Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sat May 10 1997 - 05:07:22 EDT

Don Wilkins wrote

<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.

Dear Don,

I appreciate your comment, which of course is correct. It is much
easier to preserve the meaning when translating the tense from Greek
into English than when we translate aspect. One reason may be that the
time of an action is more clearcut or `objective` than is aspect.(
Incidentally, I believe that regardless of the problems of translation
and the difference of presupposition pools between us and the
Jews/first Christians it is possible to convey the message of the
Bible "undiluted" to modern men.)

One example, Matt 4:11: "and angels came (aorist) and began to
minister (imperfect) to him" We dont loose anything by translating
the aorist by English imperfect. What is at stake here is only tense.
But what about the Greek imperfect? The form "began" is imperfect and
the action is by definition completed. However, the intention is to
describe an imperfective event. It seems to me that this is achieved
only by implication, because the lexical meaning of `begin` implies
continuation, and because of the infinitive. And an additional
question: Does the expression "began to minister" include the
beginning or is a part after the beginning focussed upon? In English?
In Greeek? I ask this question because usually imperfective events are
viewed as not including beginning or end, and I think this view is too

 We should not forget that the excellent differentiations between
Aktionsart and aspect given recently by Michael and others relates to
`quantity` and not to `quality`, i.e. differentiations does not define
the contents of what is differentiated. I believe it is very important
also to understand the range and nature of the two aspects,
particularly their relation to the beginning and/or end of an event.


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

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