From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sun Jun 01 1997 - 16:46:14 EDT

Dear friends,

Bill, Paul, Jonathan and others have recently discussed how
intereference from our native language may preclude a good
understanding of Greek aspect. To circumvent this problem somewhat I
would try a more universal setting based on the assumption that
people of old times viewed and described events and states exactly the
same way that they viewed and described things. As an illustration I
use a thin silver bar and a casted lion, both about the length of a
man, as an illustration.

(1)The difference between the two objects nicely illustrates the
difference between events and states. A state is a situation that
continues without any input of energy, and each moment of the state is
similar to every other moment or to the whole state. Similarly with
the silver bar, regardless of which part of it you inspect, it is
similar to any other part. This is not the case with the casted lion
which is not homogenous. It can represent an event which neither is
homogenous. A close view of one part of an event may be very different
from a close view of another part (remember the five blind men who
should describe an elephant.)

(2) The silver bar and casted lion may exist at present, we may
describe them while looking at them. Or perhaps they only existed in
the past, and a description of them must be based on memory; or they
are just planned and we may describe how they will be produced or what
they will be like. Similarly, events and states may be past, present
and future and the time is expressed by the verbal system. Most
languages have grammticalized tense, a few, such as Burmese dont, but
even the "tenseless" languages have markers indicating time.

(3) So far we have spoken of the objects as part of the real world,
but our marvelous mind is able to describe objects just on the basis
of imagination. Regarding the future this is quite natural, because we
cannot look into the future. Our speaking about a silver bar or a
casted lion may have the form of wishes, we want or hope to get such
objects. Regarding the past we may express uncertainty whether or not
such objects ever existed, and therefore our reference to them is not
a reference to something which certainly was a part of the real world.
There is also a real and an irreal world in the description of states
and events, i.e a difference in mood. When we speak of the real world
we normally use the indicative mood, but when we express a command, a
wish, or uncertainty about the reality of something, we have stepped
into an imagined world. In these cases we use the imperative,
subjunctive or optative moods.

(3) After the trivial observations above, I come to the raison detre
of my illustration: Things, such as the silver bar and the casted lion
may be viewed from a distance, or a small part of them may be closely
inspected and described. Similarly, some languages have
grammaticalized aspects: (a) The perfective aspect views a state or
event from some distance, for events, both beginning and end are
included, for states, the beginning is always included and in most
instances also the end. (b) The imperfective aspect represents a
closeup view of a state or an event. The focus may be on a part
before the beginning (conative), on the beginning and the first stages
(inceptive), on some part between beginning and end (progressive), on
the part imediately before the end (egressive), or on the end
resulting in a state (resultative). In combination with verb phrases
with different kinds of Aktionsart, its force may be iterative or

Applied to the silver bar (states), there is little difference between
what is seen by the perfective and imperfective aspect. The perfective
aspect may however, portray the whole state or a large part of it.
Applied to the casted lion, there is a difference whether the head, a
leg, the belly or the tail is focussed upon. And it should be kept in
mind that just as a leg is not a lion, an imperfective view of a
certain part of an event, say a progressive view, is not THE aspect,
but just one focus that is possible with an imperfective viewpoint.
English does not grammaticalize closeup focus versus distant focus, so
English translations of imperfective Greek verbs cannot be used to
understand Greek aspect.

This model implies that aspect and mood work on the same semantic
plane, both are subjective viewpoints; mood representing irreal
worlds, aspect representing either the real or irreal worlds. Provided
that the subjective nature of aspect is accepted there may be a
logical flaw in the traditional definition of the imperfective aspect,
because the objective nature of the event may be confused with the
subjective nature of aspect. The requirement of both the traditional
"seen-from-the inside-view" and the "close-up-View" is that the
imperfective aspect is open, i.e. it continues. But it does not
follow, as is often taken for granted,that the objective beginning or
end cannot be included. An inceptive event may be open even when the
beginning is included, and an event including the end may be open if
the focus is on the following state.

(4) The above definition of aspect is very close to that of Fanning.
The difference being that the perfective aspect applied to states need
not include an objective end, and the imperfective aspect applied to
events may include either the objective beginning or end. The view of
the subjective nature of aspect is identical, and also the
differentiation between aspect per se and the situations made visible
by help of the aspect.

(5) I see at least three advantages with the view of aspect presented
(a) It can account for all the Greek uses of aspect ( in contrast with
the other view).
(b) It avoids interference from ones native language because it is
based on a psykhological foundation rather than on language-specific
(c) It uses simple and natural parameters (When has for instance
anyone projected himself/herself into an event and described it from
the inside?) We look at events from the outside.

(6) To show that the "seen-from-the inside-view" needs to be adjusted,
at least one of the following requirements must be met.
(a) Events whith imperfective verbs where the (objective) beginning is
included must be found.
(b) Events with imperfective verbs where the (objective) end is
included must be found.
(c) States with perfective verbs where an (objective) end is not
included must be found.

(7) By way of conclusion I ask for arguments defending the
"seen-from-the inside-view" against the
"close-up-focus-from-the-outside" view of the imperfective aspect. As
any other attempt, this is just an attempt, and I welcome all kinds of
comments, pro and con.


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

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