Re: aorist.indicative.forms

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Sun Jun 01 1997 - 07:50:56 EDT

Bill Thurman wrote:

>no matter what the actual nature of the event -- momentary, repetitive,
>imperfective, &c. -- an aorist form simply 'snapshots' it. this enables it to
>function where any more exact verbal assertion could occur.

This is pretty much what the aspect people mean when they say that an aorist
has perfective aspect. Compare the term "snapshot" to the definitions of
perfective aspect given below. I'm including one time-based definition a la
Mari Olsen and one non-time-based definition from Fanning.

Time-based definition: "imperfective aspect" views an event in progress,
from the time of the event; "perfective aspect" views an event from the time
of completion.

Non time-based definition: imperfective aspect "reflects an internal
viewpoint concerning the occurrence which focuses on its development or
progress and sees the occurrence in regard to its internal make-up, without
beginning or end in view", and that the perfective aspect "presents an
occurrence in summary, viewed as a whole from the outside, without regard
for the internal make-up of the occurrence" (Fanning, 1990).

>the hopelessly contradictory spectrum of said types does itself show that no
>time, no aspect, no Aktionsart inherently attaches to aoristic forms qua the

The modern aspect people (like Fanning, Olsen, Porter, etc.) don't create
the "hopelessly contradictory spectrum of said types" which you will find in
modern grammars. They get by with only two aspects (imperfective and
perfective) or three aspects (imperfective, perfective, and stative)
depending on the author.

>'types of aorists' (e.g. complexive, epistolary, gnomic &c.) serve only as
>analyses from an english language mindset. they correspond nil to what was
>going on in ancient greek brains that used the forms. therefore such lists mean
>absolutely nothing with regard to what the forms themselves truly implied in
>the minds of the users. they have utility only as offering suggestions of the
>contradictory ways in which aorists may be translated.

These types have another interesting use: they are a great testbed for
linguistic theories. Any theory of the basic meaning of the aorist has to
account for known usage, and grammars like A.T.Robertson contain huge sets
of passages, already classified for anybody who wants to see if a particular
approach to aspect can account for actual usage. Fanning goes into great
detail to show how the rest of the context influences the meaning to create
the different cases of tense usage found in traditional grammars.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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