[B-Greek] Questions about NT verbal aspect
srunge at logos.com
Tue Jan 16 09:43:55 EST 2007
Hello, I have a few questions for anyone informed on NT verbal aspect.
Porter defines aspect as follows:
"In Greek, verbal aspect is defined as a semantic (meaning) category by
which a speaker or writer gramaticalizes (i.e. represents a meaning by
of a word-form) a perspective on an action by the selection of a
tense-form in the verbal system (Stanley Porter, Idioms of the Greek
Testament, Second Edition, Sheffield: JSOT, 1992, pps. 20-21).
>From my understanding, there are various ways that information can be
transmitted: (a) accidental information transmission (in speaking, we
accidentally convey information we didn't intend to convey, and thus it
is not part of
the speaker's meaning), (b) covert information transmission (this
a speaker's intention, but one which is not intended to be recognized
shared with an audience. Thus it does not form part of the speaker's
meaning), and (C) overt information transmission (the speaker makes a
attempt at sharing information, and thus intends to convey a certain
I think that it would be prudent to subdivide your (C) or add a (D)
which could account for the pragmatics of usage. Based on my research
into how humans process language there seems to be a meaningful
difference between speakers of a language simply communicating their
message and the pragmatics that go into the shaping and structuring of
the message. I do not think that your use of the term 'covert' would
cover the natural language production of a native speaker. Nor does
your 'overt information transmission' adequately capture a speaker
essentially sub-consciously using grammar to communicate his or her
intended message. I am not sure that I have done these concepts
justice, but I would argue that such a distinction is necessary.
The short answer to your question is, 'yes', Porter's view on the matter
is that "verbal aspect considered to be a reflection of the original
speaker's formulation of a particular conceptualization". However, I
think it would be difficult to argue that the writer was consciously
thinking about how they conceived of the action. At times there was
likely great care in shaping the message, to be sure. We do the same
thing in English (as I am doing right now!).
If you read Porter's parade illustration on pp. 23-24, you will see that
the variation in aspect is attributed to the differences in how
different points of view affect the portrayal of the action. I do not
think they were each consciously thinking about HOW they saw it, they
just saw from that particular vantage point.
If I was telling my wife about getting groceries on the way home, I
could say that I just zipped into and out of the store. For sake of
argument, say I almost got hit by a car in the parking lot while walking
into the store. I could still portray my trip as 'zipping in and out'
either because I do not want to mention the near-accident, or because I
conceive of it as unimportant in light of the other things I DO want to
talk about (e.g., getting a raise!).
On the other hand, if I did want to talk about something almost getting
hit by the car because it WAS important, I would likely chose to use a
different, more complex mix of verbal aspect to set up the state of
"I was crossing the street to enter the store when all of a sudden a car
comes out of nowhere and almost hits me!"
Note that I chose NOT to use the simple past to describe going into the
store, but a past imperfect. This sets up a state of affairs in which
my important event happens. Note also that my important event is marked
as such in several ways. I use the adverbial 'all of a sudden' in
combination with historical presents to highlight the most salient
action. The use of verbal aspect has everything to do with the writer's
conception of the action, and the goals of the communication. However,
it is unlikely that I am consciously making decisions about which aspect
Various aspects are associated with various discourse functions. The
perfective aspect is used to portray action as an undifferentiated
whole, and typically is used to convey the main actions of a narrative.
The imperfective aspect portrays the action as either ongoing or
incomplete. In narrative in Greek (and many languages) imperfective is
typically observed in introductory expository material, to flesh out
certain background material mid-narrative, and to set up states of
affairs for salient action, as in my narrative. One often finds summary
statements at the close of the narrative as well, which may be either
imperfective or non-finite verbal clauses.
Please note that there is a significant distinction to be made in how
aspect is used in narrative versus in non-narrative, epistolary genres.
One can even see this difference in narrative itself, since the content
of reported speeches will more closely resemble the usage in epistles.
Each has a different focus. Narrative tends to be event-driven, with a
focus on a few central participants and with an expected passage of
time. The epistles are typically-argument driven. The participants and
arguments tend to change rapidly based on the flow of the argument. In
non-narrative, such as the upper room discourse of John 14 (where I am
currently working), the present tense is the primary or default tense,
with quite a few futures as well. Though there are differences, the
patterns in each are still describable and fairly consistent. Nuancing
one's description of aspect based on genre will lead to much greater
clarity and usefulness.
If you are interested in more on the topic, I can suggest some reading
materials, but I do not have them at hand. Not sure if this will help
or not, but hopefully my English examples will transfer fairly well to
Greek. I am completing the final post-defense edit of my dissertation.
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