Re: Pragmatic/Semantic

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Mar 20 1998 - 09:03:44 EST

 Rod Decker wrote:

<Rolf said,

>>I think the same model can be applied exclusively to verbs, to their
>>Aktionsart (lexical meaning) versus aspect. The Aktionsart of a verb is
>>semantic and uncancellable; in most verbs is it durative. Because the verbs
>>are the backbone of any situation of communication, languages like Greek
>>and Hebrew have grammaticalized a mechanism to *make* particular sides of
>>the action *visible* to the reader, namely aspect. If aspect is viewed this
>>way- and here I differ from Mari - then aspects are wholly pragmatic and
>>not semantic. This means that characteristics such as durative, punctiliar,
>>complete(d), incomplete, and even *ongoing*, are exclusively reserved for
>>Aktionsart, and aspect is just a devise to make visible a part of what

<Interesting that this suggestion is exactly opposite what most whom I read
<during diss. research would say. It is my impression that when this issue
<is discussed (not often enough!) that the aspect is viewed as semantic and
<Aktionsart as pragmatic.

Dear Rod,

It is a little suspect when someone is off the mainstream, but when the
arguments are not completely Humpty Dumpty, to use b-greek terminology,
they deserve a hearing. To be able to counter arguments representing
another viewpoint will strengthen one`s own case.

Mari`s discussion of pragmatics versus semantics and her examples are
excellent, and I use one excerpt from her as a point of departure:
"Example: imperfective aspect may possibly be defined semantically as
something that predicates of an event or state that it is ongoing. That it
may also have an inception-then-ongoing reading must be pragmatic, since
the inceptive is not present in every case."

I agree that what "is not present in every case" probably is pragmatic. And
this is exactly my point. Events and states that are, or have been ongoing
characterizes both Greek aorist, imperfect and present, so how can they
distinguish the imperfective aspect from the perfective one? (The most
acute problem for aspectual research is to rid itself from definitions in
Aktionsart terms.) One could contrast this with the focus on the end of an
event or state which is thought to represent the perfective aspect, thus
getting a neat picture. I agree that in most instances do the imperfective
aspect focus upon the ongoing event or state before the end is reached, and
the focus of the aorist includes the end. So I understand perfectly well
the logic in the discussions using this contrast; and respect the labours
of the scholars behind them. My problem, however, is that there are too
many situations where these definitions do not fit - when for instance the
state continues beyond the perspective of the perfective aspect and the
focus of the imperfective aspect is not between the beginning and end.
This has forced me to seek a definition which view the endpoint of an event
as an important mark of demarcation, but not as the ultimate difference
between the aspects. What I for instance find regarding the imperfective
aspect, are several different focusses, which are dependent upon the
context or a knowledge of the world for their interpretation. Therefore I
view aspect as pragmatic rather than semantic.

Take for instance the conative examples, the attempt to do something, which
fails. This is described by the imperfective aspect but such attempts are
hardly accociated with "ongoing action" although there can be some
progression in the attempts, and the focus is on something which even is
before the beginning. Thus we have at least two sides of the imperfective
aspect which are pragmatic, Mari`s "inception-then-ongoing" examples and my
conative ones, and there are many more!


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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