RE: Attention aspec geeks

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Apr 08 1997 - 11:54:37 EDT

Allow me another remark on the older grammars.
Mark wrote:

<I certainly don't mean to be seen as "bouncing" anyone by
<my comments. Actually, my reading of Fanning suggests to me
<that he has not so much proposed anything new, but has
<rather done a good job of clarifying terminology and making
<definitional distinctions that were not clear in many of
<the older grammars. In most respects, I think he has
<pretty much done an excellent job of carefully stating what
<is the traditional view of verbal aspect in the Greek
<verbal system.

The difference between Fanning`s work and the older grammars
is that he helps us to do necessary abstract thinking, while
the grammars to a great degree prevent the reader from doing
just that. Fanning`s principal contribution is that he
differentiates between Aktionsart and aspect IN A SYSTEMATIC
WAY. These words are also mentioned in the older grammars,
but in their definitions of the aorist and the other
conjugations only Aktionsart-terms are used.

Moulton III 59 says for instance: "essentially the tense in
Greek expresses the kind of ACTION, not time, which the
speaker has in view and the STATE of the subject, or, as the
Germans say, the ASPECT. In short the tense-stems indicate
the point of view from which the action or state is
regarded. The word AKTIONSART (kind of action) has been
taken over in all countries to express this essential idea.
The chief kinds of action are: (1) continuous, which
grammarians call linear, and (2) instantaneous, which they
call punctiliar."

In none of the older grammars do I find a definition of
aspect, i.e. abstract expressions covering all the uses of
the imperfective and the perfective aspect respectively,
only descriptions of the different kinds of aorists,
presents and so forth. The need to know the very essence of
aspect is not just academic, but such a knowledge may serve
a very useful purpose, namely that of a controlling device
(preventing ad hoc explanations). It is well and good to say
that a particular aorist is gnomic, or that a present
represent an extension from the past, but what does this
mean and why? An understanding of the nature of aspect may
be compared to strings on which the different forms of
aorists and presents can be hanged. Only when we can
pinpoint the meaning of a conjugation (tense) in a
particular context because the perfective or imperfective
aspect must have this function in the particular context, do
we understand what aspect really is.

Jonatan wrote

<"The aorist views an action from the time of its
<completion. In most cases, the action is in the past, but
<it can also depict a future action, a present action, or an
<action not fixed in time, always viewing it from the time
<of its completion."

The question of whether or not the aorist indicates past
time complicates the definition of aspect, but your words
above may illustrate the need for abstractions,i.e. strings
to hang things on. I don`t know if this is intentional or
not, but there is a great difference between speaking of
`completion` (=completed) and `complete`. What is completed
has an intrinsic time value, it is past time relative some
event, what is complete is time indifferent. So in our
interpretation of particular aorists it makes a big
difference whether our abstraction of the perfective aspect
contain `complete` or `completed`.


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

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