Re: The Mysterious Disappearance of Verb Aspect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Mon Apr 13 1998 - 04:40:00 EDT

 Clayton Stirling Bartholomew writes:

>I am continuing to wade through Fanning, but the whole enterprise seems to be
>flawed by starting out with the wrong overall picture of the situation. I have
>already stated what I see as the fundamental problems with this model several
>times so I will not press the patience of the b-greek crowd any further.

>I have a similar problem with Fanning on Aspect. Fanning uses a large number
>of examples to substantiate his case. But many of the examples fall apart if
>you simply question his assumptions. In other words if you do not accept his
>model, the examples don't look very impressive. I don't really think that
>strong evidence is made up of a large quantity of weak evidence. You cannot
>build a strong case buy simply multiplying examples which could be interpreted
>three or four different ways.

>I will continue reading Fanning because it is a book worth reading. But I am
>less and less convinced by his argument as I progress through the work.

Dear Clay,

As I wrote to George yesterday, I do not think we should pursue the aspect
discussion. Just a few comments: I agree that we time and again should
question the premises of others and of ourselves, but we should do so in a
systematic way.

Any serious aspectual model must use premises which are firmly rooted in
modern linguistic theory. The studies of Mari, Fanning and Porter all
fulfill this demand; they are fine, scientific studies. While all three use
a sound methodology, they have different approaches. Mari has a strictly
linguistic approach (see John Hewson/Vit Bubenik 1997, "Tense and Aspect in
Indo-European Languages" for a similar approach) assuming that aspect is
similar in the languages of the world and studies Greek from this
vantagepoint. The studies of Porter and Fanning are language-specific; they
study Greek alone by help of modern linguistic principles. Our first step
in premise criticism, should be to make up our mind as to these two

The next step could be to find the premises characteristic for each
approach and take a critical look at these. A systematic approach here
could be to use the explanatory ability of each study as a criterion. A
model which can account for all or most of the verbs in the NT is probably
the better one. However, its explanatory force ahould be rooted in
ingenuity and not in vagueness and generalizations. In my view, all the
three models fall short of accounting for a number of Greek verbs, but they
have used all the lingiustic tools available, and therefore we must view
Greek aspect as a special case compared to what is termed aspect in modern
languages. We should not be sceptical to aspect per se, but rather look
around to see if there are other ways to define aspect, and then I fall
back on my Hebrew model.

I think Fanning has done a great job scientifically speaking and it seems
to me that you are unduly critical to him. It turns out that while I view
aspect as existing on another semantic plane than Aktionsart and procedural
traits - the same subjectic plane as modality - my results, regarding the
force of each event, are in most instances very close to those of Fanning.
What is interesting, is that these two quite different approaches, get
about the same practical results in perhaps 90 percent of the cases. There
must be some reason why some events only can be expressed by one of the
aspects, so to discard the notion of aspect altogether would be a very
extreme standpoint.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer of Semitic languages
University of Oslo

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:23 EDT