Perfective, Imperfective, and Iterative

Rolf Furuli furuli at
Mon May 27 17:27:39 EDT 2002

Dear Mike,

Some years ago when we discussed aspect on b-greek I argued that if 
the Greek verbs have *aspect*, the English ones don't. I hold exactly 
the same view today but I expresse it differently:Both languages have 
aspects but they are different (three fundamental traits are similar 
and three  are different, and the most important trait is different). 
So I see the need for definition!

Mark has offered several good insights into the *function* aspects 
based on Fanning, Wallace and Broman Olsen. However, the three 
authors have different explanations, and both to try to find a common 
denominator in their presentations and to pick up  what we like from 
each of them, will just give a cursory understanding of aspect. To do 
these kinds of exercise is of course very fine for the beginner, but 
to come to grips with aspect we have to start with the fundamentals.

The grammars tend to list *some* of the functions of each aspect, and 
that is well and good, but they do not tell the readers what aspect 
really *is*, and don't answer fundamental questions such as:

1) What is the relationship between the particular aspect and the 
action or state in question; i.e. can we by the choice of aspect draw 
any unambiguous conclusion as to whether the action or state was 
completed or not at the time it is reported?

2) Are Greek and English aspects similar or different?  If different, 
in which areas?

3) Are the aspects equipollent or privative? (Equipollent: the 
members are logically equivalent to one another, - one minus and one 
plus, so to speak,( Fanning). Privative: One member is "marked" by 
the presence of a feature, the other "unmarked" member lacks this 
feature. The unmarked member can have an opposite interpretation of 
the marked one or it can have the same interpretation. Actions (which 
are dynamic) and states (which lacks dynamicity) can be viewed as two 
members of a privative opposition. Some verbs are marked for 
dynamicity (=change), states are unmarked for this feature, but in 
some instances (with particular combinations of words) verbs that 
normally function as states can have a dynamic interpretation as 
well. thus a state can have the opposite interpretation of an action 
or the very same interpretation (Olsen)

4) Which sides of a verb phrase or clause is doing what? Greek 
imperfect is a combination of past tense and the imperfective aspect. 
In connection with a particular interpretation of a verb in the 
imperfective, how much of it is based on tense, on aspect, on 
Aktionsart, on the context, and on a knowledge of the world?

I am very sceptical both to the term "lexical aspect" and to the use 
of phrases or clauses to which the term is applied as examples that 
can be used to learn what aspect is. There are two reasons for this:

1) It is confusing to apply "aspect" to two completely different 
phenomena, one which is based on Aktionsart, and one which is based 
on what by many writers is called just "aspect". To avoid confusion, 
the term "aspect" should be reserved for just one thing.

2) The so-called "lexical aspect" is normally not applied to single 
verbs but to verb phrases. The more factors (here there are several 
words and their relationships) that possibly can account for a 
characteristic, the more difficult it is to connect the 
characteristic with just *one* factor.

The best way both to see what aspect *is* and *is not*, is to use 
definitions connected with single verbs and other fundamentals. I 
start with the first three below, that are Aktionsart terms.

Durativity: A characteristic of events or states: simply duration in 
time; the contrast being punctiliarity which is instantaneous. Verbs 
marked for durativity  never cease to be durative, verbs whose 
default inperpretation is punctiliarity can have a durative 
interpretation as well.

Telicity: Denotes events with an inherent end or goal.

Dynamicity : Denotes change; thus actions are dynamic but states lack 
this characteristic.

Stativity: Situations which continues without any input of energy; 
any part of the situation is similar to any other part or to the 
situation as a whole.

IMPORTANT: Any application or definition of *aspect* including any of 
these four will be misleading; they can only define the Aktionsart or 
state and have absolutely nothing to do with aspect!

I continue ny definition:

Deictic point: The vantage point where an author places him- or 
herself when he or she reports an event. Often it is speech time, but 
it may be a point in the past or in the future as well.

Deictic time: When an event is seen in relation to the deictic point, 
the time is deictic. Tense is the same as deictic time, and it is 
concerned with "external time" (the time relationship outside the 
event itself).

Non-deictic time: This is a description of the internal time of an 
event; it consists of "event time" and "reference time".

Event time: The time an event takes from its beginning to its end.

Reference time: A reporter usually stresses or makes visible some 
part of an event while the rest is not stressed  or made visible. It 
is just as the reporter points his or her finger to a part of event 
time,or to its beginning or its end. This small or large area of 
event time that is made visible by the pointing finger, is reference 
time; it can be defined by its breadth, its angle and its distance. 
(See my post 09.05.02 "LONG [b-greek] Re: Perfective, Imperfective, 
and Iterative")

IMPORTANT: Aktionsart can be defined by the uncancellable (semantic) 
properties durativity, dynamicity, telicity and the cancellable 
(pragmatic) properties, punctiliarity and stativity. Tense can be 
defind by the relationship between the deictic point and reference 
time. Aspect can be defined by the relationship between event time 
and reference time.

If we try to define Aktionsart, tense or aspect by any of the 
properties of another group (except for reference time, which is used 
both for tense and aspect) only confusion will be the result.



Rolf Furuli

University of Oslo

On Fri, 2002-05-24 at 02:03, Rolf Furuli wrote:

>>  The following terms are fundamental and uniform, and are, in my view;
>>  the best to describe the difference between Aktionsart and aspect:
>>  [REFERENCE TIME--Mike S., added as per Rolf's comment next]
>>  The term REFERENCE TIME can have a somewhat different definition
>>  (e.g. Comrie and Reichenbach versus Broman Olsen), but the term is
>>  very important, and to come to grips with it is well worth the
>>  efforts.
>Rolf,  I think it would be helpful to the non-experts on list for you to
>define each of these 9 terms.  It might also generate some discussion
>about the definitions which will also be helpful to everyone.  I'd like
>to see you express in the definitions the "fundamental and uniform"
>nature of this group, but that's just my suggestion based on my own
>personal interest.
>Mike Sangrey
>msangrey at
>Landisburg, Pa.
>                         "The first one last wins."
>             "A net of highly cohesive details reveals the truth."
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