Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Fri Jun 05 1998 - 07:19:47 EDT

At 03:49 PM 6/4/98 -0400, Rod Decker wrote:
>In brief, I'd suggest that
>the perfect is best viewed, following McKay, as expressing *stative aspect*
>with any reference to an action that produces the state as well as the time
>reference coming from the context. (Please note that his is stative
>*aspect* we are talking about, not stative *Aktionsart* or stative as
>opposed to action verbs.)

My problem with the aspect-oriented discussions of the perfect is that they
tend not to be very precise about what the stative aspect is and how it
differs from perfective aspect. Also, aspect for the other tenses involves
portrayal of one thing, but aspect for perfect is more complex, involving
portrayal of both the action and the resulting state. I'm pretty sure I
know what aspect means for imperfective and perfective, but I'm not sure
what it means for stative, and there seems to be a lot of hand waving in
most of the explanations I have read.

>Traditionally the perfect has been defined as
>completed past action with continuing results. It is said to convey a dual
>time reference (both past and present) or to have dual Aktionsart (or dual
>aspect, depending on the writer; this is said to be either aorist and
>present, or linear and punctiliar).

There's a lot to be said for this view. Consider the following descriptions
of imperfective and perfective aspect, and think how they relate to
stative. I think it is pretty easy to come to the conclusion that the
stative is a combination of two aspects:

Imperfective: portrayed from an inside view
Perfective: portrayed from an outside view
Stative: ???

In stative, I think that the past event is portrayed from an outside view,
the current state is portrayed from an inside view, I think.

Imperfective: portrayed during unfolding action
Perfective: portrayed as a whole, without concern for the unfolding action
Stative: ???

In stative, I think that the past event is portrayed as a whole, the
current state is portrayed during the unfolding action

Imperfective: the time of completion is not part of the portrayed action or
Perfective: portrays the complete action or the achieved state
Stative: ???

In stative, I think that the time of completion of the past event is in
view, but the time of completion of the current state is not.

>More recently Fanning has proposed that the perfect should be viewed as a
>semantic triad incorporating Aktionsart, relative tense, and aspect. These
>three "combine to produce the basic sense: there is an Aktionsart-feature
>of stative situation, an internal tense-feature of anteriority, and an
>aspect-feature of summary viewpoint concerning an occurrence."

But is this "stative Aktionsart" anything other than the aspect with
respect to the current state? Why introduce a third dimension, Aktionsart,
if the first two dimensions, tense and aspect, are adequate to describe the

>Porter has developed McKay's position even more extensively. Although
>there are areas of disagreement between them, the two discussions are very
>similar in that both argue for stative aspect being the only semantic value
>of the perfect form. Porter summarizes: "the Perfect grammaticalizes the
>state or condition of the grammatical subject as conceived by the speaker.
>Whether a previous event is alluded to or exists at all is a matter of
>lexis in context and not part of aspectual semantics." "The stative aspect
>distances itself from the process itself, referring to the state of the
>represented process."

I have two basic problems with this view. The first is that the aorist and
the perfect are often closely related, and the perfect, in the New
Testament era, is in the process of disappearing in favor of the aorist. If
the past event is not a big part of the meaning of the perfect, it is odd
that the aorist and perfect are often easily exchanged.

The second difficulty I have with this view is that the Aoristic Perfect
(aka Historical Perfect) does not stress the current state at all. Consider
the following examples:

this [Moses] God ... sent



Texcel Research

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:39:46 EDT