[b-greek] Re: Aspectual, etc.

From: Daniel L. Christiansen (dlc@multnomah.edu)
Date: Wed Nov 15 2000 - 00:28:25 EST

clayton stirling bartholomew wrote:

> What makes me probe the question of the relationship between aspect and verb
> marking is the phenomenon of predictability. What I am saying is, you can
> read along in a Hellenistic Greek text and before you see the verb and its
> form you can predict what the form will be. Why is this so? Because the
> tense/aspect information is being carried somewhere else in the text, at
> some other level of the language system. . . . . . . . When you run into a verb
> marked with a tense/aspect that is contrary to what you predicted then you
> can almost always find . . .manuscripts that changed it to what you predicted.

    I will agree with you that a great deal of information regarding both aspect and
time is to be found in context, rather than simply in the form of the verb. This is
necessarily true in languages which do not grammaticalize such conceptions; it is
also true to a great extent in those that do grammaticalize time and/or aspect,
though such contextual clues are not "necessary" to the communication of the desired
    However, the very fact that we find "corrected" manuscripts--those which change
the verbal form to that which is "expected"--means that the form cannot always be
determined from context. If the author uses an aorist, but a later reader expects a
present, what are we to conclude with regard to the discrepancy? If we assume that
the author was a competent communicator in his or her own language, then we must
conclude that there is information resident within the verbal form which should be
allowed to over-ride the reader's perception of contextual aspect/time.
    Even if we never could find a text or utterance wherein the verb form was
"unexpected," I don't think I would be prepared to jettison the idea of
grammaticalized aspect. Being human endeavours, languages are full of
redundancies. In the process of communication, information is multiplied many times
over--sometimes for emphasis, sometimes for clarity, other times perhaps due to the
extreme wordiness of the speaker or writer. Hmmm...perhaps I should cease my
speaking at this point :-)
    Well, I think most of us agree that it is an issue to be wrestled with, rather
than simply dismissed.

Daniel L. Christiansen
Professor of Biblical Languages, Portland Bible College
Adjunct Professor, Bible Department, Multnomah Bible College
(503) 820-0231

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