Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Fri May 09 1997 - 15:39:39 EDT

At 2:41 AM 5/8/97, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>I would like to point out one additional point which also may cause
>confusion, namely that which may be termed `the translation fallacy`.
>No translation into another language is perfect; usually something is
>added or lost. We cannot therefore understand Greek aspects by the way
>Greek verbs are translated into English, but this is often done. When
>we for instance translate a Greek imperfect with past continuous in
>English, it is tempting to think hat past continuous is durative, so
>the imperfective aspect in Greek is durative. But this is fallacious
>because the English past continuous represents only the closest
>natural equivalent in English to the particular imperfect (in its
>context) in Greek, and is not an English equivalent to the Greek
>imperfective aspect.

I mostly agree with Rolf's remarks, and also think that Michael Palmer did
a good job in describing aspect vs. Aktionsart. Certainly it is clear in
the latter case that the meanings of these words depend to some extent on
the user. Rolf's comments underscore the need to distinguish an
interpretion of a text from a grammatical principle, though of course a
good descriptive grammar approach is an inductive accounting of texts.
I would like to suggest one more addendum along similar lines (forgive me
if someone else has already added it): to assume that no translation of a
word or phrase ever fully conveys the grammatical (and sometimes lexical)
meaning of the original is also fallacious. The opposite sentiment
expressed by Rolf is probably true more often. To offer an example of my
own addendum, however, I would suggest that the simple past tense in Eng
and other languages is often a correct understanding of a Grk aorist
indicative. The challenge is to evaluate each construction correctly,
pointing out when the translation succeeds as well as when it fails.

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