Aspect defs. (long)

From: Rod Decker (
Date: Fri Aug 01 1997 - 08:11:59 EDT

In the previous thread with the too-long title: "Re: David A. Black and
Stanely E. Porter on Verb Aspect", Mark O'Brien observed that:

>For those who have done any work in the area of aspectual studies, it is a
>well-known "fact" that for every two scholars there are three sets of
>terminology! Terminology in this field is notoriously difficult because
>approach, but I've also found that many grammars (even reltively modern
>ones) are not very sophisticated or accurate when it comes to verbal
>aspect. This is one of my spot checks--one of several--that I use to guage
>the quality of a new grammar... I check what they have to say about aspect.

The 2:3 ratio that Mark refers to is all-too-true! Earlier this summer I
finished a draft of a chapter in my dissertation that surveys the field in
this regard. For what it's worth, I've appended my summary (notes and all)
that gives the definitions that I use in the dissertation. My topic, BTW,
is not apsect per se, but temporal deixis (i.e., an examination of Porter's
temporal thesis).

The key/seminal works on aspect in NT studies are Stan Porter's *Verbal
Aspect in the Greek of the NT* (NY: Lang, 2d ed., '93), Buist Fanning's
*Verbal Aspect in NT Greek* (Oxford: Clarendon, '90), and Mari Olsen's '94
diss. at Northwestern U (being published by Garland this summer, but I
haven't received a copy yet), "A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical
and Grammatical Aspect." There are also a series of journal articles by K.
McKay and his brief intermediate grammar, *A New Syntax of the Verb in NT
Greek: An Aspectual Approach* (NY: Lang, '94).

*Draft* from diss.:
Summary of Verbal Aspect

     It is essential to identify and define key terms when describing
languages. The differences between languages<1> (not immediately apparent
to native speakers who use their own language without conscious grammatical
selection) must be evaluated based on a standard set of definitions. The
survey of this chapter has reflected a range of definitions for the key
terms. There is no consistency within either NT studies or in linguistics
in this field. Based on the preceding pages, the following categories,
terms, and definitions will be employed in the remainder of this
dissertation. Since the dissertation proposes to be an examination of
Porter's theory of aspect, the definition of that term follows his; the
definition of Aktionsart, however (which Porter does not treat in any
detail), reflects the other studies examined above.

     Aspect is the semantic category by which a speaker or writer
grammaticalizes a view of the situation (action or state) by the selection
of a particular verb form in the verbal system. This is a grammatical
category expressed by the form of the verb. The view is either perfective,
imperfective, or stative and is expressed by the aorist, present/imperfect,
and perfect/pluperfect forms respectively. Perfective aspect views the
situation in summary as a complete event without regard for its progress
(or lack thereof). Imperfective aspect views the situation as in progress
without regard for its beginning or end. Stative aspect depicts a state of
affairs that exists with no reference to any progress and which involves no
change. All of these aspects are the speaker's view of the situation. They
are sometimes determined by various factors (lexis, grammatical
construction, context, etc.) and other times are the speaker's reasoned
choice of a viewpoint that best expresses the nuance he desires to
communicate. The same situation may often be described by two or even three
such viewpoints.<2>

     Aktionsart is a description of the actional features ascribed to the
verbal referent as to the way in which it happens or exists.<3> This
category is best classified in terms of the Vendler taxonomy as it has been
applied to the Greek of the NT by Fanning and Olsen. It is not a
grammatical category based on the form of the verb but is a pragmatic
category based on the meaning of the word (lexis) as it is used in a
particular context.<4> Appropriate descriptions of these classes include
state, activity, accomplishment, climax, or punctual.<5> Classification is
on the basis of the dynamicity, durativity, or telicity carried by a
combination of lexis and context.

     Lexis is not synonymous with Aktionsart. While Aktionsart is a
descriptive category for the kind of a situation described, lexis refers to
the semantic, denotative value of the word itself.<6> Thus in the
statement, ESQIEI META TWN hAMARTWLWN (he was eating with the sinners, Mark
2:16), the lexis of ESQIEI refers to eating (rather than, e.g., running;
the context clarifies that the figurative sense of "destroy" is not in
view), the aspect is imperfective (present form views it as a process), and
the Aktionsart is that of an activity (change, unbounded, durative, thus an
action in progress without reaching completion). In this example, note that
the aspect and Aktionsart have complementary, overlapping descriptions
(both include some element of process). This is expressed differently,
however: aspect expresses a view of the process grammatically, Aktionsart
expresses it lexically and contextually.<7>

     The web of semantic factors comprised by aspect, lexis, and
Aktionsart, along with other grammatical and contextual factors (adjuncts,
deixis, etc.) is referred to in this dissertation as the verbal complex.<8>
Thus a statement that "the meaning of the verbal complex of x..." is to be
understood as an inclusive, pragmatic statement (usually employed at the
level of clause) summarizing the total semantic value of the verb and its
adjuncts in a particular context, including aspect, lexis, Aktionsart, etc.
The categories often used in traditional grammars (tendential, gnomic,
iterative, etc.) are not appropriate to either aspect or Aktionsart in the
sense defined above. They are relevant as descriptions of the verbal
complex, but not of specific verbs or specific forms of verbs.<9> This
approach, illustrated in figure 7, seeks to balance formal and contextual
contributions, form and function, semantics and pragmatics.<10>

Fig. 7 (simplified into very rough ASCII!)

| Semantics Pragmatics |
| ________________ ______________________ |
| | Lexis | | Context | |
| | semantic value | | semantic & pragmatic | |
| | of the word |\ | value of various | |
| |________________| \ | contextual factors | |
| ________________ \ |______________________| |
| | Aspect | \ / |
| | semantic value | \ / |
| | of the form* | _\/__________________ |
| |________________| | Aktionsart | |
| | pragmatic value of | |
| | lexis + context@ | |
| |____________________| |

* = aspect categories [I use 'form' in place of the more traditional term
'tense' to designate the morphological units (aor., pres., pf., etc.)]

@ = clause-level category of verb class


<1> Different languages express tense (in its traditional sense) and aspect
differently. There is no universal way to express these semantic nuances
even though aspect appears to be a universal semantic category (tense,
understood as a grammaticalized expression of time, does not, however,
appear to be universal). Some languages use separate morphemes for tense
and aspect (e.g., Russian), others express both categories primarily
through the use of auxiliaries (e.g., English), some have overlapping forms
that express both tense and aspect (e.g., French), others express one of
these categories grammatically and the other contextually (e.g., koine
Greek), and some encode only one of these categories (Mandarin, e.g., has
aspect but not tense). Olsen, "Model," 4-5 notes some of these examples.
This point has particular relevance in two areas: studying and describing a
language that uses one or both of these conventions from the perspective of
a language that expresses only one of the categories (or that
grammaticalizes them differently), and second, translating between two such
languages. "Grammaticized distinctions are obligatory, whereas
ungrammaticized ones are optional" (Binnick, Time and the Verb, 34). In the
case of translation, some receptor languages may mandate the expression of
a category that is not grammaticalized in the donor language. This
necessitates a decision by the translator of what to add to the translation
that is not expressed by his source. The reverse situation necessitates
omission of information or paraphrase to communicate the information that
is explicit in the donor language. To illustrate in abstract terms, if
language A expresses the following categories grammatically: o m - , but
language B expresses the categories o , there will be some adjustments
necessary in description and translation. (Binnick [ibid.] gives an
excellent example using Turkish and English.)
[Symbol font about 2 lines above may appear odd in your mailer!]

<2> The definition of aspect is based on Porter's Idioms, 21-22 with only
slight modifications suggested by the discussions of Fanning, Wallace, and
Baugh. The term reasoned choice does not intend that the speaker makes a
deliberate, conscious choice for which he could give a list of reasons.
Rather it emphasizes the fact that the choices made by a speaker, though
often automatic and subconscious, are reasonable choices that are part of a
consistent network of choices made available in his language and they
therefore carry semantic value (see Brook, "Authorial Choice," 9-10).

<3> This definition draws on those proposed by Bache, Fanning, and Binnick
(see above). It is not used with the same meaning that it has in the
standard, NT reference grammars, although the definition here may be viewed
as a logical, contiguous development from the traditional use as more
recent scholars have refined the terminology. Fanning also refers to it as
"procedural character" (FVA, 41); Binnick calls it "Aristotelian aspect"
(Time and the Verb, 170-73, 457-8); and Fleischman's choice is "situation
type" (Tense and Narrativity, TLS, 20-22).

<4> That the same word may have different Aktionsart values depending on
contextual adjuncts suggests that it is not a semantic, word-level category
but is a pragmatic, clause-level feature (see Binnick, Time and the Verb,
457-8 and Fleischman, Tense, 22).

<5> These are Fanning's categories (see figure 4 above). If Olsen's were
used, the list would be: state, activity, accomplishment, achievement,
semelfactive, and stage-level state. It is not the purpose of this
dissertation to resolve the terminology in this area. Part of the question
raised by these two taxonomies is whether an equipollent (Fanning) or
privative (Olsen) analysis should be used.

<6> Fanning refers to this as the "inherent lexical meaning" (FVA, 126).

<7> The same situation could be referenced with perfective aspect using an
aorist form-but note that a different stem would be used (*FAG > EFAGON).

<8> "Verbal complex" is used more as a descriptive phrase and is not
intended to coin a new technical term. Other terms have been used for this
category, but there has been no agreement, at least in the NT field. Olsen
uses aspect as the broad term and then differentiates grammatical aspect
and lexical aspect ("Model," 9-12), but this does not adequately reflect
the contextual factors. The only solution here would be to define aspect as
a discourse level phenomenon rather than a grammatical one (Hopper has
suggested this: "Aspect Between Discourse and Grammar," 5). Another
alternative is proposed by Wallace who employs the term Aktionsart as the
umbrella term (Grammar, 499), but this is decidedly non-standard
terminology and makes aspect part of Aktionsart rather than distinguishing
the two categories.

<9> E.g., using the terminology as defined above, it would not be accurate
to say that DIHKONEI (Mark 1:31) is an iterative imperfect (as does
N. Turner, Syntax, vol. 3 of J. Moulton, Grammar, 67). It could, however,
be said that in this context the combination of imperfect aspect with the
lexis of DIAKONEW (which represents an Aktionsart character of activity)
and the contextual factors (the woman had been bed-ridden until that time)
together describe an action that was iterative in nature. It is probably
unnecessary in most cases to spell out these details; a shortened reference
is adequate: the phrase KAI DIHKONEI AUTOI describes an iterative activity.
     Porter has made a similar observation: "Terminologically, these names
[i.e., iterative, etc.] tend to confuse form and function, as well as
semantics and pragmatics. I believe such categories are better seen as
lexical and contextual interpretations of a particular grammatical and
semantic category" ("Tense Terminology and Greek Language Study: A
Linguistic Re-Evaluation," Sheffield Working Papers in Language and
Linguistics 3 [1986]: 83).

<10> As Hopper points out, "a form must have a consistent value or else
communication is impossible; we cannot have linguistic forms which derive
~all~ of their meanings ~only~ from context" ("Aspect Between Discourse and
Grammar," 4, emphasis added; see also FVA, 81-4).


(who has another chapter due next week...; which, being translated, means,
"I may not have a lot of time for an involved discussion of this lengthy
post." But I will read any and all

 Rodney J. Decker Baptist Bible Seminary
 Asst. Prof./NT P O Box 800 Clarks Summit PA 18411 USA

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