State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 1

Somehow this post ended up being 2000 words long. I’ve broken it into three smaller parts which are scheduled to be posted every other day for the next week. The ‘works cited’ list at the end is comprehensive for the entire three part series).

Part one: State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 1
Part two: State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 2
Part three:  State predicates and the Greek perfect, Pt 3

One of the major conclusions that I draw with regard to the semantics of the Greek perfect is that the grammatical form realizes a combination of completive semantics and resultative semantics. While the focus of my work is actually on method for grammatical analysis, chapter 4 of my thesis sought to demonstrate that distinctions in usage make more sense if we assume completive-resultative semantics rather than the more traditional resultative-anterior approach.  In chapter 3, the completive gram was defined as follows:

Completive grams involve a situation or event that is presented as brought to a conclusion. Because of this, completives correlate closely with change of state predicates. In their prototypical form, they have a patient that is totally affected by the event (Aubrey, 2014, 73)

In the feedback I have received for my proposal, one criticism has appeared with some regularity.

That criticism goes something like this:

I structured my analysis of the Greek perfect according to Role and Reference Grammar predicate types (a derivation of Vendler’s classification [Vendler 1957]). In my discussion of state predicates, I made the following argument:

The majority of state predicates simply cannot form perfects in Greek. The semantics of states conflict with the semantics of the perfect in most instances. There are, however, two exceptions.

Exception #1 is as follows: In some instances resultative semantics can appear with state predicates by fundamentally changing the verbal lexeme into a non-state predicate. That is, a verb that would normally be stative becomes telic (either an accomplishment or achievement). This occurs in Romans 5:2, for example:

  1. διʼ οὗ καὶ τὴν προσαγωγὴν ἐσχήκαμεν τῇ πίστει εἰς τὴν χάριν ταύτην
    We [have come to] possess/have access by faith (Rom 5:2).

This usage turns what is normally stative into a sort of inchoative and the resultative perfect denotes the entrance into a state. This accords not only with the Greek data, but also with Bybee, Perkins, and Pagliuca’s (1994, 67) analysis of resultatives cross-linguistically. That’s pretty straight forward: states encounter perfect morphology and simply stop being states.

Exception #2 is where the controversy comes in. This involves completives and state predicates. I argue that in Greek when states form morphological perfects with completive semantics, a different change takes place: the state predicate develops intensive semantics. This usage is restricted to particular verb classes, particular states that involve degree (e.g. emotion, physiological experiences). In such cases, the perfect refers to the highest degree of a state. Consider the following few examples:

  1. τεθύμωντο πρὸς τὴν ὕβριν
    They were furious from the insult
    (Josephus, Wars of the Jews 4.284).
  2. ἡ δύναμις αὐτοῦ ἀπηλέγχθη πεφοβημένη
    His army …  was found [completely] terrified
    (Josephus, Antiquities 4.89)
  3. Ἰσραὴλ μεμεθυσμένος οὐχὶ νοήσει
    Israel, completely drunk, will have no ability to think
    (Sibylline Oracles 1.360)
  4. ἐκεκμήκει
    He was exhausted
    (Josephus, Antiquities 14.462).

Perhaps you have already recognized what the criticism is, but let me state it out right for clarity:

Fundamentally, the question is this: if the completive gram is inherently telic in nature, referring to an event as being brought to a complete conclusion, then how can it function as a state predicate in this manner? This usage seems to be contradictory to the very nature of completives. 

My advisor was one of the ones who made this argument and in the ensuing discussions I was obligated to lay out my case for how this extension from completive to intensive is natural, which he found convincing. Since then, however, I’ve had two other people who read my thesis also state it, as well. So it is worth explaining in full. I only regret that I could not have made it more clear in the original work.

To be continued…

Works Cited:

Aubrey, Michael. 2014. The Greek perfect and the categorization of tense and aspect: Toward a descriptive apparatus for operators in Role and Reference Grammar. Thesis, Trinity Western University.

Mangum, Doug, and Josh Westbury. 2017. Linguistics & Biblical Exegesis. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press.

Berlin, Brent; and Paul Kay. 1969. Basic Color Terms: Their Universality and Evolution. Berkeley, Calif.: Center for the Study of Language and Information.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins, and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of Grammar: Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dahl, Osten. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. London: Basil Blackwell Press.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1975. Cognitive Representations of Semantic Categories. Journal of Experimental Psychology 104 (3): 192–233.

Rosch, Eleanor. 1978. Principles of Categorization, pp. 27–48 in Rosch, E. & Lloyd, B.B. (eds), Cognition and Categorization. Lawrence Erlbaum.

Nida, Eugene. 1979. A Componential Analysis of Meaning: An Introduction to Semantic Structures Berlin: Walter de Gruyter Press.

Nida, Eugene and J. P. Louw. 1992. Lexical Semantics of the Greek New Testament. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.

Vendler, Zeno 1957. “Verbs and times”. The Philosophical Review 66 (2): 143–160.)