Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: roland milanese (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 03:14:01 EDT

Dear Don:

I basically agree with your explanation of the use of the form BEGAN to
VERB to translate the inceptive imperfect, but would like to add the
following in response to your comment

>> the grammatical features of "began" itself are insignificant>>

Compare the following two sentences:

(1) It was beginning to rain.
(2) It began to rain.

These two sentences are not identical in form, and while I agree that
they may on occasion be regarded as synonymous, certain contexts would
also show that their form -- especially the -ing form -- signals a
distinction in meaning.

Let us contextualize them as follows:

(3) He felt a raindrop on his cheek: it was beginning to rain.
(4) It began to rain, so he took out his umbrella.

The first sentence relates two contemporaneous events by focussing on
the moment of the perceived raindrop, while the second sentence recounts
two consecutive events. The first sentence describes the very moment of
inception as somehow suspended and incomplete -- i.e. time and the
process of rain not having progressed beyond the initial phase. But the
second sentence refers to two separate and complete events: the moment
of inception of rain is complete and so is the action resultant from the
implied decision to take out the umbrella. Thus I would not accept:

(5) He felt a raindrop on his cheek: it began to rain.

Although I would accept:

(6) It was beginning to rain, so he took out his umbrella.

So it seems that in English there is a tendency for lexical "inceptive"
aspect to neutralize grammatical "incompletive" aspect; this tendency
appears to derive from the logic that a beginning necessarily implies
that the thing begun is viewed as incomplete, and it is incomplete
whether we put -ing on an aspectual verb or not. But the presence or
absence of the -ing form does make a difference, and for this reason I
would object to using the -ing form in the translation of, say, Mt
"and angels came and were beginning to minister ..."


Roland Milanese

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