[b-hebrew] Aspect

Eduard C Hanganu eddhanganu at hotmail.com
Thu Jun 10 09:30:41 EDT 2004

Dear Mr. Furuli:

Thanks for your answer. By the way, the definition of aspect was from 
R.L.Trask, and is indeed basic. Your explanation on Aktionsart and the 
*procedural trait* of verbs was very interesting. How can I learn more about 
these issues? What references have you used for personal research?

But to return to the verb NITZDAK my interest was related to the kind of 
action described. You mentioned that it had a perfective aspect. Does this 
mean that the action is nondurative, that is an event and not a progression? 
Actually, how does a Hebrew verb reflect a progression, or the progressive 
(continuous) aspect of the English language? I notice that the translators 
of the NRSV
( New Revised Standard Version) translate some of the original Hebrew verbs 
in the progressive.
( Sorry, I don't have an example right now of such a text). Is such a 
translation right or legitimate?

Essentially, what I wanted to know was if NITZDAK described an event or a 
progression, Can this aspectual characteristic of the verb be deduced from 
its morphology?



From: furuli at online.no
To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Aspect
Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 16:28:29 +0200

Dear Eduard,

>Dear Mr. Furuli:
>In his 'Student's Dictionary of Language and Linguistics' defines aspect as 
>'a grammatical category which deals with distinctions in the wayin which an 
>action  or a situation is regarded as being distributed in time'. He also 
>mentions that 'traditional grammar often confused aspect with tense, but 
>the two are quite distinct'(p 21).

This definition i general and therefore gives little information, but I see 
no problems with its words.

>I have been wondering recently if Hebrew has indeed 'aspect' in the 
>classical sense. Are 'perfect' and 'imperfect' indeed the two 'aspects' of 
>the Hebrew language? And how are they related to the 'telic/atelic' and 
>'bound/unbound' notions?

I define Aktionsart as the kind of action that is signalled by the lexical 
meaning of the verb.  Durativity, dynamicity, telicity, and punctiliarity 
are typical Aktionsart terms.  The concept stativity must be put in the same 
slot,  but it cannot be said to be an Aktionsart because it does not signal 
any action.  I define the concepts iterative, habitual; and the Vendlerian 
characteristics such as achievements, accomplishments and activities, not as 
Aktionsart (which is an objective characteristic caused by a single factor), 
but as *procedural traits*, because they are functions of several factors.  
The interplay of aspect, tense, Aktionsart; and the 
difineteness/indefiniteness of the verbal arguments, adverbials etc. 
contribute to signalling different procedural traits.  I will generally 
avoid boundedness/unboundedness in connection with Hebrew verbs, because any 
Hebrew verb form, finite and infinite can (with a few exceptions) express 
any bounded or unbounded event, past, present and future.  Whereas in 
English the perfective aspect can only portray bounded events and the 
imperfective aspect can only portray unbounded events.  (Exceptions can 
occur in any language, but to be accepted they must be linguistically 

>One of the verbs that have preocupied me in this sense is the NITZDAK of 
>Daniel 8:14 ( the niphal waw consec perfect 3rd person masculine singular 
>of the verb TZADEIK). NITZDAK appears to have an 'imperfect' aspect. Does 
>this mean that the verb describes an 'open' event with beginning but no 
>end? The verb phrase 'the sanctuary shall be vindicated' seems to suggest a 
>telic, bound event with a relatively short duration indicated by the noun 
>phrase 'the sanctuary.' How would you personally describe the action of the 
>verb NITZDAK in the context of Daniel chapter eight, and especially in 
>reference to the discourse fragment  of Daniel 8:9-14?

The verb you mention in Dan 8:14 I analyze as a QATAL with a prefixed 
conjunction, which means that it has the perfective aspect.  One possible 
translation is:  "and the holy (place) will be brought into its right 
condition".  Because the verb may signify a state, the situation can be 
compared with all the situations in Kings when someone "bacame king" (was 
brought into the state of being king).  So what is signified by the noun QD$ 
was brought into the state of being right (a thing can hardly become 

Best regards

Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

>I am just beginning to find my way through these topics, so forgive me if I 
>sound imprecise or confused. I would greatly appreciate your help in this 
>Eduard C. Hanganu
>From: furuli at online.no
>To: b-hebrew at lists.ibiblio.org
>Subject: Re: [b-hebrew] Aspect
>Date: Wed, 9 Jun 2004 08:06:31 +0200
>Dear List-members,
>For those who want to come to grips with the term aspect, the sources
>listed by Ken should be included.  But there is one particular fine
>work that should be included as well, namely, Olsen, Mari Broman
>(1997). "A Semantic and Pragmatic model of Lexical and Gramatical
>Aspect". New York: Garland Publishing.  Olsen defines tense a the
>relationship between reference time and the deictic center and aspect
>as the relationship between reference time and event time.  On the
>basis of these three parameters alone she is able to explain the
>whole English verbal system without seeking recourse in the so-called
>relative tenses. Please note that she points out that the perfective
>aspect in English is only expressed by perfect and not by simple
>past; regarding this both Comrie and Cook errs, in my view.  The
>strength of Olsen's system is that she uses a few fundamental
>concepts systematically, but the weakness is that she, as most others
>believe that aspect definitions are universal, so they can be applied
>to any aspectual language.
>In contrast with Ken I think that the basic obstacle for
>understanding the verbal system of the Hebrew Bible is how aspect is
>defined.  There are even parts of standard definitions that in my
>view are pure nonsense!   For example, what is a "complete" event?
>Is "complete" applied to the literal event or to the description of
>it?  And regardless of the answer, does the term "complete" make
>sense at all?  And what is "an event in progression" (taken from the
>opposition "progressive/nonprogressive")?  Are not all events, save
>instantaneous ones, in progression?  And if we substitute
>"progression" with "durativity", (as in the misnomer "durative past"
>for YIQTOLs with past reference) are not all events, save
>semelfactive ones, durative?  And is not "durative" an Aktionsart
>term rather than an aspectual term?
>Let us apply the term "complete" to real situations portrayed in the
>Hebrew Bible.  There are more than 2,000 QATALs and more than 2,000
>YIQTOLs with present reference.   How can we say that the QATALs are
>"complete" and the YIQTOLs are events "in progression"?  There are a
>little less than 1,000 QATALs with future reference (less than 10 per
>cent of these are future completed (future perfect), according to the
>context). How are these forms with future reference "complete"?  And
>to use a past example:  There are several QATALs of MLK in Kings with
>the meaning "He began to reign" - the entrance into the state is made
>visible.  How are these events "complete"?  And should not
>"complete"+past reference  be "completed"?
>There is a methodologically simple way, though requiring much hard
>work, to solve these problems, namely:  Take all the Hebrew verbs, or
>at least a few thousand of them, and follow Olsen's method, by
>applying the parameters "reference time" (when possible), "event
>time", and the "deictic center"  to the verbs.  The result will
>probably be that you discard what standard grammars say about Hebrew
>tense and aspect.  It is quite ironic that most dissertations and
>monographs on Hebrew verbs in the past fifty years basically are
>studies of what other scholars have said about the Hebrew verbal
>system, rather than a study of thousands of verbs of the verbal
>system itself. We should not chew cud on the old definitions of
>aspect which has come to us with a few revisions, through Reichenbach
>and Comrie, as far as general linguistics is concerned, and through
>S. R. Driver and Waltke-O'connor, as far as Hebrew is concerned.
>It is time to reject the whole old system and do some qualitatively
>new thinking.
>Best regards
>Rolf Furuli
>University of Oslo

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