RE: Attention aspect geeks

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Apr 10 1997 - 20:06:18 EDT

Dear friends,

Regarding the meaning of aspect I have some questions about
the definitions of McKay who says (IX): "and I have rejected
DURATIVE and PUNCTILIAR as being too specific in an
erroneous appreciation of ancient Greek aspect." He says
further (3.2): "The imperfective aspect presents an activity
as going on, in process, without reference to its
completion." (3.3) The aorist (AORISTOS, UNDEFINED) is the
aspect normally used for expressing an act or event, as
action pure and otherwise undefined, in its totality."

I would like to test these definitions on the word BASILEUW
which basically is a state but may also be used as an act
when the meaning is inceptive.
(1) The inceptive meaning `have begun ruling` or `have
become kings` is evidently found in 1 Cor 4:8; Rev 11:17:;
(2) But what about Rom 5:14 `death reigned (aorist) from
Adam to Moses` versus Matt 2:22 `when he heard that Arkelaus
reigned (present) over Judea`? A state is by definition
going on (or continuing). Is the state described by the
aorist in Rom 5:14 less continuing than the state described
in Matt 5:14? There is a difference as to time, because the
aorist refers to the past, while Arkelaus reigned at speech
time. But this distinction has little significance because
death did not stop reigning at the time of Moses but still
reigned in the time of Arkelaus (cf 5:17,21). The aorist of
5:14 refers to a part og the state of reigning while the
aorists of v 17,21 are not limited.
On p 28 NcKay says: "The aorist applied to a stative verb
expresses it as an action, either a whole action or a
critical point of change in the activity." The last thought
applies to (1), but I cannot see how the aorist of 5:14 may
indicate an action. And if it were, it would still be in
process (continuing). (We may find scores of similar
examples with action verbs.)

The conclusion I draw from these examples is that `an
activity going on, in process` may just as well be applied
to an aorist as to a present, and therefore is no exact
definition of the imperfective aspect. Does this mean that
McKay does not know what he is speaking about? I dont think
so. McKay has a clear mind and great learning, but in
contrast to Fanning and Porter who state their cases
explicitly, McKay is more cautious and perhaps conservative,
and it is easy to overlook important details in his book.

The problem above may be solved by remembering that aspect
is `subjective` while Aktionsart is `objective`. McKay
states this in a discreet way in 3.1.3. The situations
described by the aorist and present were objectively
continuing, but they were subjectively described by
different aspects. To harmonize 3:2 with this view we have
to stress `presents` in the quote, and to harmonize 3.3 we
have to stress `used for expressing` in that quote. So
aspect is an abstraction covering a host of different
expressions, but being completely different from each
expression. Have I understood McKay in the right way?


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

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