semantics vs. pragmatics

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Aug 08 1997 - 05:27:31 EDT

Mari Broman Olsen wrote:

<I am not sure we are disagreeing here. I also argue for a distinction
<between grammatical aspect (imperfective and perfective) and lexical
<aspect (state, event, etc.). The fact that something is abstract does
<not mean it cannot be semantic (uncancelable). In fact, Rolf applies
<exactly the sort of test when he writes

<<"And similarly with aspect which also is a strictly subjective
<<matter. If there are examples where the imperfective aspect includes
<<the beginning of an event,(which I think there are) regardless of the
<<pragmatic factors working, a definition of imperfectivity excluding
<<the beginning must be wrong."

Dear Mari,

It seems to me (before I have read your book) that we only disagree in
minor points. However, you are a linguist, and while I have some linguistic
background I am basically a philologian, so our approaches are somewhat
different. This may explain some of the apparent disagreement. So to the

An illustration is never perfect. However, with the cave-illustration
(different from Plato) I wanted to show that while a hole is "nothing" this
"nothing" derives its meaning from the context. Therefore "nothing" can
play an important role.

I define aspect as a subjective viewpoint, i.e. as the lense opening of a
camera, yet this "nothing" plays an important role in its contextual
setting. Mood does not add anything to the NATURE of an avent or a state,
but the non-indicative moods transfer the situation into an irreal/imagined
world. Therefore mood contributes to the meaning of a sentence but only on
the restricted, subjective plane. Similarly aspect does not add anything to
the NATURE of of an event or a state (such as making an event punctiliar,
durative, bounded or unbounded). But aspect focuses on events which already
have one or more of these characteristics and makes the whole or a part of
the event or state visible for inspection. The use of language, aspect
included is communication. And the choice of one of the aspects in a
particular situation contributes to meaning and communication, but only on
the subjective plane.

But how can "nothing" contribute to meaning? This is because the "lense
opening" has a certain focus, and the part of the state or event focussed
upon becomes visible, but not so with the rest of the state or event.
However, when for instance the imperfective aspect is chosen, we know (if
my model be correct) that we have a closeup view of a part of a state or an
event, but we don`t know WHICH part (before the beginning, beginning
included,first part, middle part, last part, end included (resultative)).
This must be construed by help of the context. In this way the "cave hole"
is defined by the rock around it.

Regarding the use of semantics I agree that it is also used for what is
abstract, including aspect. We certainly cannot muster a single argument
without using it. And similarly with pragmatics.It is a combination of
pragmatics and semantics that help us see where aspectual focus is, as
outlined above. My concern however, was the apparent confusion of
pragmatics and semantics when I sought a new DEFINITION of
perfectivity/imperfectivity. My point was that regardless of which factors
contributed to the understanding that the beginning was included in Luke
7:8, this would not influence the DEFINITION of the imperfective aspect as
including the beginning. When we HAVE defined imperfectivity/perfectivity
semantics and pragmatics are important for our understanding of the text.
But they cannot be used to discard a particular definition of aspect which
seeks to include all the situations which already are fixed by help of
semantics and pragmatics. From this point of view the DEFINITION of aspect
is not directly influenced by semantics/pragmatics as are the different
USES of a particular aspect. Thus the definition of aspect stands above
pragmatics and semantics.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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