Aspect Theory

I really hate that term: Aspect Theory.

When people use it they make it sound as if Greek is the only language that has aspect. All languages have aspect. Its not this novel thing.

I really hate that term.

10 thoughts on “Aspect Theory

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  1. Well, in view of what’s being referred to by the term, perhaps a plural should be employed, “aspect theories” or something even more tentative, like “aspect hypotheses,” — or “the problem of aspect.”

  2. I realize that you have some (at least mild) feelings about the term aspect theory showing up on your blog, but… 🙂 I do wonder about this, however:

    > All languages have aspect.

    Do we know that? Is verbal aspect really a language universal? There is enough variation in aspect between, say, Greek and English and Russian and x, that I would not be at all surprised if there were languages that don’t have it.

  3. Dr. Decker: Russian, English and Greek may be quite different formally speaking when it comes to aspect, but the functional similarities are consistent enough. And give the forms labels based on the functions we see and are familiar with.

    David When my fury grow great enough, I shoot fireballs out of my palms and my hair grows big and yellow like a Japanese cartoon character.

    To all: The true is that my frustration with the term has to do with the fact that people use it in contrast to “Aktionsart Theory” as if when the past generation of grammarians were talking about something different. Campbell and Fanning have made it quite clear that they were not in their historical surveys.

  4. But Mike, that doesn’t address the question as to whether aspect is, indeed, a language universal.

    As to past grammarians, one thing that all study of aspect in NT circles in the last 50 years has agreed upon (starting from McKay in the 1960s, Porter, Fanning, Campbell, Olson, etc.) is that the older grammars have conflated aspect and Aktionsart. The two can and must be distinguished, but the terms were used interchangeably prior to the mid-20th C., even though there are some “cracks” beginning to appear around the turn of the century in grammarians like Burton and Robertson.

  5. Yes, you’re right. We can truly only guess about whether aspect is universal, though in defense of my statement, I am yet to see any debate in the broader literature claiming that it is not. Nonetheless, I will concede your point.

    As the Aktionsart/Aspect issue. Again you’re correct. But that isn’t exactly my problem either. I think that its relatively clear that the old grammarians were using the word Aspect in two different ways.

    The problem is that many people, especially students, read the new distinction between Aktionsart and Aspect back into the old grammars as if Moulton, Burton, Robertson, etc. truly thought that verbs only conveyed action objectively. That’s completely ridiculous and easily refutable. The problem is that since most beginning grammars don’t use the terminology that advanced grammars use, thus the concept seems new and confusing to students. It also doesn’t help that Porter seems to do the same thing, reading his objective/subjective distinction into the old grammarians.

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