RE: Attention aspect geeks

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Wed Apr 09 1997 - 22:33:44 EDT

At 5:03 AM 4/9/97, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>Dear Jonathan,
>I understand your struggle with Greek aspect from my own
>struggle with Hebrew. I fully endorse your scientic approach
>to the problem; you certainly are on the right track. Don`s
>examples from medicine about the need to consult experts are
>valid. However, I will apply them differently: We cannot
>fully understand the subtleties of Greek aspect except by
>applying the principles of modern linguistics. Different
>languages classify phenomena differently, but there can be
>no doubt that there are many similarities between aspectual
>languages which we can profit much from by studying
...I am assuming that Rolf intended this to be copied to b-greek. His
comparisons with Hebrew serve to illustrate the advantages and
disadvantages of a comparative-linguistic approach (if I may call it that)
to analyzing the nature of the Greek verb. As he says, Hebrew is indeed an
aspectual language and there is a great deal of flexibility in the
interpretation of "tense" for the perfect and imperfect. However, Hebrew is
even more primitive to Greek in the area of tense than Greek is to Hebrew
in the area of voice, so that apples are being compared to oranges. Hebrew
gives us a much clearer idea of how a language will function if the timing
of events is purely a matter of context and aspect.
>Having done much work on H verbs my claims are that there
>are not four components but two: all imperfects with and
>without waw are imperfective and all perfects with and
>without waw are imperfective. The consequence of this is
>that I have 14.500 imperfects with waw with past meaning to
>account for. As far as I know, this situation, that an
>imperfective verb is the principal narrative form, is quite
>unprecedented, except for layers of Old Norse. However I
>have between 400 and 700 examples of imperfect with waw
>which are non-past and about 500 examples of imperfects
>without waw which have past meaning. I mention this to
>illustrate that the `exceptions` often should be given much
>more weight than what is ordinary, because the mentioned
>exceptions strongly speak against the view that imperfect
>plus waw is preterite.

Rolf, I'm guessing that you meant to say, "...all perfects...are
perfective". In any case, if you can establish a clear and convincing
explanation for the effect of the waw/vav consecutive, it will probably be
a major breakthrough and I would be most interested in your theory.
However, Hebrew is far more susceptible to subjective interpretation than
Greek, and it will be a challenge, I would think, to identify unabiguous

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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