Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Mon May 05 1997 - 15:45:17 EDT

It's fun watching you guys trying to nail grammatical jello to a tree. The
possible differences between Aktionsart (German for "kind of action") and
aspect (Latin for "look at") probably depend upon whom one asks. The idea
of punctiliar action--which in this discussion seems to be associated with
Aktionsart--as "point in time" is a concept that most of us have been
trying to dig ourselves out of for some time, because it is so easily
misunderstood as a temporal moment. Mari and (some) others have done a good
job of identifying distinctions, but in the process have introduced
linguistic terminology that is sometimes unfamiliar and perhaps
misunderstood or even misapplied. Whether Aktionsart was originally meant
to be limited to lexical meaning is unclear to me; the challenge has always
been to use such terms as "punctiliar" and "perfective" in ways to describe
aoristic action that did not mislead. The problem with "punctiliar" is, as
mentioned, that one tends to think of action that can almost be assigned a
time of day on the clock (like the use of the dative/locative of time),
when in fact the real timing or length of an event has nothing to do with
the issue. On the other hand, while "perfective" tends to avoid this
problem, it brings with it the problem of confusion with the idea of the
perfect tense, and we have to work just as hard to avoid this element of
confusion. Our friends in linguistics are doing a better job of defining
and distinguishing these ideas, and ideally in the end we can settle on
terminology that will be accurate, meaningful at the prima facie level
(unlike "aspect," "tense," "Aktionsart" etc.), and free of misleading

Don Wilkins
UC Riverside

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