Perfective, Imperfective, and Iterative

Harry W. Jones hjbluebird at
Tue May 21 02:24:15 EDT 2002

Dear Carl,

I really wish people would define their terms when their definitions may
be different from the dictionary ones. I'm having a hard time
some of the articles on B-greek because of this. In fact, I'm having
a hard time understanding Mark's article. And I definitely cann't
understand Rolf's article.

I might add that I think Wallace's definition of aspect vs aktionsart on 
page 499 may be different than your definition, Carl.

Harry Jones

> At 8:16 AM +0200 5/8/02, Rolf Furuli wrote:
> >Dear Alan,
> >
> >
> >It is true as Mark has said that iterativity is not an aspectual
> >characteristic, but it is a function of two or more factors. However,
> >There is a clear assymetry, and by looking at this you can find the
> >linguistic reason why imperfective verbs seem more conductive to an
> >interative function. The assymetry can be illustrated by the three
> >English examples below.
> Dear Rolf,
> I find this message very assuring, the more so after your message of
> yesterday (Tue, 7 May 2002 10:03:35 +0200) with the same subject-header,
> from which I had the impression that you were in agreement with Mark that
> iterative verbal assertions are more-or-less equally distributed among the
> different Greek tenses. Now you seem (to me, at least) to be reiterating
> the standard and traditional understanding of why iteratives are more
> likely to be found in the imperfective tenses--albeit clearly from your own
> perspective and explanatory framework. This I see in your assertion that in
> >3) Jill has knocked at the door for five minutes.
> it is only the phrase "for five minutes" that makes explicit that the
> speaker/writer envisions this action "knocked at the door" as iterative.
> I do have at least one question or set of questions and one comment arising
> from your message.
> >When a sentence is used by an author to communicate a message, it may
> >be interpreted in different ways, i.e. a combination of words has a
> >*potential* for different meanings. What then is communication? It is
> >first and foremost *to make things visible*! The author's task is, by
> >a combination of lexicon, Aktionsart, aspect, mood, grammar,and
> >syntax, to help the reader to *see* the one meaning the author has in
> >mind among the potential of meanings that the group of words can
> >express.
> (1) Would you please offer as clear and succinct a definition as possible
> of (a) Aktionsart, and (b) Aspect? I'd (perhaps naively) thought of
> "Aktionsart" as a sub-category of aspect, whereas you seem to be using it
> more as the German word itself seems to be saying, "KIND of action." And
> you seem to be using "semelfactive" and "iterative" as "Aktionsarten": is
> that right? And yet you speak of "the punctiliar Aktionsart" as combining
> with the adverbial in your example #3 above as signalling iteration. So
> perhaps you need to define for me also (c) punctiliar.
> (2) My comment: You say
> >                                                     ... we need to
> >get rid of imprecise methaphors used in aspectual definitions, such
> >as "the imperfective aspect sees something from the inside and the
> >perfective aspect from the outside". What actually does that mean?
> >How is 1) seen from the inside and 2) and 3) seen from the outside?
> >If aspect is a function of reference time and event time, i.e. the
> >intersection of event time by reference time, aspect allways looks at
> >something (makes visible) from the outside.
> It seems to me that we really cannot escape metaphors when talking about
> aspect and/or Aktionsart; the best we may hope for, I think, is arriving at
> metaphors that are less misleading. I think that "aspect" is itself a
> metaphor derived ultimately from Latin roots meaning "look at," and that
> "linear" and "punctiliar" are geometrical metaphors. You continue to use
> "looks at" and "makes visible"--but these too are metaphors, inasmuch as (I
> think) all this "envisioning" of what a verb-form does takes place in the
> mind rather than somewhere in the external world.
> >To understand the nature of iteration (and other factors) in Greek,
> >we need, 1) an accurate definition of the Greek aspects, and 2) and
> >ability to sort out which factors of language are semantic
> >(uncancellable) and which are pragmatic, and by this know the
> >combination of which factors that are causing which effects.
> This seems fair enough. Why is it that I have the very distinct impression
> that we haven't yet succeeded in arriving at " 1) an accurate definition of
> the Greek aspects"?
> I should note also that another thing I found reassuring in your message
> was this remark:
> >                                             ... This use of the
> >aspects is known by native speakers of English even though most
> >persons will not be able to give a definition of the aspects - the[y]
> >just "know" their uses.
> I think this bears upon the question in the thread initiated by Glenn Blank
> ("How we know what we know--about Koine?"): to the extent that learners of
> Greek have been successful and can read (perhaps even write) ANCIENT Greek
> with some competence and fluency, they, like Rolf's native
> English-speakers, "know" these usages of what we call "tenses" and
> "imperfective" and "perfective" even if they cannot give a definition of
> the aspects. Is that fair to say, given that "little" qualification: "to
> the extent that ... have been successful and can read ... with some
> competence and fluency ..."?
> -- 
> Carl W. Conrad
> Department of Classics, Washington University (Emeritus)
> Most months:: 1647 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243
> cwconrad at OR cwconrad at
> WWW:

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