Re: English perfect, Greek perfect

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Fri Jun 05 1998 - 16:59:36 EDT

Dear Jonathan,

I will not start a new discussion on aspect, but could not resist making
some comments after Rod brought up the aspect issue again.

One observation about therminology: A static situation is the opposite of
an action, so we should not continue to apply the term Aktionsart to
statives. There is a logical reason why this has been done, namely that
static and fientic events have something in common, in that they exist on
the same OBJECTIVE semantic plane. This is shown when we ask for the
procedural characteristics of the clauses and use three parameters (+/-
static, +/- durative (ongoing action), and +/- telic (the end is
conceptually included)).

The five situations are:

(1) States, + static, + durative, - telic (love Mary)
(2) Activity, - static, + durative, - telic (walk in the garden)
(3) Accomplishment - static, + durative, + telic (build a house)
(4) Semelfactive - static, - durative, - telic (hickup)
(5) Achievement - static, - durative, + telic (reach the top)

Looking at the perfect, we see that it functionally can be classified
together with imperfect/present, aorist (and future), because it can be
parsed in person and number and has voice and mood. But is it a third
aspect? In contrast with the procedural characteristics are the aspects
SUBJECTIVE. All commentators agree that stativity is the principal side of
perfect (with different stress on it), so from a semantical point of view
is perfect better classefied together with the *objective* procedural
situation types than with the two aspects (so the term "stative ASPECT"
seems strange to me).

I will not venture a new definition of the perfect - to do that one ought
to have looked at all the perfects of the NT, read all petinent literature
and done a thorough diachronic research - but I suggest a working
hypothesis. The aspects have been defined as "seen from the outside" (the
perfective one) and "seen from the inside" (the imperfective one) or as
"bounded" and "unbounded". As i see it, these definitions cover most sides
of perfectivity and imperfectivity but not all of them. They can, however,
be used to form the hypothesis. Now, are the perfects bounded or unbounded?
They must be unbounded, because, even though the end is passed, the
resultant state is open. Perfect therefore has the characteristics of the
imperfective aspect. I have several times before showed that the focus of
the imperfective aspect in relation to beginning and end is different.
Nothing in the aspect itself tells where the focus is, but this must be
concluded on the basis of the interpaly of Aktionsart and different
aspectual factors. The focus can be before the beginning (conative),
include the beginning (ingressive) ,be between the beginning and end
(progressive), be immediately before the end (egressive), or include the
end and a part of a resultant state (resultative, factitive). The last
suggestion fits the perfect, so the working hypothesis is that perfect is a
grammaticalization of the imperfective aspect applied in
resultative/factitive situations.

In the Semitic languages are resultative/ factitive situations expressed by
a special stem - the Piel, and Piel can be both perfective and
imperfective. It is no equivalent to Greek perfect in all respects, but its
existence indicates that these kinds of situations played an important role
in the minds of the Semites. In Greek are such situations ( and also
causative ones) not much developed, and one reason may be that some/many of
them may be gathered up in the perfect. A study of perfect should therefore
stress such situations and also strictly differentiate between static verbs
and those expressing some kind of Aktionsart.


Rolf Furuli
Lecturer in Semitic languages
University of Oslo

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