Re: Aktionsart vs. Aspect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sat May 17 1997 - 14:13:39 EDT

Dear geeks,

I still have problems with inceptive imperfects with invisible
beginnings. So I tried a new approach, and I will appreciate your
comments. The problem is whether examples can be found of Greek
imperfects whith the beginning of their action not included. In the
quest, it is important to keep in mind that (1) we cannot a priori
exclude the possibility that Greek imperfects function as English past
continuous or French imparfait, without the beginning included, and
(2) whether we feel "began" is necessary or not necessary in our
translation of them into English is not decisive for how the Greeks
viewed them.

To find data which could throw light on the question I sought
constructions where the aorist occurred in a when-clause and where
the lexical meaning of the following imperfect could help us decide
whether the beginning was visible or not. I found the following
Acts 11:2 "When Peter came up to (ANABAINW, aor.) Jerusalem, those who
were circimsized began to debate/were debating (DIAKRINW, imperf.)
with him."
Acts 21:12 "When we heard this (AKOUW, aor.) both we and the local
residents began begging/were begging (PARAKALEW, imperf.) him not to
go up to Jerusalem."
Gal 2:12 "but when they arrived (ERXOMAI,aor.) he began to
withdraw/were withdrawing (hUPOSTELLW, imperf.) and
separate/separating (AFORIZW, imperf.) himself."
Ex 33:9 "And it came about, that when Moses went into/ (EISERXOMAI,
aor.) the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend/ began to descend
(KATABAINW, imperf.) and would stand (hISTHMI, imperf.) at the
entrance of the tent."
1 Macc 9:32 "When (KAI) Baccides heard the news (GIGNOSKW, aor.),
(KAI) he began to seek /was seeking (ZHTEW, imperf) to kill Jonathan.

None of the examples are decisive, but to claim that the beginning of
any of the imperfects is invisible or that the previous aorist
constitutes the beginning of the action expressed by the imperfect
seems very strange to me. In Ex 33:9 we even have a downward movement
both with a beginning and an "end" (how are we to explain the second
imperfect? Hebrew has perfect!).

The standard definition of the imperfective aspect will not allow the
beginnings to be included. But how would you argue regarding the
mentioned passages to defend this definition?


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

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