[b-greek] (somewhat long), Re: Mk 10:21

From: Rolf Furuli (furuli@online.no)
Date: Wed Aug 30 2000 - 11:11:02 EDT

clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:

>> Because the
>> aspects are not different in every respect, both the perfective and the
>> imperfective aspect can be used for the same event without any difference
>> in meaning. Particularly can this be the case in connection with states,
>> which by definition are situations which hold and continue to hold without
>> any input of energy.
>No difference in meaning? Really? What a relief! That is just what I have
>been wanting to hear. Did you guys (Cindy included) hear that? There is no
>difference in meaning.

Dear Clay,

I am very busy with my Hebrew studies, so I do not plan to contribute much
to b-greek at present, but I could not resist the temptation to defend the
usefulness of aspectual studies.

The above comments touch the heart of the matter,namely, the nature of the
aspects and their interplay with other units of speech. When dealing with
lexical semantics, lingusits have learned to differentiate between "sign"
(letters or sounds of a word), "concept" (the meaning which is stored in
the mind of those with the same presupposition pool, and which each person
connects with the "sign"), and "reference" (the thing in the world referred
to). Imagine what word studies would be if these three were fused into one
unit and students did not distinguish between them! In my view, this is the
state of much of the aspectual studies of Greek and Hebrew. Few attempts
are made to study the individual parts of clauses in order to find which
parts are doing what in connection with communication. As a matter of fact
the tendency is to ascribe particular meanings to the aspects, while these
meanings are contributed by other members of the clauses.

Let me use an example. The phrase REACH THE TOP has a clearcut
interpretation, and is therefore easy to work with. The focus is on the
particular "reach"-point. Let us now see how different parts of the clause
contribute to different meanings.

(1) He reached the top.

        Aktionsart: punctiliar
        Tense: past
        Action: completed
        Subject: singular, definite
        Object: singular, definite

(2) He has reached the top.

        Aktionsart: punctiliar
        Aspect: perfective
        Action: completed
        Subject: singular, definite
        Object: singular, definite

(3) He was reaching the top.

        Aktionsart: punctiliar
        Tense: past
        Aspect: imperfective
        Action: not completed
        Subject: singular, definite
        Object: singular, definite

The difference between (2) and (3) is purely aspectual, and because the
imperfective aspect makes visible a part of an ongoing action, the
interpretation of (3) must be that he was on the point of reaching the top
but had not actually reached it. The only place to account for the ongoing
action in this clause, is *before* the "reach"-event. Let us now look at
(4) and (5) and see how other factors can influence our interpretation.

(4) They were reaching the top.

        Aktionsart: punctiliar
        Tense: past
        Aspect: imperfective
        Action: not completed
        Subject: plural, definite
        Object: singular, definite

(5) He was reaching the tops.

        Aktionsart: punctiliar
        Tense: past
        Aspect: imperfective
        Action: not completed
        Subject: singular, definite
        Object: plural, definite

In (4) and (5) we see that singularity/plurality of subject/object can
contribute to the meaning. Because of the plural subject in (4) and the
plural object in (5) it is not necessary the "force" the ongoing action on
the phrase with punctiliar actionsart. We can account for the ongoing
action by plurality, by viewing one after the other actually reach the top
(4) or "he" reaching reaching top after top. I do not think that native
speakers feel that "he was reaching the top." is a strange clause, yet it
may come close to the crooked but understandable clause "Both had a beard
except John."

We could proceed by showing how other factors of the clause also contributs
to particular interpretations. But these examples alone show that "meaning"
is the sum of the interplay of many parts of the clause, and aspect palys a
minor but still important role. Aspect has no tense-value, no mood-value,
no Aktionsart-value (e.g. punctiliar versus durative), no syntax-value, no
discourse-value, no time-value (English aspect has a time-value because it
makes visible either the nucleus or the coda of event time, but contrary to
Mari I claim that this is not the case in Greek), or any other objective
linguistic value. In this respect aspect can be compared to the pauses in a
musical composition - they are in fact "nothing", yet they play an
important role in the composition.

A better illustration is a camera and its lense opening. If it is held
close to an object, a part of it with details visible is in focus; this is
the imperfective aspect. If it is held at some distance, the whole object
or a much greater part of it is in focus; this is the perfective aspect. In
my view it is extremely important to realize that (Greek) aspect is
completely independent of the action or its nature, whether the action
continues or is completed or whichever characteristic of the action. The
only role of the aspects are to make
visible what the reporter chooses to make visible of an event. So we should
not connect particular meanings or discourse functions to the aspects
*alone*, they ar just making these visible.

Because both aspects are viewpoints, and their role is to make things
visible, they have some similarities. This means that both can be used in
particular situations without any difference in meaning. Look at the
following examples

 (6) Mark 12:41 hO OCLOS BALLEI CALKON "The crowd was dropping (PRESENT)
 (7) Mark 12:41 POLLOI PLOUSIOI EBALLON POLLA "Many rich people were
               (IMPERFECT) large sums."
(8) Mark 12:43 TWN BALLONTWN "Those throwing (present participle)"
(9) Mark 12:44 PANTES (..) EBALON "All dropped (AORIST).

How are we to account for the present, imperfect, participle, and aorist
describing the same action? The present of (6) and the participle of (7)
can be viewed as background information and the imperfect of (7) and the
aorist of (8) as foreground information. But still we must account for an
imperfect and an aorist describing the same foreground action, and why is
the present used? There is no problem here if we accept that the aspects do
not contribute anything to the objective meaning, they just make things
visible. In all the cases /(6), (7), (8), and (9)/ both lexicon and the
plurality of the subjects make it plain that several persons dropped
several coins. So regardless of a closeup detailed view or a view of some
distance, this information will be conveyed, and both aspects can be used.
Thus there are many situations when the choice of aspect does not make any
difference. Language is a living body and I see no reason to believe that
every time one of the NT or Classical Greek writers choose a particular
aspect, they had a particular nuance in mind. Here I apply my intuition,
something which Randall likes to stress.

To study minimal pairs is the best possible situation for a linguist,
because the two objects ar similar in everything except one characteristic.
The more different characteristics we study at the same time (e.g. the
bigger chunks of text we focus upon) the farther away from the minimal pair
situation we come, and the more explanations are possible (this is a
logarithmic situation). The older grammars such as Robertson's and BDF,
confuses aspect and Aktionsart, which is tantamount to treating
sign/concept/reference as a single unit. Porter, Fanning, and McKay have
made important contributions, but to use aspectual terminology, their works
are "perfective", they look from some distance and details distinguishing
aspect from other factors are not allways visible (although Fanning has
given important details in particular areas).

Mari's work, on the other hand, is "imperfective", it reveals the meaning
of the fundamental linguistic units. While I disagree with her regarding
the *meaning* of Greek aspect (I fully accept her views on English aspect),
I will say that her *methodology* is unsurpassed. She uses a method which
can isolate units whose meaning will be the same under every circumstances
(it cannot be canceled). This is what she calls "semantic meaning" (No
tautology, given the context). And this is what really is needed to
understand the aspects,namely, to analyse the smallest semantic units and
their interplay in a situation of communication.



Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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