Any comments of this view of Aorist
kimmo at kaamas.kielikone.fi
Thu Dec 7 08:40:27 EST 2000
Mark Wilson wrote:
> I received this OFFLIST response to my question about the Aorist.
> I would appreciate any comments, pro or con.
Here are a few. I am afraid that they may be too technical for some on
the list, but for the theoretical framework and terminology see my
thesis (URL below). I
think a certain amount of theoretical aspectology really helps clear out
some issues. It may be difficult to get a grasp of the meaning of aspect
if one does not speak an aspect language. But looking at the interaction
grammatical and lexical aspect, one gets a rather clear picture. Also,
apologies for aspecto-geek. I try to give some simple and concise
answers, but at
the same time avoid over-simplifying. So I ended up in some cases with a
geek answer (which is supposed to be more precise) and an
Also, I express several opinions below, but do not argue for them
explicitly. For most of them arguments can be found in my thesis. I just
do not want to reproduce all of it here in an e-mail. It has been
published on the net at:
> Dear Mark:
> I would consider this regarding the Aorist:
> First, by definition, PERFECTIVE means that an action, event, or state
> is presented in its entirety, as a single and complete whole.
> However, that is far from clearing things up. Mainly because many verbal
> ideas are not able to be conceptualized as "complete or whole." (at least
> not without altering their inherent meanings)
The proposed definition may need considerable elaboration to really give
a complete picture, but I see no problem with the definition above or
perfective in some
sense changing the inherent meaning (or, more technically, layering
another layer of aspect outside it, giving a new composite meaning whose
aspectual meaning is that of the outer layer). Much of Fanning's study
focused on the interaction between
aspect and Aktionsart (his terminology; lexical and grammatical aspect
using my terminology).
> Here is Stagg on the Aorist:
> It is a + oristic, that is, undetermined and undefined. The Aorist draws
> no boundaries. It tells nothing about the nature of the action under
> consideration. It is viewed without reference to duration, interruption,
> COMPLETION, or anything else.
This I argued to be false in my thesis.
> Therefore, the Aorist can be used to cover any kind of action:
> single and multiple, momentary or extended, broken or unbroken,
> COMPLETED or open-ended. (pg. 222+)
Yes, if the kind of action is understood to be the inner layer of
aspectual nesting. But the aspect of the composite is bounded (i.e.
perfective). Or more simply: Any kind of action can be "perfectivized",
but the perfective aspect is not capable of expressing every kind of
> Yes, I believe that the action can be portrayed as "open-ended"
> with the Aorist. And quite often is. It simply depends of the
> verbal idea (lexis) or context under consideration.
I do not think this applies to the layer whose aspect the aorist
codes. In other words, it is not really a matter of lexis or context,
but the meaning of aorist. Yet, using a model of aspectual nesting, we
must be aware that the aspect of one layer is not the same as the aspect
of another. So, the above comment does not apply to all layers. Or more
simply: I do not agree (with above mentioned caveats).
> What I like about Stagg's definition of the Aorist is that he emphasizes
> that the event or act is undefined. Hence, any verb makes
> perfect sense in an Aorist.
But so would it in my model. However, not every verb actually has an
> To say as many do, that the aorist is perfective, namely, that it
> presents the action as "a complete whole," is to me precisely what
> the Aorist was designed to avoid.
Yes. Aorist is ironically misnamed. It is bounded (hORISTOS?), not
> Why? Because "complete" or "whole"
> implies a beginning and end. It puts a concrete fence around an action,
> which many actions are simple not capable of expressing.
The aorist need not imply a beginning. It is very
much in accordance with my theory that almost any verb can be in the
perfective aspect. We are just dealing with different layers of
> For example, here is a familiar phrase:
> John 3:16a
> hOUTWS GAR HGAPHSEN hO QEOS TON KOSMON.
> Does John mean by using the Aorist here that God's love
> for the world should be viewed as complete or as a whole?
This expression of God's love in sending His Son can be viewed as a
> "Completion" is not even a characteristic of LOVE. How would
> one view God's love as a "whole" ? What would that even mean?
Here it refers to an expression of God's love. Perfectivity and
countability go together: what is countability with noun phrases is
perfectivity with verb phrases.
> Better to see God's love as simply undefined. You might simply
> view God's love as nothing more or less than that; simply that
> God loved the world.
> Many verbs would naturally be understood as "complete", and especially
> in the Aorist (which I believe encodes past temporal reference in the
I would add a qualification: this is the secondary meaning of the
aorist, and may be canceled. But it is part of the meaning of the aorist
> But I think the problem is that just because many verbs
> describe an action that has a beginning and ending point, does not
> mean we should then define the Aorist to incorporate these characteristics
> of particular words (lexis).
True. This methodological observation causes more of a problem when
nailing down the aspect of the future.
> Can the Aorist be used to present an action as "complete" or "whole" ? Yes,
> as long as the lexis and context permit.
Yes. As long as the aorist is felicitous in the context.
> Can it be used to denote an action as open-ended? Yes. (John 3:16) Some
> refer to this as GNOMIC.
No. John 3:16 is also bounded. Gnomic has nothing to do with aspect. It
is a temporal designation. Gnomic aorists are still perfective. This is
the difference from gnomic presents, which are imperfective. In John
3:16 HGAPHSEN is not gnomic.
> Any sense of the action being viewed as "complete" or "as a whole" would
> seem to me to come from other features of a language (such as the lexis
> used, context, etc.)
This view sees the aorist as not aspectual, but it is not my view.
I hope this helps at least some.
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