Aspectual tid-bits: οἰκοδομοῦντι & οἰκοδομήσαντι

There’s a shift in aspect from imperfective to perfective as Jesus describing his two house builders in Luke 6:47-49.

47 πᾶς ὁ ἐρχόμενος πρός με καὶ ἀκούων μου τῶν λόγων καὶ ποιῶν αὐτούς, ὑποδείξω ὑμῖν τίνι ἐστὶν ὅμοιος· 48 ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομοῦντι οἰκίαν ὃς ἔσκαψεν καὶ ἐβάθυνεν καὶ ἔθηκεν θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν· πλημμύρης δὲ γενομένης προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμὸς τῇ οἰκίᾳ ἐκείνῃ, καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν σαλεῦσαι αὐτὴν διὰ τὸ καλῶς οἰκοδομῆσθαι αὐτήν. 49 ὁ δὲ ἀκούσας καὶ μὴ ποιήσας ὅμοιός ἐστιν ἀνθρώπῳ οἰκοδομήσαντι οἰκίαν ἐπὶ τὴν γῆν χωρὶς θεμελίου, ᾗ προσέρηξεν ὁ ποταμός, καὶ εὐθὺς συνέπεσεν, καὶ ἐγένετο τὸ ῥῆγμα τῆς οἰκίας ἐκείνης μέγα.

Note that the imperfective οἰκοδομοῦντι is used immediately before a set of sequential tasks that make the duration of house building explicit in the text. The imperfective οἰκοδομοῦντι is used because at the time of that proposition, the event is unbounded. That is, ὃς ἔσκαψεν καὶ ἐβάθυνεν καὶ ἔθηκεν θεμέλιον ἐπὶ τὴν πέτραν denotes the internal temporal structure of οἰκοδομοῦντι. Using the imperfective here is, in a sense, akin to a narrator using an imperfective form of λέγω to introduce a long monologue. “a man building a house…first this…then that…”

Conversely the perfective οἰκοδομήσαντι is used for the builder who just built the house without any internal steps within its construction, at least not any internal steps that matter. The lack of the foundation is the salient point and Jesus uses the perfective to gloss over the rest. This is a linguistic choice on the part of Luke’s Jesus to convey no internal temporal structure here, just the simple event: οἰκοδομήσαντι.

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2 thoughts on “Aspectual tid-bits: οἰκοδομοῦντι & οἰκοδομήσαντι

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    1. Campbell’s foreground/background model actually goes back at least several decades. He’s more or less working with Paul Hopper’s model (whereas Porter made his up? That one’s a mystery):

      Paul J. Hopper (1979), ‘Aspect and Foregrounding in Discourse’, in Discourse and Syntax (ed. Talmy Givón; Syntax and Semantics 12; New York: Academic Press), 213–4.

      It’s the same one I use, too. The use of the perfective and imperfective aspects for grounding is limited to narrative proper. This portion of text here is monologue and thus, non-narrative. Aspect usage in speech like here follows the patterns we find in the letters rather than the patterns of narrative proper.

      Not all choices for a given aspect are driven by grounding. The semantics of perfective and imperfective motivates their usage for background and foreground, but they do not mean background and foreground. Does that make sense?

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