Re: Are Participles Marked Temporally?

From: Rodney J. Decker (
Date: Fri Mar 05 1999 - 07:56:21 EST

>1. Do people on this list believe that there is a basic difference
>between "aspect" and "aktionsart"? Or do you believe these terms to
>be more or less interchangeable?

All the major recent research with which I am familiar distinguishes
between these categories. That is one of the major differences when
compared with earlier discussions. For what it's worth, here are my (diss.)

Aspect is the semantic category by which a speaker or writer
grammaticalizes a view of the situation by the selection of a particular
verb form in the verbal system. This is a grammatical category expressed
by the form of the verb. The view is either perfective, imperfective, or
stative and is expressed by the aorist, present/imperfect, and
perfect/pluperfect forms respectively. Perfective aspect views the
situation in summary as a complete event without regard for its progress
(or lack thereof). Imperfective aspect views the situation as in progress
without regard for its beginning or end. Stative aspect depicts a state of
affairs that exists with no reference to any progress and which involves no
change. All of these aspects are the speaker's view of the situation. They
are sometimes determined by various factors (lexis, grammatical
construction, context, etc.) and other times are the speaker's reasoned
choice of a viewpoint that best expresses the nuance he desires to
communicate. The same situation may often be described by two or even three
such viewpoints.

Aktionsart is a description of the actional features ascribed to the verbal
referent as to the way in which it happens or exists. The Vendler taxonomy
as adapted to describe the Aktionsart of Greek verbs in the NT by Fanning
and Olsen is probably the best such system developed to date. It is not a
grammatical category based on the form of the verb, but is a pragmatic
category based on the meaning of the word (lexis) as it is used in a
particular context. Appropriate descriptions of these classes include
state, activity, accomplishment, climax, or punctual. Classification is on
the basis of factors such as dynamicity, durativity, or telicity carried by
a combination of lexis and context.

Lexis is not synonymous with Aktionsart. While Aktionsart is a descriptive
category for the kind of a situation described, lexis refers to the
semantic, denotative value of the word itself. Thus in the statement,
"esqiei meta twn amartwlwn" (he was eating with the sinners, Mark 2:16),
the lexis of "esqiei" refers to eating (rather than, e.g., running; the
context clarifies that the figurative sense of "destroy" is not in view),
the aspect is imperfective (present form views it as a process), and the
Aktionsart is that of an activity (change, unbounded, durative, thus an
action in progress without reaching completion). In this example, note that
the aspect and Aktionsart have complementary, overlapping descriptions
(both include some element of process). This is expressed differently,
however: aspect expresses a view of the process grammatically, Aktionsart
expresses it lexi-cally and contextually.

The web of semantic factors comprised by aspect, lexis, and Aktionsart,
along with other grammatical and contextual factors (adjuncts, deixis,
etc.) is referred to in this dissertation as the verbal complex. Thus a
statement that "the meaning of the verbal complex of x..." is to be
understood as an inclusive, pragmatic statement (usually employed at the
level of clause) summarizing the total semantic value of the verb and its
adjuncts in a particular context, including aspect, lexis, Aktionsart, and
other contextual factors.

> 2. What would people on the list think about the
>relative temporality of a participle being affected by the
>participle's position (i.e. before or after the main verb?)

To which Chris added:
>Porter also says this in _Idioms_, 187-189. It sounds plausible. Rod
>Decker shared with me the results of his own analysis of this question
>based on Mark. His findings were that Porter's principle holds true
>most of the time (around 85%). Perhaps we should ask Rod to post his
>summary of his findings on this list.

The info that I sent Chris is as follows:

My work focused primarily on indicatives, though I did have a section re.
nonfinite forms. In the case of the ptcp. I examined only 3 select chapters
(indic. forms covered all of Mark). My summary follows:

There are 541 participles in Mark (248 present, 253 aorist, and 40
perfect). The following section examines the temporal use of the participle
in three selected chapters: Mark 2, 6, and 15. In these three chapters,
the adverbial participles are evaluated for relative temporal reference in
relation to the main verb and in relation to the word order of participle
and verb. This provides a test corpus of 55 aorist and 22 present forms.

Aorist Participles
Of the 55 adverbial aorist participles in the sample sections, 47 (85.5%)
express antecedent time and 8 (14.5%) refer to simultaneous time. No
instances of subsequent reference were observed. In both groups word order
alone was not an adequate criteria as both antecedent and simultaneous
reference was found with participles occurring both before and after the
main verb. There was a clear pattern in both instances, however. With
antecedent action the participle occurred before the main verb in 45 of the
47 instances. Simultaneous action likewise favors the sequence: participle
> verb (7 of the 8 instances). At least in the sample pas-sages, aorist
verbs clearly tend to occur before the main verb.

Present Participles
Of the 22 adverbial present participles in the sample sections, only one
expresses antecedent time and 21 refer to simultaneous time. No instances
of subsequent reference were found in the sample section. Word order alone
was not an adequate criteria as simultaneous reference was found with
participles occurring both before and after the main verb. There was a
fairly clear pattern, however. With simultaneous action the participle
occurred after the main verb in 16 of the 21 instances. At least in the
sample passages, present verbs clearly tend to occur after the main verb.


Rodney J. Decker, Th.D. Baptist Bible Seminary
Dept. of NT P.O. Box 800, Clarks Summit, PA 18411
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