Re: David A. Black and Stanely E. Porter on Verb Aspect

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Fri Aug 01 1997 - 06:14:50 EDT

At 08:01 PM 7/31/97 +0000, Clayton Bartholomew wrote:
>In David A. Blacks intro grammar, *Learn to Read NT Greek* (1st ed.,
>1993), he has several discussions of verb tense and aspect that I find
>confusing. I sat down one day about six months ago with Porter's
>Idiom's in one hand and Black's book in the other hand and tried to sort
>out what was going on.

*Most* texts are rather confusing when it comes to aspect. Fanning, Porter,
and Olsen use significantly different theories of aspect, and most NT
scholars know more about the linguistics of the 1800s than about modern
linguistics, since most of the really good books on Greek are based on the
older linguistics.

>On page 13-15 of Black's book he has a discussion of tense, aspect and
>time. On page 13, second paragraph he says: *The term aspect refers
>to the view of the action that the speaker chooses to present to the
>hearer.* This sounds at least fairly close to Porter's definition. But on
>page 14 Black has a chart that claims to show the relationship
>between aspect and time of action. The aspect column on this chart is
>labeled *kind of action*. I spent at least an hour tracking down his
>terminology and comparing it to Porter's. What we have here is a
>linguistic Tower of Babel.

It is easy to make this kind of mistake, and I have made it myself. Let's
compare Smyth to Fanning:

Fanning Past Present Future
Imperfective imperfect present
Perfective aorist
Perfective pluperfect perfect
Unmarked future

Smyth (1920/1956) Past Present Future
Continued action imperfect present
Simple attainment aorist future
Completed action pluperfect perfect future perfect
with permanent result

These tables look very similar. The difference is that Fanning is talking
about aspect, and Smyth is talking about Aktionsart.

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

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