Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Don Wilkins (
Date: Thu May 15 1997 - 14:25:47 EDT

At 3:32 PM 5/15/97, Rolf Furuli wrote:
>Regardless of the view of Fanning, we have the empirical material:
>several passages with an aorist followed by an imperfect. Your
>explanation above is of course possible, and would save the
>definition, but I think it is somewhat forced. It is difficult to see
>how the act "he sat down" is the beginning of "he began to teach/he
>was teaching" (Luke 5:3) and similarly in Matt 4:11.

Actually I agree with *you* on this point. As I said in my last post, I
wasn't defending Fanning's position, I was only trying to articulate it. In
the process, I'm sure I created the impression that I agreed with him as
well, but that was not my intention.

>Linguists sometimes speak of a third aspect - the neutral one (Cf
>Carlota Smith,1991, The Parameter of Aspect 119-, this was also once
>mentioned by Mari). While the perfective is thought to include both
>endpoints and the imperfective neither, the neutral aspect includes
>one endpoint, and may either be interpreted as open ("imperfective")
>or closed ("perfective") Smith gives a French example: "Jean chantera
>quand Marie entrera dans le bureau" It may either be interpreted as
>"Jean will be singing when Marie will enter the office" (open), or
>"Jean will begin to sing when Marie will enter the office." I cannot
>see how this neutral aspect may be applied to Greek, which has two (or
>three) grammaticalized aspects which are lacking in English and also
>in French. So I think - and this is what I want to discuss with the
>geeks - that Greek has only two aspects, one perfective and one
>imperfective, and to account for all the empirical material these are
>in need of a slight redefinition.

I think your understanding of Greek aspect suffers somewhat from simplistic
explanations of it that you have undoubtedly read or heard. It is very easy
to infer from such explanations that the aspects never fit under the
neutral definition you describe. IMO though, the example of the future you
cite could be interpreted the same way if Greek futures were used. You may
well be right in arguing that some redefinition is desirable, but (to beat
a dead horse again) one needs to *read* a lot of Greek before one is
adequately prepared to understand the current definitions, let alone rework
them. A correct understanding can't be gained merely from a generalist
linguistics approach.

>I agree, except that I dont find the Greek aspects in English, only
>what is seen through them, to use the illustration of a lense. The
>combination of closed and open readings to express imperfective events
>in the past need not be strange. In Biblical Aramaic, which is
>strictly aspectual, perfect (perfective aspect) is used together with
>the participle to express ongoing action in the past, and the same is
>true of Syriac, which evolved from Aramaic but lost the aspects. Even
>Biblical Hebrew occationally use this construction, and it is very
>productive in Mishna Hebrew where aspect is completely lost.

Again, I suspect that you are laboring under false impressions of Greek
aspect. As to Aramaic and Hebrew, the comparison instantly becomes one of
apples to oranges. This, incidently, is why I groan whenever I read
comments attributing "poor" Greek grammar in the NT to incompetence
associated with Greek's being a second language to a native Aramaic/Hebrew
speaker. Greek and Aramaic/Hebrew are such vastly different languages that
we should find an overwhelming number errors if the "incompetence" is due
to unfamiliarity with Greek.

Don Wilkins

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