this case, the aspect is imperfective - you see yourself as Mari
walking into the house and finding out that her daughter has thrown
up. In other words, the depiction is of an event as it occurs, as
though your eye were following the action.

<remainder of message snipped>


I strenuously disagree here. The simple English present tense is not
imperfective (at least not in this context; I'm a little reluctant to
claim that it can NEVER be, though I incline that way). The
imperfective aspect pictures an action in its incomplete state, in
some sense "in progress." The English verbs you use state simply that
the action happens. You get home. Period. You find something out.
Period. These are viewed as simple actions, not as processes in
progress. The imperfective aspect is indicated in English, usually at
least, with periphrastic verb constructions using the present
participle (the "-ing" ending) such as "Yesterday as I was getting

So one of us is dead wrong about the meaning of aspect. I've tried to
state the contrast between my understanding and Jonathan's as clearly
as possible, given the absence of grammars to quote from. Comments,

In Love to God and Neighbor,
Randy Leedy
Bob Jones University
Greenville, SC