Re: The aorist = unmarked aspect

From: Philip L. Graber (
Date: Fri Oct 06 1995 - 12:18:35 EDT

On Thu, 5 Oct 1995, Edward Hobbs wrote:

> It turns out to be just what the grammarians 2000 years ago called it --
> "unmarked" or undefined. The indicative marks tenses (augment, etc.).
> Other moods do not, and the aorist is plainly the unmarked "tense"
> (read, correctly, "aspect").

I wish Mari Broman Olsen would join this discussion. Her dissertation
addresses this whole issue in detail. Aorist is certainly unmarked, but
with regard to what? Mari argues (effectively IMO) that Porter is
incorrect to state that all "tense" forms only grammaticalize aspect, but
it may be that some of them do. Perhaps the reason aorist and present are
dominant forms in non-indicative moods is that they DO grammaticalize only
aspect--in indicative as well as non-indicative moods. Mari argues that
present and aorist forms are marked for aspect but not tense, future forms
are marked for tense but not aspect, and imperfect, perfect, and
pluperfect are marked for both tense and aspect [note that Mari's claims
are only for Koine Greek]. Some of the confusion about these matters has
been a failure to take into account 1) that aspect is compositional (as
Vincent DeCaen has pointed out in a previous message), and must take into
account other factors than grammatical aspect (the "tense" forms) such as
LEXICAL aspect (of verbs, their arguments, temporal adverbials, etc.); and
2) that pragmatic implicature can account for aspectual interpretation in
cases that are not SEMANTICALLY marked for aspect. These factors cause a
great deal of variablility in how any given aorist verb might be

I wish Mari's dissertation were more widely available. Are you publishing
it, Mari?

Philip Graber Graduate Division of Religion
Graduate Student in New Testament 211 Bishops Hall, Emory University Atlanta, GA 30322 USA

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:37:28 EDT