Humpty Dumpty vs. Buist Fanning

From: clayton stirling bartholomew (
Date: Fri Apr 03 1998 - 07:01:54 EST

On pages78-84 of Verb Aspect, Fanning makes a clear and self conscious choice
to adopt the notion that Verb Aspect in Hellenistic Greek has a "central and
invariant meaning". He notes the difficulties with this position in some
detail but then he chooses to take this approach in spite of the difficulties.

I strongly suspect that adopting the notion of "central and invariant meaning"
is the most fatal error than can be committed by anyone trying to understand
the relationship between grammatical forms and syntactical functions. Then
notion of "central and invariant meaning" is just as invalid for syntax
studies as it is for lexical semantics. What I cannot understand is why people
who accept the notion of semantic domains for lexical semantics still want to
hold on desperately to "central and invariant meaning" for syntactical forms.
The same principles apply to syntactical meaning that apply to lexical

A cursory overview of the literature on verb aspect shows that several
different "grammatical functions" have been assigned to the grammatical forms
that we associate with verb aspect. I am not suggesting that all of the
grammatical functions that have been suggested are equally valid. Some of them
are probably just plain wrong. What I am suggesting is that the grammatical
forms that we associate with verb aspect are pointers to a semantic domain
containing several grammatical functions. And that a single instance of a
grammatical form becomes instantiated with a single grammatical function in a
given literary context.

What is so difficult about this? This is not anarchy, chaos or the loss of
absolutes. It is just semantic theory applied to grammar.

Clayton Stirling Bartholomew
Three Tree Point
P.O. Box 255 Seahurst WA 98062


The title of this post is potentially misleading. As I have already stated I do not agree with Humpty Dumpty's form of semantic anarchy. For the details of that see the archives on Humpty Dumpty.

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