(long) Aspect junkies relative importance of aspect
jonathan at texcel.no
Sat Dec 12 22:13:38 EST 1998
One of the reasons discussions of aspect get confusing is that the basic
terms are used differently by different people. I don't think it is helpful
to argue about what "aspect", "tense", and "Aktionsart" mean as though
there were one universal definition that is used the same way in all grammars.
On the other hand, I think I have found surprising agreement among
grammarians like Smyth, Robertson, Fanning, and many others as to the basic
meaning of verbs in specific contexts. (Porter, of course, is quite
different from most other grammarians, and sees the basic meaning of what
verb forms encode differently.)
Randall's point is very apt: the imperfect is a great deal like the English
past progressive, and both forms encode tense (the time of the event with
respect to the time of discourse) and aspect (the depiction of the action).
Randall also uses an example in English to show how linear aspect can be
used to describe a background event that sets the scene for the main event
of a story:
>"while I WAS WRITING an email my daughter BROUGHT me some coffee." . . .
>this story would develop the note about daughter and coffee if it were
>well-written. the email was "backgrounded".
A.T.Robertson would call this a descriptive imperfect, and would talk about
it in terms of "Aktionsart", using a definition of Aktionsart that is
significantly different from that of Mari Broman Olsen, but he the function
which he describes has also been discussed in some writers who take a
discourse analysis approach. The imperfect is often used to introduce
parables or start stories by painting a picture of what was happening or
what existed as background for the main event.
Sometimes the imperfect verb is emphasized, sometimes the aorist verb is
emphasized. It depends on how the verb is being used in context.
Jonathan Robie jwrobie at mindspring.com
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