[B-Greek] Aspect and Aktionsart Definitions

Peter Bekins pbekins at fuse.net
Mon Sep 10 17:48:47 EDT 2007

 >>	Are there agreed upon definitions for "Aspect" and "Aktionsart"  
by most grammarians/linguists?
 >>	Is Aspect (Perfective, Imperfective, and Stative) also called  
Grammatical Aspect?
 >>	Is Aktionsart (Iterative, Durative, Constative, Ingressive, etc.)  
also called Lexical Aspect?
 >>	Kindly,
 >>	Delbert Flora


As I was taught, in modern linguistic thought aspect was formally  
distinguished from tense by Russian linguists who recognized the  
perfective/imperfective distinction. This idea of separating the  
temporal "quality" of an action from its time reference was brought  
into German where it was given the broad name aktionsart, roughly  
translated as "manner of action". However, as study progressed the  
idea was further refined so that aspect and aktionsart were also  
distinguished, but how to formally define them became an issue of  
debate since there are a multitude of ways syntax and semantics can  
intersect to express aspect.

In the German school aspect remained the more general category and  
tended to be semantic in nature while aktionsart referred to all the  
morphological, lexical, and syntactic ways various languages mark  
aspect. However, in the Russian/Slavic school aspect formally  
referred to morphologically marked verb forms while aktionsart was  
reserved for the lexical nature of the verb, sometimes called inner  
aspect (ie, to "hit" something is by nature a point action, therefore  
it can only be iterative and not continuous). These ideas were  
maturing in the mid to late 20th century.

The terms "grammatical" aspect and "lexical" aspect are reminiscent  
of the Slavic School's distinction between  aspect and aktionsart,  
but dropping the now confusing term aktionsart. They were developed  
by Carlota Smith in a 1991 book, _The Paramater of Aspect_, in which  
she puts forth a two-component view of aspect from the syntactic and  
semantic perspectives. Carl's definition from deMoss reflects the  
older German School. As you can imagine, various other approaches to  
aspect have developed from the perspectives of syntax, semantics,  
discourse analysis, grammaticalization, etc.

Thus, aspect is understandable as a generic term in distinction from  
tense. However, what German linguists called aktionsart tends to  
reflect what the Slavic linguists formally called aspect, and non- 
linguists who don't formally belong to either school, but probably  
picked up the terminology in biblical Greek and Hebrew :), get them  
all mixed up leading to the type of confusion you are experiencing.

Peter Bekins

More information about the B-Greek mailing list