[b-Hebrew] Aspect

Ken Penner pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
Thu Jun 10 14:16:21 EDT 2004

> But doesn't tense refer to actions that take place 
> before, at the same time, or in the future relative to the 
> speaker's time?

Tense does refer to the chronological order between the two points in time,
but those two points are not always the speaker's time and the time of the
action/event/situation. The deictic center (some would call this Reference
Time) can shift from the speaker's time, and Tense in English specifies the
Reference Time rather than the Event Time (note here that the labels are not
used consistently among authors).

Absolute Tense (Comrie's label; Johnson calls this Status): Speech Time and
Event Time
Relative Tense (Comrie's label; Johnson calls this Aspect): Reference Time
and Event Time
English Tense (Johnson calls this Tense; I think Comrie doesn't address it):
Speech Time and Reference Time.

> aspect describes how the action of the verb takes place: as 
> an event with a 
> definite beginning and end that can be noticed by the 
> speaker, or as an 
> event that had an observable beginning but hasn't been 
> completed, that is, 
> is still taking place while the speaker is watching its evolution. An 
> English simple tense, for instance, describes a "punctiliar" 
> action.

I don't think we can say English simple tenses describe punctiliar actions.
For example, habitual durative activities ("I sing in the choir") and states
("I consider it clear") use simple tenses in English.

> progressive tense, on the other hand, refers to actions that were not 
> completed, but continue while the speaker watches the events.

It is not the *speaker's* time but the *reference* time that falls within
the time of the event/action: "John was reading when the postman came." The
postman's arrival (i.e. the reference point) occurred before the speaker
spoke. By the time of speaking, John could have stopped reading.

> My question, again, was if Hebrew verbs do express explicitly 
> through their 
> grammatical forms, as English does, events in progression. 

I am inclined to follow Joosten on this, that Hebrew tended to express
progression by using the participle, not by using yiqtol. But I may yet be
convinced otherwise. Certainly the use of the participle varied over history
or at least in different genres.

Ken Penner, M.C.S. (Biblical Languages, Greek Verbal Aspect), M.A. (Hebrew
Ph.D. (cand., Qumran Hebrew Tense Aspect and Mood), McMaster University
pennerkm at mcmaster.ca
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