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

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Wed Apr 09 1997 - 21:23:56 EDT

At 6:47 PM 4/8/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>Certainly, Smyth describes in detail many of the things that modern
>linguists are describing, but without the theoretical framework. In
>particular, although he seems to have a feeling for both lexical aspect (the
>aspect inherent to the word, sometimes known as Aktionsart) and syntactic
>aspect (the aspect grammaticalized in tense forms), he doesn't clearly
>distinguish the two or explain how they interact.

That's true, and linguists deserve some credit for codifying these things
(but surely there is a better term than the redundant "grammaticalize").
>The aspect is the viewpoint from which the writer portrays the action.
>That's all we can know. In the phrases "John wrote a letter ", "John was
>writing a letter", "John has written a letter", and "John had written a
>letter", all four phrases describe an action which occurred in the past, but
>the action of writing is viewed from four different times.

No, you are slipping into the mind-reading mode apparently without
realizing it. "All we can know" is how the writer is *describing* the

>>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.
>I'm not sure who you have been reading. If aspect is expressed
>syntactically, then it is present in the writer's portrayal, and does not
>depend on the reader's view of the action. Incidentally, I agree that there
>might be a better word than "aspect", especially since most modern students
>don't know that an "aspect" is a viewpoint or a way of looking at something.
>That's why I have been using the word "viewpoint".

I believe you are missing my point again, for what it's worth. "Aspect" can
be defined at least three different ways, if you count my idea: (1) the
viewpoint of the writer (which I call "mind reading"), (2) the kind of
action (wrong, since description of the action does not change its reality
in any way), and (3) the way the writer chooses to describe the action (my
way, which I would rather call "description" for want of a better term).

>explanation is that the aorist is sometimes a primary tense and sometimes a
>secondary tense. Of course, this is somewhat inconsistent with the view that
>the augment expresses past time, and that the secondary endings are used for
>the past time, and I'm not really sure what exactly he means when he says

You are misunderstanding Smyth, and in fact your original citation from
Smyth on the matter is not inconsistent with the past-time reference which
is the nature of the aor. ind.

Mari's explanation is that the aorist never expresses absolute time -
>after all, if a form expresses absolute time, why is this absolute time
>sometimes in the future, sometimes in the present, and sometimes in the
>past? Of course, the vast majority of uses of the aorist are past referring,
>and Mari explains that this is only to be expected since most things we
>"look back" on actually are in the past.

The key to Mari's position seems to be "cancellability," meaning that the
context can "cancel" the past-time reference. I would agree that this may
be the "point" of the statement, but not that the we need to throw out the
augment as a past-time indicator. Mari's justification is a historical
argument that the augment lost its meaning at some point (other linguists
have apparently argued that the meaning was lost even by the classical
period), and that a great number of languages behave in the same way. I
have argued repeatedly that the augment did not lose its meaning during the
koine period (nor evidently for a long time afterwards), and that the
comparative argument has little or no probative value because it runs the
risk of jumping from the general to the particular.

>>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).
>Does this bother you more than Smyth's statement that the same morphological
>forms used in the aorist sometimes make it a primary tense and sometimes
>make it a secondary tense?

...Yes; as I say, you are misunderstanding Smyth and others (like myself)
of the same or similar persuasion.

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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