RE: Are participles temporally unmarked? Mk 1:35

From: Hultberg, Alan D (
Date: Sat Mar 06 1999 - 16:26:10 EST


Just to clarify some terminology.

When aspect theorists talk about the Greek verb, they tend to use these

TENSE = a morpholigical category; so the aorist TENSE means a particular form
of the verb

ASPECT = the kind of action that the tense-form stands for, whether
perfective, imperfective, or stative. In this sense it is the equivalent of
the old German label *Aktionsart* (lit. "kind of action").

The difference between aspect and *Aktionsart* is that the latter is presumed
to relate to the occurence of the verb as it happened in real time, while the
former presumes no such NECESSARY relationship.

Thus an aspect theorist (at least the more persnickity type--the Stan Porters)
is keen to make this distinction: rather than "grammaticalizing" (another of
their esoteric terms) what really happened (tense understood as *Aktionsart*),
the verb tense only grammaticalizes the author/speaker's subjective choice of
how to portray the action. Any action may be portrayed in a variety of ways,
regardless of how the action itself occurs, they would say, and the choice of
how to do so is purely up to the author/speaker.

Many have objected to this distinction as too facile, because often the way an
action occured may impinge upon, or be a factor in, the language user's choice
of aspect. Even more subtly, certain verbs stand for actions that in and of
themselves are normally conceived of as occuring point-in-time or as occuring
over time, and this connotation of the verb too impinges on the author's
"subjective" choice of aspect--perhaps even to the point of virtual
constraint! Thus the phenomenon that certain verbs in the NT occur almost
exclusively in one aspect or another.

Buist Fanning's position on aspect attempts to take these sorts of features
into account, and he thus is often perceived as nearer the truth than Porter.
In his defense, Porter tries to examine aspect absolutely separately from
other factors, and this makes his discussions seem removed from reality. The
question is, and here is where I understand where you're coming from, whether
verbal aspect CAN be examined in the absolute, since every REAL choice to use
one aspect or another at any given time is affected by various contextually
specific factors (that is, both the discourse context and the context of the
idiolect of the language user).

Sorry for the long (tedious?) "clarification." I'm sympathetic to your
dis-ease. I'm no card-carrying aspect theorist, but I have thought about the
issue some, and it seems to me that there is a lot more going on in verb
choice than meets the eye.

From: George Blaisdell on Sat, Mar 6, 1999 12:00 PM
Subject: RE: Are participles temporally unmarked? Mk 1:35
To: Biblical Greek

"Hultberg, Alan D" writes

>"George Blaisdell" [wrote]

>And aspectually ANASTAS simply indicates the fact of the
>complete action of arising at this time

>From what I understand of aspect theory, George's above
>statement is technically incorrect....

>George's statement is one of
>*Aktionsart*, in that it posits a direct relationship >between
the action as it occurred in reality and the >verb tense
(as a morphological, not temporal
>category) used to describe the action. In other words,
>part [of] *Aktionsart* posits that the aorist "indicates >the
FACT of the complete action..."

Alan, you are doubtless correct, and I have no way of knowing because I
do not understand the distinction all that well. Aktionsart, to me,
refers to the 'sort' of action and thereby its morphological portrayal
in the Greek verb system. Thus a 'handclap', due to its brevity, would
be usually portrayed with an aorist [or other 'perfective'], and the
verb 'to be', due to its ongoing nature, would be portrayed with a
present [or other 'imperfective']. And the range of kinds of action in
between these two is vast.

ANASTAS, in terms of Aktionsart, is well into the middle of this range,
in that it can be seen as a slow and liesurely process [imperfective] or
as a sudden event [perfective]. The 'seeing' of it one way or the other
is a function of aspect, not Aktionsart, as I understand things. So
when ANASTAS [2nd aor] appears, it portrays the action as a complete
unit of thought, which is the whole action presented simply as the fact
of that action, without reference to the ongoingness [of arising] that
comprised it as it was occurring.

So the distinction remains elusive for me...

>...aspect theory says the choice of the morphological >verb
tense bears no necessary relationship to the actual
>performance of the action described; it
>only reflects the author's/speaker's PORTRAYAL of the action.

And this is where I find myself getting real dense. Does the author's
PORTRAYAL of the action bear no necessary relationship to the actual
performance of the action described??? I just flat out do not
understand how that can be...

>In this instance, Mark portrays the action of Jesus' >arising
as a complete act, or as simply having occurred, >if you
will--he gives us a snapshot of the action, not
>a movie.

Well, a snapshot freezes the action at some point during its commission,
and cannot possibly denote the whole [or complete] action, which is why
I have trouble with the 'snapshot' understanding of the aorist or any
other perfective 'aspect'.

Perfectivity is a conceptual term in that it regards _as a unit of
thought_ an action that takes place across time, and on this
understanding even our handclap occurs across time, you see...

Yet the aorist portrays this time involved action as a thought that
really has, of itself, no time whatsoever. A thought is the ultimate
perfective kind of Aktionsart, yes?

So I am still mucking about as I look at aspect theory, and doubtless am
mis-stating things horribly! And I still do not see how tense and
aspect can be separated in reality, any more than heads is separate from
tails on my coins.


George Blaisdell
Roslyn, WA

B-Greek home page:
You are currently subscribed to b-greek as: []
To unsubscribe, forward this message to
To subscribe, send a message to

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.4 : Sat Apr 20 2002 - 15:40:19 EDT