Re: Attention aspect geeks:Jol

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Apr 07 1997 - 20:14:17 EDT

Mark wrote,

<In a way, I think this is consistent with what Don Wilkins
<was saying... older grammarians have often hammered through
<these issues with a lot more blood sweat and tears (no
<Gramcord <G>), and arrived at conclusions that are, for the
<most part, very sound, and we should approach substantial
<revisions of their work with a great deal of caution.

<Is a theory based on exceptional usage really the way we
<want to go here, or to try and better understand why the
<aorist (for example) is being used this way in a place
<where we wouldn't expect to find it?

The older grammarians made an excellent job, but they lacked
the insights in aspectology which modern linguistics has
gained during the last 20 years, and which McKay, Porter and
Fanning make use of.
What is `exceptional usage`? When answering, let us keep in
mind `the problem of induction`, which tells that confirming
evidence can never prove that a hypothesis is true but
contradictory evidence can falsify it. When a particular
verb form, say an aorist, is used in a past context, this
means that either it is past tense or it is used for past
time because of other reasons. This means that the non-past
use of aorists MAY show their true nature rather than being
exceptions .
Let me take an example from the OT. In Job 3:11 we read
(Brenton): "For why died I not in the belly? and why did I
not come forth from the vomb and die immediately?" In the
Greek text we find the aorists APOLLUW and TELEUTAW and the
past meaning creates no problems. However, in the Hebrew
text we find the imperfects MWT (=die) and GW` (=expire),
and the imperfective aspect used of punctiliar verbs with
past meaning is viewed as exceptional indeed. (It has even
been claimed that the imperfective verbs here are
punctiliar) However, `died` and xpired` can be explained as
an act resulting in a state, a view which is very widespread
in the Hebrew Bible. (See my post LEXIS OR ASPECT of
If this explanation be true, the `exception` turns out to
show the real nature of the imperfective punctiliar verb
with past meaning.In fact, a strong case can be made for
viewing the 500 other imperfects and the 14500 imperfect
consecutives in past contexts, not as preterits but as verbs
with the imperfective aspect with past meaning (I am not
arguing for the timelessnes of aorist because I am not sure
of this, but for a reappraisal of the evidence.)

Wes wrote:

<I am perplexed but not surprised at the multitude of
<differing theories being proposed and Carl's statement
<that it is confusing is ever true.

A good fundament for the quest of the nature of aspect is
the realization that different people classify the same
phenomena differently. The Greeks subsumed a host of
different phenomena into two groups (aspects) while the
English would classify each phenomenon separately. I think a
good exercise would be to list all the different expressions
of the imperfective aspect (conative, inceptive ..)in one
row, and all the expressions of the perfective one in
another. In the light of such fundamentals as beginning,
end, scope and distance, one could over a time meditate on
the data trying to find the common denominator for each
group. The abstraction reached by this mental exercise is
the meaning of aspect, and the different phenomena are the
objective expressions (Aktionsart) of the abstraction.

We should not only be concerned with how an aspect should be
explained in a particular situation - this may lead to ad
hoc situations- but we should also have an apprehension of
the very nature of aspect. In this way we can make full use
of the hermeneutical circle: the different parts (passages)
are explained in the light of the whole (aspect), and the
whole is modified by help of the parts. If we overlook the
details and look at the broad picture, the views of McKay,
Porter and Fanning as to the NATURE of aspect are not very
different. So perhaps the situation is not so confusing
after all.


Rolf Furuli
Ph.D candidate in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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