RE: Attention aspect geeks

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Apr 10 1997 - 08:15:41 EDT

Dear friends,

Lynn A Kauppi wrote;

<I completely agree with S. M. Baugh. I had a college
<English professor who said that a linguist is so busy
<listening to how you say something that the linguist never
<hears what you are saying. The recent discussions
<on b-greek have reached this level. I have no time to spend
<in my professional life on comparative linguistics (this is
<not a valuejudgement, comparative linguistics is not my
<field) so endless comparisons between Greek, Latin, Hebrew,
<etc. at the theoretical (the "meta-discursive") level do
<not help me one whit to understand biblical texts, early
<Christian literature, Hellenistic texts, or classical
<texts. Pure theory without attempting to comprehend meaning
<is pointless. But then I'm more interested in cultural and
<social history anyway. (grin) I guess that what I'm really
<trying to say is: Please use examples from the Greek text
<and show what difference theory makes in understanding the
<text. (I hope I haven't offended anyone. If so I apologize
<in advance).

Some weeks ago someone asked about the meaning of
`preterit`. We would not say to him: `Forget about the
meaning of preterit; just go on to the text`. To have an
understanding of preterit was necessary for him to
understand the discussion of the text. I am somwhat
surprised that the basic question of this discussion is so
little adressed: "What is the MEANING (definition,
abstraction) of the Greek imperfective and perfective
aspects?" To say that aspect is `a viewpoint` or something
similar is not more informative than to say hat preterit is
a tense. The only who has shown that he struggles with this
question is Jonathan. So I challenge those interested in the
meaning of aspect to give a definition of the imperfective
aspect that can be applied to or govern all the different
uses of present and imperfect, and similarly with the
perfective aspect.

Lynn, I agree that our approach should have a practical
goal, namely to discuss the text. Linguists are concerned
with languagae rather than a particular language, and such
discussionsis not needed on this list, but the insights of
lingusitics pertaining to Greek should be used. This is what
Fanning and Porter did, and which you all, often without
being aware of it do. We need to know the basic definitions
of grammatical categories before we can apply them to the
text. As to Hebrew, we should never forget that biblical
Greek to a great degree is dependent upon it, and that
Hebrew often may throw light both on the meaning of the NT
and the LXX; but we should of course keep in mind that this
is a Greek list.

The `meaning`of a text is to a great degree tied up with the
lexical meaning of the words and the Aktionsart, and aspect
is often used to make the finer details visible. Therefore,
no pressing need has been felt to give a definition of the
different aspects (apart from Aktionsart-definitions) in the
past. Let me however give some examples where a correct
understanding of aspect is mandatory to catch the force of
the action:
(1) 1 Joh 2:1 and 3:6 seems to be self contradictory in many
translations. Allowing for aspectual difference the problem
can be resolved. The verb in 3:6 is present. An
understanding of the imperfective aspect as `a close-up view
of a small sequence of the action with details visible` may
give one of the following reenderings: `Is not sinning`, `is
not living in sin`, `is not practicing sin` (the present
participle POIEW in v 4 accords). An understanding of the
perfective aspect as `a view from some distance of the
situation as a whole without details visible` may give the
following renderings in 2:1: `if anyone sins`, `if anyone
does sin`: If we add Jonathan`s element of completion
(although this is subjunctive), we may translate: `if anyone
should sin`,`if anyone has made sin`, `if anyone has made a
sin` of `if anyone commits a sin`.
(2) Rom 12:2 A similar view of aspect as above may give
the rendering `stop being conformed to this world` and the
present active imperative of Matt 5:44 may be rendered:
`Continue to love your enemies." These nuances are lost in
most translations.

In addition to the passages given by S M Bough, which I will
comment on later, I add Heb 11:17 with the question: `When
we know hat Abraham did not offer Isak, how would you
translate the perfect and the imperfect of this verse?`


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

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