Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

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Tim Evans
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Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Tim Evans » June 30th, 2018, 4:18 am

When Campbell introduces imperfective aspect with the helicopter/parade illustration and the “walking” illustration it leaves me with the impression that “ing” is essentially a key means of communicating the imperfective aspect, but then I notice in Campbell’s first example in his introductory book, and elsewhere, that he uses “s” instead of “ing”. My English is not strong enough to discern the difference. I wonder if someone can elaborate on the English of this or point me in the right direction of an accessible English explanation.

Thanks!
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Jonathan Robie » June 30th, 2018, 7:57 am

This page on progressive aspect in English might help.
A progressive form does not simply show the time of an event. It also shows how the speaker sees the event--generally as ongoing and temporary rather than completed or permanent. (Because of this, grammars often talk about 'progressive aspect' rather than 'progressive tenses.')
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Stephen Carlson » June 30th, 2018, 11:11 pm

The English progressive (be + -ing) marks only one kind of imperfective. The simple present (in -s for third person) marks another kind of imperfective (e.g., habitual actions). Compare She is going to school (progressive) with She goes to school (habitual). For states, the simple present is usually used (She loves school), although a relatively recent development in English is to use the progressive for temporary states (e.g., I'm lovin' it!).

This describes what the Cambridge Grammar of the English Language (Huddleston & Pullum) calls the "basic use" of the present. Campbell's example, with The sower sows the word, invokes a very restricted use of the simple present with occurrences involving running commentaries.
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Garrett Tyson
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Garrett Tyson » July 14th, 2018, 10:50 pm

Some grammars talk about different types of imperfects (conative, inceptive, etc.), but as I've been working through Mark, I'm finding Rodney Decker's approach (Temporal Deixis) to be working beautifully. Imperfects are background information to help us understand the story line better.

They are ongoing action, viewed as remote to the main action.

I'm in Mark 2:13-17 right now, and Mark pauses his story in verse 16, giving us 2 imperfects to clarify Levi's significance. Levi isn't the exception to the rule. Many "were reclining," many "were following." Levi is representative of the type of people following Jesus. So Mark pauses his story to make sure we don't get the wrong idea.

So the basic approach, "was/were doing X," seems to work well for me. In my translations, I italicize them, along with the phrase/clause they are a part of.

Translating them as "began to follow," or "were trying to follow," or "were regularly following," don't seem very helpful usually.
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 16th, 2018, 10:17 am

Garrett Tyson wrote:
July 14th, 2018, 10:50 pm
Some grammars talk about different types of imperfects (conative, inceptive, etc.), but as I've been working through Mark, I'm finding Rodney Decker's approach (Temporal Deixis) to be working beautifully. Imperfects are background information to help us understand the story line better.
Rijksbaron's Syntax and Semantics of the Verb in Classical Greek has an excellent discussion of this in § 6 Imperfect and aorist indicative in narrative texts, page 11. I can't do it justice in a brief summary, but the aorist is often used to show the steps as they unfold, the imperfect (and historical present) to describe the scene as it appears at any given step, describe other things that were happening at the same time, etc.
Garrett Tyson wrote:
July 14th, 2018, 10:50 pm
I'm in Mark 2:13-17 right now, and Mark pauses his story in verse 16, giving us 2 imperfects to clarify Levi's significance. Levi isn't the exception to the rule. Many "were reclining," many "were following." Levi is representative of the type of people following Jesus. So Mark pauses his story to make sure we don't get the wrong idea.
Let's take a look:

aorist
imperfective (imperfect or present, including historical present and periphrastic imperfect)
Mark 2:13-17 wrote:Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν· καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς. καὶ παράγων εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· Ἀκολούθει μοι. καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.

Καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ. καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· Ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει; καὶ ἀκούσας ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ’ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες· οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.
This text doesn't really distinguish Rijsbaron's approach from Campbell's, I can see how it works for you. But it works for Rijksbaron's model too: the steps in the narrative occur in the aorist, the imperfectives paint the scene.
  • They went out again ( ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν)
  • The crowd came to them
Now let's look around in the imperfective tenses - he was teaching them ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς (or perhaps began to teach, but nothing forces us to see this as ingressive), and as he was passing by παράγων, we get to the next step:
  • He saw Levi (εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου)
Now look around in a bunch of imperfectives, and we see Levi sitting at the tax booth (καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον), we see Jesus speaking to him, saying "follow me!" (καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· Ἀκολούθει μοι). Which brings us to the next step, again in the aorist:
  • And he stood and followed him (καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ.)
Now this new state is described in a bunch of imperfectives. They were dining in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were dining with them, there were many of them and they were following him. This use of the imperfective ἠκολούθουν is significant - it describes what is going on in this state without switching the focus to these other followers, so it does not change the state of the narrative.

In the next step, the Pharisees see what's going on in the aorist. That state is described with imperfectives until the next step: Jesus hears what the Pharisees are saying in another aorist. At each step, the scene is described with imperfectives.

Hmmm, you could sort of show this by using paragraphs to indicate the steps, creating a new line for each aorist that introduces a new state.
Mark 2:13-17 wrote:Καὶ ἐξῆλθεν πάλιν παρὰ τὴν θάλασσαν·

καὶ πᾶς ὁ ὄχλος ἤρχετο πρὸς αὐτόν, καὶ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτούς. καὶ παράγων

εἶδεν Λευὶν τὸν τοῦ Ἁλφαίου καθήμενον ἐπὶ τὸ τελώνιον, καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· Ἀκολούθει μοι.

καὶ ἀναστὰς ἠκολούθησεν αὐτῷ. Καὶ γίνεται κατακεῖσθαι αὐτὸν ἐν τῇ οἰκίᾳ αὐτοῦ, καὶ πολλοὶ τελῶναι καὶ ἁμαρτωλοὶ συνανέκειντο τῷ Ἰησοῦ καὶ τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ, ἦσαν γὰρ πολλοὶ καὶ ἠκολούθουν αὐτῷ.

καὶ οἱ γραμματεῖς τῶν Φαρισαίων ἰδόντες ὅτι ἐσθίει μετὰ τῶν ἁμαρτωλῶν καὶ τελωνῶν ἔλεγον τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ· Ὅτι μετὰ τῶν τελωνῶν καὶ ἁμαρτωλῶν ἐσθίει;

καὶ ἀκούσας ὁ Ἰησοῦς λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Οὐ χρείαν ἔχουσιν οἱ ἰσχύοντες ἰατροῦ ἀλλ’ οἱ κακῶς ἔχοντες· οὐκ ἦλθον καλέσαι δικαίους ἀλλὰ ἁμαρτωλούς.
I didn't create a new step for the last sentence because I think the aorist is doing something different here.


Garrett Tyson wrote:
July 14th, 2018, 10:50 pm
Translating them as "began to follow," or "were trying to follow," or "were regularly following," don't seem very helpful usually.
At least usually. I think this is worth reading:

The Validity of Ingressive Imperfects in the Greek of the New Testament

It gives a good overview of the history of the ingressive imperfect. I think some of the examples he gives of ingressive imperfects are debatable. Can we get rid of the ingressive imperfect entirely? I'm skeptical, but open.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 16th, 2018, 12:35 pm

Jonathan Robie wrote:
July 16th, 2018, 10:17 am
It gives a good overview of the history of the ingressive imperfect. I think some of the examples he gives of ingressive imperfects are debatable. Can we get rid of the ingressive imperfect entirely? I'm skeptical, but open.
For what it's worth, Rijksbaron changed his mind about the inceptive imperfect (he reserves the term ingressive for the aorist) between the second and third editions of his little book. See § 6.2.3 Immediative Imperfect, n.1:
Rijksbaron 2002:18 wrote:Note 1 Sometimes this use of the imperfect is called 'inceptive' (also in the 1994 edition of this book), but this wrong suggests that it is especially the initial stage of the state of affairs that is relevant. To be sure, the close union of the imperfect state of affairs with the preceding one often implies that the former began immediately after the latter, but to express the 'beginning' of a state of affairs Greek had other means at its disposal, notably the ingressive aorist (see § 6.3.2) and lexical means, cp. ἤρξατο θεῖν in (33).
I'm inclined to agree with Rijksbaron. I can discuss specific examples later.
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Jonathan Robie
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 19th, 2018, 3:48 pm

I have been looking at the examples Mounce gives in the NET translation, and none of the ones I have looked at so far compels an inceptive interpretation apart from a clear aorist in the near context.

Here are the first few. The English in each example is his proposed inceptive interpretation, but I don't think it is required in any of these cases.

aorist
imperfective (imperfect or present, including historical present and periphrastic imperfect)

Matt 4.11 angels came and began ministering to his needs
Τότε ἀφίησιν αὐτὸν ὁ διάβολος, καὶ ἰδοὺ ἄγγελοι προσῆλθον καὶ διηκόνουν αὐτῷ.

Matt 5.2 he began to teach them
καὶ ἀνοίξας τὸ στόμα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς

Matt 8.15 she got up and began to serve them
καὶ ἠγέρθη, καὶ διηκόνει αὐτῷ.

Matt 13.54 he came to his hometown and began to teach the people
καὶ ἐλθὼν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα αὐτοῦ ἐδίδασκεν αὐτοὺς

Matt 15.36 he broke them and began giving them to the disciples
ἔκλασεν καὶ ἐδίδου τοῖς μαθηταῖς

Matt 16.7 they began to discuss this among themselves
ὁ δὲ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτοῖς Ὁρᾶτε καὶ προσέχετε ἀπὸ τῆς ζύμης τῶν Φαρισαίων καὶ Σαδδουκαίων. οἱ δὲ διελογίζοντο ἐν ἑαυτοῖς λέγοντες ὅτι Ἄρτους οὐκ ἐλάβομεν.

These examples each make sense using Rijksbaron's framework.
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RandallButh
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by RandallButh » July 20th, 2018, 2:49 am

The example of Mt 4.11 shows how English can upset Greek reading.

In Greek the story ending with an imperfective (open-ended) fade-out. There is no special focus on "beginning", just a description that closes and lets the scene "fade out."


Adding the English word "began" skews the focus. In English I person would say "she began to ... and then did such and such" or "she began to ... when suddenly ... happened" etc. The expectations of the word "begin" create a mismatch with the story.
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Jonathan Robie » July 20th, 2018, 3:23 pm

RandallButh wrote:
July 20th, 2018, 2:49 am
The example of Mt 4.11 shows how English can upset Greek reading.

In Greek the story ending with an imperfective (open-ended) fade-out. There is no special focus on "beginning", just a description that closes and lets the scene "fade out."
I think that's true of many of the NET examples - the state changes with an aorist, then we see what is going on in the new state. They came to him and he taught them. Logically he started teaching when he hadn't been teaching before, but there's no particular focus on the beginning in these examples.

In each of the examples I just listed, I think removing "began" from the English translation is an improvement. That's true of most of the other NET examples from the article, I haven't decided if there are any where an inceptive interpretation of the imperfect is needed yet.

I have only posted some of the ones for which I have already decided. I can post more later.
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Rendering imperfective into English (an English question?)

Post by Stephen Carlson » July 22nd, 2018, 1:07 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:
July 20th, 2018, 3:23 pm
Logically he started teaching when he hadn't been teaching before, but there's no particular focus on the beginning in these examples.
I think we may need to be precise about what kind of beginning is supposed to meant. For example, Hoffmann-Siebenthal § 198e (who end up rejecting the category) distinguish between an "onset" and a "starting point":
HS § 198e wrote:Damit verbunden ist möglicherweise eine Verwendungsart, die man als 'inchoatives' Ipf. bezeichnen könnte: das Ipf. bezieht sich auf das Einsetzen eines länger andauernden Geschehens (im Gegensatz dazu würde der ingressive Ind.Aor. den Anfangspunkt bezeichnen, aber das Andauern des Geschehens offenlassen, §199d):
Presumably, this distinguishes between an interval of time at the beginning and the point in time at the beginning, but perhaps someone with better German than me can explicate the nuances of Einsetzen and Anfangspunkt.
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