Re. (LONG) Fundamentally flawed?

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Mar 20 1998 - 10:20:28 EST

Richard Lindeman wrote

<I am beginning to wonder whether or not our fundamental concept of
<Aktsionsart isn't flawed. Ever since the recent discussion on this topic
<began I have been reading passages of scripture and consciously attempting
<to note the interplay of Aspect and Aktsionsart. My conclusion is this...
<I question whether there really is such a thing as Aktsionsart. Please bear
<with me on this thought for a moment.

<I am finding it extremely difficult to classify *any* verb by its
<Aktsionsart. The same verbal root can always freely be used to express
<simple action, ongoing action, or completion *within different contexts*.
<Do you know of a single example where a verbal root can only express one
<type of action? Even "to hit" a ball, depending upon context, can be
<expressed as punctiar or as ongoing or as completed action. If this is
<true, then how can we say that the Aktsionsart of a verb can possibly
<demand or dictate the aspect of a verb?

<But on the other hand, I do find that there are certain verbs which are
<*normally used in contexts* which express a particular type of action. When
<I use the verb "hit" I normally use it in contexts which would require a
<punctiliar understanding of the verb. But it is the context which is at
<work in this and not some kind of inner quality or magic of the verb "to
<hit". Maybe there is another world out there where people use the word
<"hit" and they customarily intend this to be pictured as ongoing or
<completed action. I don't know.

Dear Richard,

As I see it, there is much truth in your observations. However, looking at
the text of the NT from the right viewpoint you may see that Aktionsart is
not what is flawed, but rather (the definitions of) aspect. Your appeal to
the context is really warranted and perhaps the following systematic
observations may throw some light on your problem.


A state is not an Aktionsart because it does not imply action, but by
definition is it a situation which continues without any input of energy,
and a part of the state is similar to any other part or to the whole.
Stativity is a fundamental property of verbs, being on the same semantic
plane as Aktionsart. Aktionsart is the fundamental property of fientive
verbs, most of which are durative. The word "sing" indicates ongoing action
(words and melody comes out of someone`s mouth) regardless of aspect, tense
or whatever. There may, however, be an extension or modification of the
Aktionsart or the state because of the nature of the subject/object and the
relationship between these and the verb. This nature and relationship can
be approached from two angles.


Whether or not a subject and/or object are count nouns/non-count nouns,
singular/plural and indefinite/definite has a bearing on the telicity of
the verb phrase or clause. If a clause is telic, the end (TELOS) of the
action is conceptually (but not temporally) included . Thus "build houses",
"Sing songs" are atelic while "sing the national anthem" or "build a house"
are telic. When the nature of the subject/object is taken into account from
this point of view we get 5 different situations:

(1) states +static +durative -telic "love Peter"
(2) Activity -static +durative -telic "walk in the garden"
(3) Accomplishment -static +durative +telic "build a house"
(5) Achievement -static -durative +telic "reach the top"
(6) Semelfactive -static -durative -telic "knock"

The Aktionsart is not blotted out or changed, just extended or modified. An
event can of course be described in different ways. "The ships floats"
(activity). "The ship is afloat" (state).


This viewpoint indicates how the agent and the patient is affected by the
action. Allow me some observations from Hebrew which help my students
greatly, and which can throw some light on a "neglected" side of Greek.

(A) ACTIVE: the subject (agent) acts upon the object (patient).
(B) PASSIVE: the patient is subject and is acted upon by an agent.
(C) MEDIUM: the action of the subject affects herself (reflexive), or both
the subject and the object are affected, (reciprocal).
(D) CAUSATIVE (Hebrew Hiphil): the subject (agent) causes the object
(patient) to have a part in the action. (Example: "God let a wind blow
over the earth")
(E) Hebrew "Piel" : the subject lets the object (patient) be led into a
state, and this can be realized in two ways:
 (a) FACTITIVE, an intransitive verb is made transitive ("to be great" ->
"to make someone great").
 (a) RESULTATIVE, the object is led into the state resulting from an action
("to know" -> "to make someone come into the state of knowledge"). In
English we have the fine resultative example in the words "Sit down!".
Formally we ask for an action, but what is stressed is the resultant state.


The combination of Aktionsart, Procedural traits and Voice in a clause, say
in a narrative, may give us the time of an action without using an extra
temporal marker and may also tell us whether the action was finished or
not. The words "John, sing, national anthem" in an account of a reception
last week with the president present, give us enough information to know
that John finished his singing. What then is aspect, and what is the need
for it? Those viewing aspect as semantic, define the imperfective aspect as
"ongoing action", the focus being on the nucleous of the action while the
perfective aspect focusses on the end which is included. In most situations
where Greek aorist and imperfect are used, this definition holds but not in
all situations (Dale certainly has a point when he has problems with the
imperfective aspect in Greek present). As will be shown below, the end can
be included in imperfective events and states and need not be included in
perfective ones. I am therefore forced to view aspect as pragmatic (its
focus depending on the context) and seek a definition which do not use
Aktionsart or procedural terms. In this post I will use some resultative
and factitive situations as examples.

In the Hebrew system there is a great difference between Hiphil (causative)
and Piel (resultative,factitive), the former being equivalent to a verbal
clause and the latter to a nominal clause, but in the Greek grammars a
similar difference between causative and resultative/factitive is little
elucidated. Regarding verbes ending in -ow Smyth (866,3) uses "factitive",
Robertson (150) uses "causative" and BDF uses the words "forensically" and
"effectively" (148:4) about DIKAIOW. Keeping in mind that the object
(patient) is affected both in factitive and resultative situations by an
action of the subject (agent), and that the END of this action is passed
(this is what leads the object into the state) is what causes problems for
the commonly used definition of aspects.

In the Hebrew Piel, the end of the action normally is included in the
verbs; yet there are scores of examples of the use both of the perfective
and of the imperfective aspect in this stem (voice), and the only possible
conclusion to draw (given the definition of the stem) is that THE END OF
THE ACTIONS are included in both aspects, and therefore cannot be what
distinguishes them.
Looking at Greek, we do not find a systematic morphological distinction
between what is causative, factitive/resultative and what is active,
passive and medial. However, there is a distinction which is found in the
perfect "tense", in the -ow ending of some verbs and in the lexical meaning
(or use of) other verbs. I am not aware of any monographs or studies in
this area (I would appreciate references), but I think this can be a
fruitful approach both for the definition of aspect and for a better
knowledge of the perfect "tense"

A quick Gramcord search regarding DIKAIOW and QEMELIOW:

(1) Rom 8:30 AORIST ACTIVE "those whom he declared* righteous" EDIKAIWSEN
(2) Rom 4:2 AORIST PASSIVE "If Abraham were declared righteous" EDIKAIWQH
(3) 1 COR 4:4 PERFECT PASSIVE "I am not proved righteous" DEKIKAIWMAI
(4) Acts 13:39 PRESENT PASSIVE "the one who believes is declared righteous"
(5) Gal 5:4 PRESENT PASSIVE "try to be declared righteous" DIKAIOUSQE
* "declared" may in each case be substituted with "made"

To make or declare righteous is an action which either is telic (the end is
conceptually included) or instantaneous (beginning and end are identical).
In (1), (2), (3) and (4) this "end" is passed and the resultant state is
stressed. Yet both the imperfective and perfective aspect together with the
perfect is used.

(6) Heb 1:10 AORIST ACTIVE "You founded (EQEMELIWSAS) the earth"
(7) Zech 8:9 PERFECT MIDDLE/PASSIVE "the house of the Lord almighty was
(8) 1Esdr. 6:10 PRESENT ACTIVE "Then we asked these elders, 'At whose
command are you building this house and laying the foundations (QEMELIOUTE)
of this structure?'

In (6) and (7) the end is passed and the resultant state is holding,
expressed by the perfective aspect and perfect; (8) with its imperfective
aspect can either be viewed similarly or iteratively.

After these factitive/resultative examples, let me conclude with one
example where both the aorist and the imperfect are used for the same
customary actions, without any indication of an end (9,10), and one example
where the aorist is used for a state which still was ongoing at the time of
writing (11).

(9) 1 Sam 1:3 "And the man went up (ANEBAINEN) from his city year after year"
(10) 1 Sam 1:7 " and this he did (or was doing) (EPOIEI) year after year."
(10) Heb 4:4 "God rested (KATEPAUSEN) on the seventh day" (the whole
argument of the chapter is that the rest continued).

The important thing is first to be able to identify the groups mentioned
above on the basis of Aktionsart and the relationship between subject/
object and the verb, and then to ascertain how the different groups
interact with each other. Further is it important to understand how the
author intentionally use this interacton to convey his message.


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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