Perfective, Imperfective, and Iterative

Bryant J. Williams III bjwvmw at
Tue May 28 03:21:09 EDT 2002

[b-greek] Re: Perfective, Imperfective, and IterativeDear Rolf,

Thank you for the definitions. Now, if it is possible, would please give us examples of each from the GNT (or LXX, especially if that passage is quoted in the GNT)? If, at all possible, giving an example of the incorrect understanding and the correct understanding of the definitions. I do not know if I am asking you to "bite off more than you can chew," but it is worth a try. :-)))))))

En Xpistw,

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Rolf Furuli 
  To: Biblical Greek 
  Sent: Monday, May 27, 2002 2:27 PM
  Subject: [b-greek] Re: Perfective, Imperfective, and Iterative

  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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