[b-hebrew] Aspect

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Tue Jun 8 16:27:45 EDT 2004


George wrote:

> Thanks for reproducing Comrie's definition of aspect. It 
> certainly belongs to the old school mentality. I certainly 
> think aspect is much more than what Comrie describes -- in 
> Hebrew, anyway.

Sure, Comrie's classic work on aspect has been criticised as being out of
date. The fact remains, does it not, that when non-Hebrew linguists speak of
aspect, this is what they understand by the term unless otherwise specified?
A book I was reading today on Tense and Aspect issues for Second Language
Acquisition appealed to Comrie, Dahl, Bybee, and C. Smith when discussing
grammatical aspect. The others write two decades after Comrie. What do they
fundamentally change about the definition of Aspect?

However you define it, Aspect is our word for the difference between Russian
pročital and čital, French lut and lisait, Portuguese leu and leia, Greek
aneginōske and anegnō, English "he read" and "he was reading", etc. It can
function slightly differently in each language, but the difference usually
covers habituality or progression.

You may be thinking this doesn't fit Hebrew very well, and I would agree.
Garr's forward to Driver's Treatise is a good basic tune-up on aspect for
Hebrew. John Cook's dissertation, "The Hebrew Verbal System: A
Grammaticalization Approach" (University of Wisconsin, 2002) is a fuller
update. But I think the problem is not in the definition of aspect, but in
thinking that Hebrew primarily or exclusively grammaticalizes aspect. On
this, I recommend Jan Joosten's recent article, "Do the Finite Verbal Forms
in Biblical Hebrew Express Aspect?" JANES 29(2002): 49-70.

Ken Penner, M.C.S. (Biblical Languages, Greek Focus), M.A. (Hebrew Poetry)
Ph.D. (cand.), McMaster University
pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
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