Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Thu May 08 1997 - 00:24:20 EDT

At 10:55 PM -0400 5/4/97, Jonathan Robie wrote:

>I just looked at Mari Olsen's thesis again, and she clearly says (on page 9)
>that Aktionsart is the same thing as lexical aspect, situation aspect,
>inherent aspect, aspectual task, verb class, and predicate class.

It would probably help if Mari would comment on what she meant by this. I
personally would not see all of the items in her list as synonymous. Mari:
Do you intend all of these to mean the same, or are you suggesting that
Aktionsart be understood as an umbrella term covering all of them?

>Robertson's Aktionsart encompasses grammatical aspect as well as lexical

Exactly. This is part of the problem. The older grammars use the term
'Aktionsart' in a way which is not synonymous with its use in modern
linguistics. As Mari stated in her recent note, many linguists use the term
as a synonym for 'lexical aspect.' Others (especially in the study of
Slavic languages) use it to mean 'aspect which is expressed explicitly
through derivational morphology (See R.L. Trask's _A Dictionary of
Grammatical Terms in Linguistics for examples.)

Robertson and company use the term in neither of these senses. They use it
in a very broad sense covering both lexical and grammatical aspect as well
as both the writer's *perception* of an action and the writer's *portrayal*
of that action. In my earlier note I made a distinction between Aktionsart
as the term for type of action and Aspect as the term for how an action is
presented, envisioned, etc. Let me now refine this a bit.

In order to clear the muddy water a little (or perhaps stir it up even
more), we can distinguish between (1) the way an action really is (out
there in the real world, independent of the way we talk about that action),
(2) the way that action is perceived by a language user, and (3) the way
that same language user decides to portray that action.

In the traditional grammars the term 'Aktionsart' is used for a bewildering
mixture of these three.

In modern linguistics, those linguists who use the term at all [It is
interesting that the term did not even appear in David Crystal's
_Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics_, Blackwell, 1991.], tend not to
ever use it to represent (1). Many use it to cover both (2) and (3) when
they are tied to *lexical aspect* (as Mari stated).

We might also distinguish between 'Aktionsart' and 'lexical aspect' taking
'Aktionsart' to refer to (2) while 'lexical aspect' represents only (3). On
this view, however, we may want to reject Aktionsart, seeing it as beyond
the scope of what we can legitimately know. In biblical studies, for
example, I might argue that all we can know is how Paul chose to portray an
action (3), and that we can never know for sure how he perceived that
action (2). If I take Aktionsart to refer only to (2), I would then reject
the term, and say that linguistics is legitimately concerned only with
aspect--not aktionsart. Much of the discussion in the traditional grammars
does take 'Aktionsart' as referring to (2).

Linguists who see 'Aktionsart' as Mari does, clearly have no reason to
reject the term. Since in our context (biblical Greek studies), however,
the term 'Aktionsart' carries the baggage of the confused discussion in the
traditional grammars where it often covers (2) and even sometimes (1), I do
not use the term 'Aktionsart' as Mari does when talking about biblical
Greek. I prefer the term 'lexical aspect' for what she means by
'Aktionsart.' When I do use the term 'Aktionsart' I try to stick as closely
as possible to what the Greek grammars mean by the term--where it is
usually identified as 'type of action' ((1) and possibly (2)), not 'type of
presentation' (3), though I doubt the authors of those grammars seriously
considered the distinction between type of action and type of presentation).

James wrote:
>>>Personally, I think that linear = imperfective, punctiliar = perfective, and
>>>perfected state = stative.

and I responded:
>>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.
James then wrote:
>Here, you seem to be talking about "grammatical aktionsart".

What exactly do you mean by 'grammatical aktionsart.' I'm afraid I'm lost.

>Mari's thesis is based on three factors:
>1. Lexical aspect
>2. Grammatical aspect
>3. Tense
>Are you suggesting that there is also "lexical aktionsart" and "grammatical
>aktionsart"? It seems that you and Mari are using the term Aktionsart

I am definitely *not* suggesting this. I am suggesting that the term
'Aktionsart' is used differently by the traditional grammarians and modern
linguists. The differences cover a complex variety of issues. For this
reason I avoid the term when discussing biblical Greek because there is
almost always a better term available for what I want to say.

Micheal W. Palmer
Religion & Philosophy
Meredith College

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