Re: Attention aspect geeks: John 15:6 EBLHQH, EXHRANQH

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Tue Apr 08 1997 - 18:51:29 EDT

I apologize for the additional comment and the complexities in interchange
that this discussion is taking.

At 6:38 AM 4/8/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>At 10:05 PM 4/7/97 -0400, Don Wilkins wrote:
>>(1) Smyth was in fact familiar with the term
>>(and concept) "aspect", as his brief note on p. 107 shows ("Greek also
>>makes extensive use of _aspect_ distinctions to qualify the type (rather
>>than the time) of an action") and as his explanations for the various
>>tenses and moods reveals. I would almost argue that the term "aspect"
>>itself deserves about as much use as Smyth gave it.
>This is actually a later addition made by the Smythian community, who were
>distressed by those who had entered into their schools of grammar, claiming
>to possess hidden wisdom (grin!). Seriously, does anybody know if this is a
>later footnote by Messing or part of Smyth's original? Except for this
>footnote, Smyth's discussion never mentions aspect.

Touche, Jonathan. I stupidly did not go over Messing's preface before
looking at the note, and you are probably right. My point stands, however:
that Smyth understood the concept of "aspect" as we now define it is clear
from his discussions of the tenses, etc. I found, for example, the term
"stage of action" used to describe the aspect of the infinitive. Indeed,
Smyth would have made a novice blunder had he not described the concept of
aspect. Moreover, I personally think "aspect" is just as mistaken as the
old "kind of action" or German _Aktionsart_, at least if you analyze either
term. "Aspect," as a Latin term, signifies the way one "looks at" an
action, which on the writer's end is impossible to determine; i.e. I can't
mind-read the writer and determine whether s/he actually views the action a
certain way. All I know is how the writer chooses to describe the action to
the reader. On the other hand, it makes no sense to me to limit aspect to
the reader's view of the action, since the writer is the one determining
its description. In fact, "description" of the action would be a more
accurate term than "aspect", and less confusing. "Aspect" is meaningless to
most students, and has to be defined and clarified before it has any value,
which is soon lost from memory and has to be reinforced repeatedly. Even
Webster's definition is misleading at best, in that "aspect" is said to
indicate the *nature* of an action.

>>(2) Jonathan's own
>>citations of Smyth re the gnomic aorist clearly reveal that Smyth qualified
>>the "primary" label of this aorist as applying to the contextual point
>>being made (as I discussed previously) rather than to the nature of the
>>aorist indicative itself, which Smyth maintains as past-referring ("The
>>aorist simply states ..."). If the "aspect geeks" (not my words) want to
>>take this same approach, that is fine with me.
>I currently think that Fanning and Olsen's interpretation of passages is not
>much different from what Smyth would suggest.

I haven't read Fanning, but Mari's papers indicate that she sees the aorist
indicative as "tenseless" along with other moods of the aorists, and in
past conversations she has argued that the augment became meaningless by
the time of the NT (if I am mistaken, Mari, please let us know). Mari
probably has produced the best literature on the subject from a linguist's
viewpoint, but I disagree with her in this area and I think you'll find
that Smyth does too. What you probably infer is the sense that Smyth's idea
of the contextual meaning seems similar to Fanning and Olsen. This is
different from talking about what the aorist means by nature.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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