Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Sun May 04 1997 - 00:23:46 EDT

At 8:40 PM -0400 5/3/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:
>There is one interesting question that hasn't been addressed: are Aktionsart
>and aspect two different things, or two different descriptions of the same
>thing? Aktionsart is an older term. Some linguists say the two terms are the
>same, others make some distinction.

They are definitely two different things. While it may be the case that the
Greek grammarians who have used these terms in recent discussions of Greek
aspect have not always been clear about the distinction between these
terms, there is a clear distinction in the linguistics literature which has
informed the work of people like Porter, Fanning, and Olsen. [More below]

>According to Robertson, the three basic kinds of Aktionsart are:
>linear (imperfect, present)
>punctiliar (aorist)
>perfected state (perfect)
>But, Robertson says, to fully understand the Aktionsart you also need to
>know the meaning of the individual verb; e.g., in aorist, some verbs will
>accent the beginning, resulting in an ingressive aorist, others will accent
>the end, resulting in an effective aorist, etc. So some of the Aktionsart is
>in the choice of tense, some of it is in the meaning of the verb.
>Porter and Fanning both list these aspects:
>Imperfective (imperfect, present)
>Perfective (aorist)
>Stative (pluperfect, perfect)
>Personally, I think that linear = imperfective, punctiliar = perfective, and
>perfected state = stative.

The most obvious difference between these lists is the distinction between
'punctiliar' aktionsart and 'perfective' aspect. Perfective means complete,
whole, while 'punctiliar aktionsart' implies point in time occurance. These
are two very different matters. An event can be discussed using perfective
aspect event if the event did not occur at any single point in time.

>Some linguists distinguish syntactic aspect, illustrated above, from lexical
>aspect, which is the aspect inherent to an individual verb.
>Personally, I think that Aktionsart is simply the word that last century's
>linguists used when trying to describe the same phenomena that more modern
>linguists are describing using the term aspect, and although some writers
>(e.g. Wallace) distinguish the two, I have not seen a distinction which is
>used consistently by more than one writer.

Aktionsart is not a word which has been abandoned in favor of the newer
term 'aspect'. It simply represents something different. Aktionsart
describes a class of action. Aspect describes a way of viewing an action.

>To be more precise, I actually think that "kind of action" and "viewpoint"
>are two different analogies used to model the same phenomena.

It is, no doubt, tempting to accept this conclusion, but you will miss much
of the value of the aspect debates if you do. Aktionsart and aspect are
definitely not the same phenomena, although it is true that there is
confusion in some of the literature on Greek because the terms are
sometimes not used precisely.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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