Re: Greek Grammarians and Aspect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Thu Mar 26 1998 - 02:06:18 EST

Wes Williams writes,

<I would appreciate a fundamental question answered about verbal aspect
<after following the aspect threads for three years. Did not Classical
<Greek (and Koine) have grammarians of their day and do we not have some
<of their works? If so, what did they write about aspect, time and tense?
<How did they define the present "tense?" I would think that their
<comments would carry a lot of weight in modern definitions of their
<aspect. Carl? Others? Do not such works exist?

<The addendum to consider with the Greek grammarians of the past (if they
<did not have our modern suggestions of aspect) would be the introduction
<of the Semitic mind and Hebraic usage of Greek. If the Hebrew mind
<heavily used aspect with Hebrew, then I can see Hebrew writers using
<Greek in Hebraic ways to express their view of aspect (as Rolf points
<out). But would this affect the common Greek of everyone else who spoke
<Greek and who did not have the Hebrew mind? If the grammarians of the
<past did not share our views of aspect, this is where I need to pause
<and look for the bridge across the canyon.

<If we have the works of Grammarians of the period or before, is it not
<fundamental for us to ask what they wrote about aspect, time, and tense?
<Does anyone have references of works to consult?

Dear Wes,

I find your question interesting and look forward to comments on it. A
short note of my angle of approach: In the last century Greek was studied
in the light of the Slavic languages. Today it is studied in the light of
the general linguistic view of aspect based on modern Indo-European
languages (See, John Hewson, Vit Bubenik, 1997, "Tense and Aspect in
Info-European languages, Current Issues in Linguistic Theory,145).

The Hebraic mind may have influenced the Greek mind as far as the LXX is
concerned, but this is not my principal point. What is important is that
aspect in Hebrew is completely different form English, Indo-European and
Slavic aspect, so different that if the Hebrew aspect is "aspect" then
English does not have grammaticalized aspects. If my observation about
Hebrew is true, we have an example breaking the assumption that aspect in
all languages should be defined in the same terms, namely in relation to
ongoing action and the end of the event or state.

An important parallel between Greek and Hebrew is that in both languages is
aspect represented by the superior groups (called "tenses" in Greek and
"conjugations" in Hebrew" under which the voices ("stems" in Hebrew) and
lexical forms are subsumed. This is not the case in English and similar
languages. On this basis, and because there are too many examples of
imperfective Greek verbs where the beginning or end is included and
perfective verbs where the end is not included, I suggest that we apply my
Hebrew definition of aspect on the Greek verbal system to see if that is a
better model than the usual one.


Rolf Furuli
lecturer in Semitic languages
University of oslo

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