Re: Aspect defs. (long)

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Aug 05 1997 - 08:40:15 EDT

Rod Decker wrote:

<I would suggest that this confuses semantics and pragmatics. All my def.
<requires is that any emph. on the "beginning" is _not grammaticalized_, but
<comes from the context. Thus the def. of imperfective gives the semantics
<of the form while the use of that form in a particular may implicate
<specific pragmatic features (such as inceptive, connative, etc.). Otherwise
<there is no basis for defining when an imperfective form is one or the
<other of these. ("Without regard for" does not mean that the beginning
<cannot be included, but that it is not mandated by the form.)

Dear Rod,

I continue to defend the "confusion" of pragmatics and semantics in the
case of Porteręs and your definition of the imperfective aspect, arguing
along two lines:

(1) Let us handle the definition as a scientific hypothesis: I reformulate
it this way: "The beginning of an action is not/cannot be an intrinsic part
of the imperfective verb form. When the beginning is included in the
speech-act/event where the imperfective verb occurs, this is because of
pragmatic factors (the context)." I have two objections:

(1.1) A scientific hypothesis should be expressed in a way as to be
falsifyable, i.e we must define a given set of circumstances by which the
hypothesis can be shown to be wrong. But I cannot see how this is possible
in this case. We agree that speech-acts/events with the imperfective aspect
may include the beginning of the action. But what is the set of
circumstances by which we definitely can say that the inclusion of the
beginning is due to pragmatics and not to semantics? If we cannot point to
such, can the above definition be anything else than tautological?

(1.2) The proposed interplay between pragmatics and semantics does not take
into account the real subjective nature of aspects. We may use mood as an
illustration because it has an important similarity with aspect. Mood =
subjective view/portrayal of an irreal/imagined world. Aspect =
view/portrayal of the real world. Mood has nothing to do with pragmatics;
whether or not the end is included in a situation is irrelevant for mood,
it just portrays the actual situation through a subjective viewpoint.
Similarly, aspect has nothing to do with the actual situation, with the
beginning or end of events, because it does not infuse any new meaning into
the situation. It is just a subjective viewpoint. If this is correct, a
differentiation between pragmatics and semantics in relation to aspects is
tantamount to a confusion of what is objective (the situation) and what is
subjective (aspect). Further this means that when the subjective aspectual
focus of the imperfective aspect entails the beginning, a definition of the
imperfective aspect excluding the beginning must be wrong. What is
important is not how the beginning became a part of the actual situation,
but that it is seen through the aspect.

(2) I would like to apply the above to Luke 7:8, the passage Jonathan
refers to in his discussion of punctiliarity. We have the sequence

 POREUQHTI (aorist passive imperative) - POREUETAI(present)
 ERCOU (present imperative)- ERCETAI (present)
 POIHSON (aorist imperative)- POIEI (present)

All agree that the beginning is included in the events, except those with a
punctiliar understanding. On the basis of what is it included? On the basis
of pragmatics, because the situation is not subjective. We could argue that
POREUMAI AND ERCOMAI naturally indicates an instantaneous act, and
therefore the beginning is included in the imperfective aspect, but this is
not the case with POIEW. We could also argue that the author had little
choice other than using present in all three clauses which each is close
to being an apodosis, therefore the aspect is not important. And we could
argue that the situation is gnomic,thus "neutralizing" the aspect. All
these arguments are possible, but they relate to the actual "objective"
situation and not to the subjective aspect. The point is that when the
imperfective aspect is used, and makes a particular part of the situation
visible, and this visibility includes the beginning, then it shows that the
traditional definition of the imperfective aspect is wrong.

 Let me add that in situations not concerned with the subjective versus the
objective, such as for instance the question about the role of time in the
verbal system, then we need a differentiation between pragmatics and


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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