(To Rodney): The relationship between aspect and Aktionsart

From: Moon-Ryul Jung (moon@saint.soongsil.ac.kr)
Date: Sat Mar 20 1999 - 23:35:35 EST

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

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
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
such viewpoints.

Aktionsart is a description of the actional features ascribed to the
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
Dear Rodney,
recently there were some discussions about the definitions of
aspect and Aktionsart. You also contributed to the discussion referring
to your doctorial dissertation. I visited your website and skimmed over
your on-line disseration. While I learned a lot from it, there is
confusing about the RELATIONSHIP between aspect and Aktionsart. I thought
that the members might be interested in exploring the issue.

You said:
 Thus in the statement,
 "esqiei meta twn amartwlwn" (he was eating with the sinners, Mark 2:16),
 the aspect is imperfective, 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.


It is not easy to talk the relationship between two concepts
that are overlapping. I think
there is a better way to think about the relationship between aspect and
Aktionsart. The Aktionsarts proposed by Vendler and others refer to the
kinds of situation that the human language (and mind) tend to distinguish
or depict. We have to emphasize that they are independent of language,
though they can be viewed to be the end results of processing and
interpreting setences in a given context. Some people call them as
"aspectual types". The kinds of situations
which I prefer include:

process, culmination ("reaching to the top"), point event ("hopping"),
(lexical) state, habitual state, consequent state, progressive state.

Any theory of tense and aspect comes down to finding a function f from the
set of sentences to the set of kinds of situations. This function
depends on the lexical meaning of the verb, the tense/aspect morpheme of
the verbform, temporal adverbials, and other modifiers if any.

In the case of English, the aspect morpheme "-ing" can be viewed to
transform situations of process type into progressive state or
habitual state. The aspect morpheme "have + X-ed" can be viewed to
transforms situations of culmination type
into consequent state. "He reached the top" refers to the past
point at which reaching the top is achieved. "He has reached
the top" refers to the state consequent to the achievement of
reaching the top.

In sum, it seems better to separate aspect and aktionsart
completely, and say that an aspect is a function that chooses
a kind of situation that is related to the kind of situation
described by the verbform without the aspect morpheme.
Moon-Ryul Jung
Assistant Professor
Dept of Computer Science
Soongsil University,
Seoul, Korea

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