re: (longish) Fundamentally flawed

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sun Mar 22 1998 - 14:48:50 EST

Richard Lindeman writes:

>Rolf Furuli writes:
>>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.

>OK... since it seems awhile before I will be able to get hold of Fannings
>book on Aspect, let me pursue a few more of my questions.

>I can accept that my definitions of aspect are flawed. But lets take this a
>bit further. What if all these things are fundamentally flawed... our
>understanding of tense, aspect, aktionsart, etc... and the reason why they
>are all flawed is because we fail to recognize the significance and impact
>of context. What if context itself is the only thing which demands anything.
>It is not tense that demands, it is not aktionsart which demands, nor is
>it aspect which demands anything. But rather it is plain and simple context
>which demands all of these things and more. It demands voice and mood as
>well. Context demands a verb of a certain aktionsart in a certain tense,
>voice, mood. And whenever we think even for a moment that one of these
>other things is demanding anything then we miss the boat. Context is the
>current on the ocean which moves the freighter with all of its complexities.
>Oh yes, there is an engine which is going and straining mightily against a
>given context, but in the end it is context which prevails.

Dear Richard,

Your thoughts are interesting because they focus upon method and approach.
Should we take a purely lingusitc approach or a philological one (often
somewhat patronizing called "reductionistic")?

Mari`s book is for instance strictly linguistic. Her methodology is
flawless and she has really used much ingenuity in her analyzes. Given her
premises, her conclusions are very difficult to deny or contradict.
However, I have great problems with some of them, because I doubt her
premises. A linguistic approach builds on a comparison of many languages,
and one basic premise is that all languages are quite similar as to their
fundamental makeup, which again means that we can study Greek in the light
of English and other modern languages. In the middle of last century,
Curtius used the Slavic languages as a templet, and on this basis Greek
aspect was defined in Aktionsart terms, because there is no difference
between Aktionsart and aspect in the Slavic languages. My view is that we
do not reach a better result by using English as our templet. I claim that
Greek aspect neither is like the Slavic nor the English aspect.

My philological approach has a similar weakness as I see in Mari`s work,
because I started with Hebrew and not with Greek. It has however, one
advantage, namely that I can point to a language where aspect clearly is
completely different from the English aspect. Both perfective and
imperfective forms in Hebrew can have past, present or future meaning and
the end of an action can be included in both. This means that we cannot
take for granted that the liguistic approach fits Classic/NT Greek which
also is an old aspectual language.

Both Porter and Fanning use sound liunguistic methodology and particularly
Porter uses some/much theoretical linguistics. However, they both work
extensively with the Greek text without "forcing" an external lingusitic
model upon the old language. Both conclude that Greek aspect is
"subjective", and I find particularly most of Fanning`s conclusions
persuading. What I suggest is that we try to refine some of Fanning`s
conclusions by the help of the aspectual model which is an alternative to
the modern linguistic one, namely the Hebrew model. We must, however,
exclusively work with the Greek text, and of particular importance is it to
avoid the view that the end of an event is the ultimate distingusihing
factor between the aspects.

Here is your stress on the context important. Instead of defining aspect in
objective terms such as "ongoing (durative)" , "complete(d)" or
"punctiliar" and create different subgroups ("gnomic", "inceptive",
"progressive" etc), we should find a generalization (a subjective
viewpoint) which encompasses all the different places of focus ( relative
to the beginning and end of an event or state) in each aspect. And because
the context is important for this, I believe that aspects are pragmatic
rather than semantic. However, we cannot start with the context but rather
with the elementary building blocks, the lecical meaning of each verb. Then
we must build higher units by a combination of verb/subject/ object, either
from the point of view of +/- telicity or from the view of voice. In this
stage the context starts to be important, and it becomes really important
when we want to define aspect.

One last note about Aktionsart. The importance of singling out the lexical
meaning of a verb as the fundamental unit can be illustrated by phrasal
verbs. Take "eat" versus "eat up", and "wind" versus "wind down". The verbs
"eat" and "wind" have their own durative Aktionsart without the
prepositions. When they are added, a NEW element is added to the Aktionsart
which shows that the end conceptually is included. Therefore is Aktionsart
one group and Aktionsart +/- telicity another.


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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