Shirley Rollinson
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Location: New Mexico

Re: Aktionsart

Post by Shirley Rollinson » May 29th, 2015, 7:53 pm

Paul-Nitz wrote: I have ignored the Aktionsart Aspect business in the past. I figured it was linguistic mumbo-jumbo. I'm happy with my simple understanding of Aspect and figure I can "smell" the author's intent in choosing a certain aspect. But the topic keeps coming up, so I decided I would try to understand the mumbo-jumbo. I've read a couple papers, Campbell's book, many B-Greek posts. I am thoroughly and completely befuddled. Everything I read compares a swirl of different views. Could we have someone like Randall Buth explain this Aspect versus Aktionsart business simply and positively, according to their confident understanding, without reference to 17 other views. I don't mean to sideline other views of the thing off-hand, but newcomers to the concepts need to start with ONE view and understand it. Then we can move on and consider other views. Right now, the topic is a great big frustrating smudge to me.
It might also help if we found English words, rather than rehashing the German all the time. Why not just "action", or "kind of action", "type of action", "lexical action"? (or re-define "tense")
just my zwei grosschen
Shurley Rollinson
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Ken M. Penner
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Re: Aktionsart

Post by Ken M. Penner » May 29th, 2015, 10:14 pm

I've been working on related topics in Hebrew.
In brief:
Tense locates a situation in time, relative to the moment of speaking
Taxis locates a situation in time, relative to a reference point about which the situation is predicated
Aspect (viewpoint aspect, to be precise) conveys the speaker’s view of the internal temporal constituency of a situation (as a single whole, or in its sub-phases and internal structure

To visualize these, I find the event model that Hans Reichenbach first proposed (Reichenbach 1947) helpful.
In this Event Model, a predication has three time frames, and verbs are inflected based on the relationship between these three times. There is the time of the utterance (called the “speech time”), the time about which the utterance is predicated (called the “reference time”), and the time the event or situation takes place (called the “event time”). Reichenbach depicted this “three-place structure of time determination” on a time line using the initials S, R, and E (for speech, reference, and event). To illustrate how this event model works, if I say now “At noon yesterday I had already eaten,” the speech time (S) is today, the reference time (R) is noon yesterday, and the event time (E), is the eating, which must have occurred some time prior to noon yesterday.

Reichenbach also incorporated aspect into his event model by allowing the possibility that the event could occur not just at one point in time, but over a “stretch” of time.

The possible tenses are determined by the relative ordering of these three time points. In the next chart labelled “TAM and the Event Model”, the “less than” and “greater than” symbols indicate temporal sequence (S is less than R means S occurs before R), and the “equals” symbol indicates simultaneity. S “equals” R means the reference point is at the same time as the time of speaking.

Tense: temporal relation between the moment of speech (S) and the moment of the event (E). E<S = “past”; E=S = “present”; E>S = “future”
Taxis: temporal relation between the event (E) and the reference time (R) E<R = “relative past”; E=R = “relative present”; E>R = “relative future”
(Viewpoint) Aspect:Overlap relation of the event (E) and the reference time (R) E within R = “perfective”; E overlapping R = “imperfective”;

Tense (sometimes called “absolute tense”) is simply the temporal relation between the moment of speech (S) and the time of the event (E). If E precedes S, the tense is past; if E follows S, the tense is future; and if E and S coincide, the tense is present.

Taxis (sometimes called “relative tense”) relates the time of the event (E) not to speech time (S), but to the reference time (R). Again, there are three temporal relations possible between E and R; these are anterior (relative past), contemporaneous (or relative present), and posterior (or relative future).

Viewpoint aspect, like tense, is concerned with time, but whereas tense is concerned with ordering the time of the situation relative to another time-frame, aspect is concerned with the temporal constituency of the situation. In Bernard Comrie’s words, “One could state the difference as one between situation-internal time (aspect) and situation-external time (tense)” (Comrie 1985, 5). The difference between “I did” and “I was doing” is a difference of aspect. The basic polarity is between depicting an event as complete or in progress. The “perfective” aspect presents the situation “as a single unanalysable whole,” and “imperfective looks at the situation from inside.” Comrie uses the following example: John read that book yesterday; while he was reading it, the postman came.
In this sentence, the same event (reading the book) is presented using two temporal constituencies: first as a complete event, then as an ongoing event. Comrie’s example implies that if the Reference Time encompasses the Event Time, the aspect is perfective, and if the Reference Time is encompassed by the Event Time, the aspect is imperfective. Robert Binnick makes this understanding of aspect explicit. He says, “Aspect has to do with the relationship of the event time E to the reference time R; complexive (perfective) aspect has E within R, imperfective has E and R overlapping, and perfect has E preceding R” (1991, 458).

Situation aspect also goes by the label “lexical aspect.” Notarius provides the most detailed breakdown of the possible situation types: Eventualities, General statives, and Abstract entities. Situations that involve change (achievements, accomplishments, and activities) are a type of eventuality called “Events” in the typology Notarius describes. The other type of eventuality is State. Along with General statives (kind-generalizations and generalizing sentences) and Abstract entities (expressing facts as objects of knowledge and propositions as objects of belief), State eventualities do not involve change.

Phasal aspect is largely encoded by this system as well, since it expresses which part of the event is in focus (comparable to where R overlaps E): at the Onset (for inchoative or inceptive expressions), Nucleus (for iterative, habitual, continuative, or resumptive) or Coda (cessative or completive) of the event.


Binnick, R. I. Time and the Verb: A Guide to Tense and Aspect. Oxford University Press, USA, 1991.
Notarius, Tania. The Verb in Archaic Biblical Poetry a Discursive, Typological, and Historical Investigation of the Tense System. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
Reichenbach, Hans. Elements of Symbolic Logic. New York: Collier-Macmillan, 1947.
Smith, Carlota S. The Parameter of Aspect. Boston: Kluwer, 1991.
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Ken M. Penner
St. Francis Xavier University

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Re: Aktionsart

Post by Paul-Nitz » May 30th, 2015, 6:15 am

Ken, This is exactly the sort of thing I was hoping for. Thanks much.

I'll beg that just for the moment, participants refrain from expressing disagreement or opposing views. Let us slow learners tread water for a bit and digest. How about we ask the Event Model View questions, define it by contrast and example, test the view? When we sense that the discussion has reached the "Okay, I get what you're saying" stage, then we can launch into the devilish swirl of conflicting Aktionsart theories.

Let me try out this Event Model View:

Ὀψίας δὲ γενομένης... ἔφερον πρὸς αὐτὸν πάντας τοὺς κακῶς ἔχοντας.. Mark 1:32
    Past. Is there more to be said? From Mark’s point of view, he is reporting about what happened some indeterminate time after the events. It’s remote enough that it is being spoken as a record or history.

    The reference time is the past, sometime after evening.

    The event is carrying (εφερον) the sick.
    The Event is before the Speech Time. Its TENSE is past.
    The Event is after the Reference Time. Its TAXIS is “relative future.”
    The Event is pictured as an activity carrying on during the event. Its SITUATIONAL ASPECT is ongoing, as indicated by the form (εφερον, not ηνενγαν).

    The LEXICAL ASPECT of the predicate verb is technically called ________ (?). In descriptive terms, the φερ verb has a ongoing idea within it, so much so that it couldn’t be used for the Aorist.

    The PHASAL ASPECT of the predicate is _________ (?). In descriptive terms, the carrying action takes place during the whole event.
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Paul D. Nitz - Lilongwe Malawi

Eeli Kaikkonen
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Re: Aktionsart

Post by Eeli Kaikkonen » August 16th, 2015, 8:17 am

I've still been reading Binnick, ed.:The Oxford handbook of tense and aspect. It's been challenging in many ways. Some parts I've read through, some skimmed through, some (few) skipped over. From everything I've read I would say that Porter is wrong in the things for which he is critiqued (grounding, tenselessness, lack of Aktionsart). But more relevant here is Hana Filip: Lexical aspect. She writes:
Although "lexical aspect" is also used to refer to the aspectual class of verb phrases (cf. e.g., van Hout, 2003) and sentences, this use is, strictly speaking, incorrect and should be avoided. The notion of aspectual class is a wider notion than that of lexical aspect, subsuming lexical aspect as a special case when just verbs, taken as lexical items, are at stake. Aspectual class is to be distinguished from aspectual form (see also Dowty, 1979, p. 52, following Johnson, 1977), whereby the latter concerns the expression of grammatical aspect. In contrast to aspectual form (grammatical aspect), aspectual class need have no overt marker and may remain as an intrinsic semantic property of verbs, verb phrases and sentences.

The term "aspectual class" is also used interchangeably with "Aktionsart(en)", a German-language term meaning "manner(s) of action" and used by Agrell (1908) for the classification of overt derivational word-formation devices (mostly verb affixes) that express various aspects of situations (e.g., terminative, resultative, delimitative, perdurative, iterative, semelfactive, attenuative, augmentative), and that were distinguished from inflectional morphology dedicated to the encoding of grammatical aspect. In the 1970's, in the tradition of the European generative grammar (e.g., Verkuyl, 1971/72; Platzack, 1979), the term Aktionsart(en) was freed from its exclusive connection to derivational morphology and extended to cover aspectual classess in the Aristotelian sense of Dowty. In this new, extended sense, it also entered into American linguistics in the mid 1980s (Hinrichs, 1985).
This raises several thoughts and questions which I may share later.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Aktionsart

Post by Stephen Carlson » August 16th, 2015, 6:43 pm

Eeli Kaikkonen wrote:This raises several thoughts and questions which I may share later.
I look forward to them.
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Stephen C. Carlson, Ph.D.
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Re: Aktionsart

Post by EdenMcGorlick » September 23rd, 2015, 5:28 pm

Stephen Carlson wrote:
Stephen Carlson wrote:1. Stan Porter really does not like the Aktionsart approach of Fanning, and, in my opinion, most modern treatments of aspect outside of Koine Greek. It's not clear to me what the basis for his dislike is, but it seems to have affected his reading of those linguists who do accept the concept of Aktionsart, as Con Campbell was able to point out. (I does not help that some of them say "aspect" when Aktionsart is closer to what was meant.
If there is anyone reasonably familiar with Stan Porter's thinking, can he or she please explain why he does not incorporate Aktionsart into his system. That seems to be the basic point of disagreement with Fanning, and as far as I can tell, Fanning is well within the mainstream of modern linguistic thinking on the topic.
I'm thinking that the answer lies somewhere in the distinction between subjective and objective selection of the tense-form. For Porter, if Koine is truly tenseless, then an author's selection of tense-form is a purely subjective choice between presenting the action of the verb as either perfective or imperfective and this is regardless of how in actuality the action of the verb took place (questions of objectivity). Under a theory of aktionsart (according to Porter in Idioms) the tense-forms imply certain values such as punctual or durative and so selection of the tense forms becomes an objective question based on how the action actually occurred in terms of being punctual/durative etc. Within this kind of divide, are the categories of mainstream linguistics valid when considering the fact that most of those principles regarding aspect/aktionsart are drawn from languages considered to contain both aspect and tense? Perhaps Porter is not within the mainstream anymore because he thinks his conclusions about the tenseless nature of the tense-form take the discussion outside of objective considerations and so outside of the conversation?
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Eden S. McGorlick

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