Re: Aspect defs. (long)

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Tue Aug 05 1997 - 08:40:19 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. Let us
handle this definition as a scientific hypothesis: I reformulate it this
way: "The beginning of an action is not/cannot be an intrinsic part of the
form. When the beginning is included in the speech-act/event where the
imperfective verb occurs, this is because of pragmatic factors (the

Applied to Greek it seems to me that this hypothesis is circular. 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 given the subjectivity of aspect, I cannot see
how this can be done 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?

Based on a similar difference between the perfective/imperfective as
outlined by Fanning/Porter I found the following circumstances which could
test my hypothesis that all Hebrew imperfects with and without waw are
imperfective and all perfects with and without waw are perfective: Events
of the past where the subject/object are countable, singular and definite
(or instead of such an object, the verb is intransitive) and the context
definitely says that the event was not finished, can only take an
imperfective verb.( Perfects in these situations would falsify my
hypothesis.) Bacause all(with a few exceptions) past completed situations
may be described imperfectively or perfectively, there is no such set of
circumstances where only perfect can be chosen.

Our situation is different because we have identified the forms; what we
are discussing is the meaning/contents of imperfectivity. And in this
particular case i don`t see how we can differentiate between what comes
from the context and what comes from the verb. At the outset the
understanding of aspect as a subjective viewpoint was invented because this
definition was broad enough to encompass all the uses of the aspects. And
further, the difference between the two aspects were construed on the basis
of how they were used,i.e. the meaning of the situations in which they
occurred. And as I see it, this is still the only way we can go, because we
simply have no tools by which we can eliminate all the pragmatic factors,
and voila, here is the pure meaning of the form!

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? That is very
difficult to answer.

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,so 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 in my mind, to place too much stress on the context, has, as is the
case with the semantic domain-aprroach in word studies, an element of
"anarchy" entailed. Controls are lacking!

An author may convey a particular meaning by for instance combining the
imperfective aspect with a semelfactive verb, which gives an
iterative/frequentative event, but this is because the very nature of the
aspect;it may entail semelfactive actions. And similarly with events
entailing a beginning. The very nature of the imperfective aspect allows an
inclusion of a beginning, and then it cannot be defined as a viewpoint
focusing on a sequence after the beginning and before the end.And Luke 7:8
is a good example of this.

My conclusion is that, if we cannot define the set of circumstances by the
help of which we can differentiate between the role played by pragmatics
and by semantics in relation to aspectual situations, then it is legitimate
to draw the conclusion that the definition of an aspect must accord with
all the different uses of that particular aspect. Let me add that regarding
the question of time and the conjugations ("tenses") I think it is more
profitable to differentiate between pragmatics and semantics.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:38:24 EDT