Perfects, telicity, & the stative modifier test

With in the literature on Vendler Aktionsart classes generally, there’s a tradition of developing syntactic diagnostic tests for evaluating whether a given predicate should be considered  as part of a particular class or type. Thus, for example, you can distinguish between state predicates and non-state predicates on the basis of how acceptable it is for them to function as the answer to the question “What happened?”

  • What happened?
    Rachel ate my burger — good/felicitous/grammatical
  • What happened?
    *I am hungry — weird/infelicitous/ungrammatical

There are other tests as well, such as the duration test: Is it natural for a given predicate to appear with a duration expression

  • John ate dinner for an hourgood/felicitous/grammatical
  • *The balloon popped for an hourweird/infelicitous/ungrammatical

Similarly there is a telicity test that evaluates the acceptability of endpoint signally prepositional phrases:

  • Mary assembled the table in ten minutesgood/felicitous/grammatical
  • *Elizabeth saw the apple in ten minutesweird/infelicitous/ungrammatical

Though, of course, here in ten minutes also has a temporal sense of after ten minutes, where it took Elizabeth ten minutes to spot the apple. But that is not the intended sense here.

But one of the most interesting tests, to me, for the semantics of the Greek perfect is a fairly recent addition to the literature. It is not original to Vendler (1957). It is the stative modifier test and it functions as evidence that a predicate is telic. That is, the predicate involves a change of state, one participant in the clause is different than it was when it started. If we collect all the tested clauses from above, we can see this more easily.

  • John ate dinner for an hour.
  • Rachel ate my burger.
  • The balloon popped.
  • Mary assembled the table.
  • Elizabeth saw the apple.
  • I am hungry.

Some of these are telic and some of these are not. In the first four, the events signal a change of state: a meal and burger are both eaten where they were previously untouched, a balloon is popped where it used to float so lightly, and a table is assembled, where was previously in its constituent parts. Conversely, Elizabeth and the apple remain unchanged, the same at the end of the event as they were at its beginning. Likewise, my hunger remains unabated; there is no change at all.

Now, the stative modifier test says that we can take a telic predicate and convert it into an adjective-like form to describe the changed participant in the clause.

  • the eaten dinner
  • the eaten burger
  • the popped balloon
  • the assembled table

Of course, the hungry person is also possible because hungry is already a state, but it does not shift into a past tense form as a modifier either like the others do. The full set of diagnostic tests that Role and Reference Grammar uses for predicate classes can be seen in this pdf: Diagnostic tests for predicate types in RRG.

Greek perfect participles are fascinating in this respect when they function either attributively or substantivally. They inevitably display features of stative modifier test.

Consider the following. This is not a comprehensive list, just one that is long enough to illustrate the pattern:

Reference Result Lemma Sense
Matthew 5:10 δεδιωγμένοι διώκω the persecuted people
Matthew 5:32 ἀπολελυμένην ἀπολύω the divorced woman
Matthew 7:14 τεθλιμμένη θλίβω the constricted gate
Matthew 8:14 βεβλημένην βάλλω the laid up
Matthew 9:36 ἐσκυλμένοι σκύλλω the afflicted crowd
Matthew 12:44 σεσαρωμένον σαρόω the swept house
Matthew 12:44 κεκοσμημένον κοσμέω the organized house
Matthew 13:19 ἐσπαρμένον σπείρω the sown seed
Matthew 13:35 κεκρυμμένα κρύπτω the hidden thing
Matthew 16:19 δεδεμένον δέω the bound thing
Matthew 16:19 λελυμένον λύω the released thing
Matthew 17:17 διεστραμμένη διαστρέφω the perverted generation
Matthew 18:13 πεπλανημένοις. πλανάω the never-astray 99 sheep
Matthew 23:39 Εὐλογημένος εὐλογέω to be blessed (state)
Matthew 25:34 εὐλογημένοι εὐλογέω the blessed ones
Matthew 25:34 ἡτοιμασμένην ἑτοιμάζω the prepared kingdom
Matthew 25:41 κατηραμένοι καταράομαι the accursed people
Matthew 25:41 ἡτοιμασμένον ἑτοιμάζω the prepared fire
Matthew 26:43 βεβαρημένοι βαρέω the heavy eyes
Matthew 27:9 τετιμημένου τιμάω the gathered crowds
Matthew 27:34 μεμιγμένον μίγνυμι the mixed-with gall drink
Matthew 27:37 γεγραμμένην γράφω the written charge
Matthew 27:52 κεκοιμημένων κοιμάω the dead/fallen asleep saints
Matthew 28:5 ἐσταυρωμένον σταυρόω the crucified Jesus
Mark 1:6 ἐνδεδυμένος ἐνδύω the clothed John
Mark 1:33 ἐπισυνηγμένη ἐπισυνάγω the assembled city
Mark 3:1 ἐξηραμμένην ξηραίνω the withered hand
Mark 4:15 ἐσπαρμένον σπείρω the sown word
Mark 5:15 ἱματισμένον ἱματίζω the clothed demoniac
Mark 6:52 πεπωρωμένη πωρόω the hardened hearts
Mark 7:30 βεβλημένον βάλλω the laid up child
Mark 11:2 δεδεμένον δέω the hardened hearts
Mark 11:4 δεδεμένον δέω the tied up colt
Mark 11:20 ἐξηραμμένην ξηραίνω the dried up fig tree
Mark 14:15 ἐστρωμένον στρώννυμι the furnished room
Mark 15:46 λελατομημένον λατομέω the hewn rock
Mark 16:5 περιβεβλημένον περιβάλλω the dressed man
Luke 1:17 κατεσκευασμένον κατασκευάζω prepared people
Luke 5:18 παραλελυμένος παραλύω the paralyzed man
Luke 6:25 ἐμπεπλησμένοι ἐμπίπλημι the satiated people
Luke 12:52 διαμεμερισμένοι διαμερίζω the divided household
Luke 13:6 πεφυτευμένην φυτεύω the planted fig tree
Luke 14:7 κεκλημένους καλέω the invited people
John 11:44 δεδεμένος δέω the bound feet
John 11:52 διεσκορπισμένα διασκορπίζω the scattered children
John 13:10 λελουμένος λούω the bathed person
John 18:24 δεδεμένον δέω the bound prison
John 19:38 κεκρυμμένος κρύπτω the secret disciple
John 19:41 τεθειμένος τίθημι the not-put-in tomb

Now, the sharp thinkers among you will likely have already noticed that all of these are middle-passive participles, too. Maybe that is the real cause of this semantic pattern. That isn’t an unreasonable guess. And that is where the situation becomes more interesting. Middle-passive perfect participles are the means of expressing the stative modifier structure relative to the affected object of the full active-transitive clause. When we switch to the active perfect participle, the pattern continues to hold, except now instead of transitive events, it is with intransitive events or transitive events where the subject rather than the object is the affected participant.

Reference Result Lemma Sense
Matthew 10:6 ἀπολωλότα ἀπόλλυμι the lost sheep
Matthew 15:24 ἀπολωλότα ἀπόλλυμι the lost sheep
Matthew 16:28 ἑστώτων ἵστημι the standing people
Matthew 20:3 ἑστῶτας ἵστημι the standing people
Matthew 20:6 ἑστῶτας ἵστημι the people standing around
Matthew 21:5 ἐπιβεβηκὼς ἐπιβαίνω the mounted king
Matthew 26:73 ἑστῶτες ἵστημι the bystanders
Matthew 27:47 ἑστηκότων ἵστημι the bystanders
Mark 7:30 ἐξεληλυθός ἐξέρχομαι the gone demon
Mark 9:1 ἑστηκότων ἵστημι the standing people
Mark 9:1 ἐληλυθυῖαν ἔρχομαι the arrived kingdom
Mark 14:47 παρεστηκότων παρίστημι the nearby person
Luke 1:3 παρηκολουθηκότι παρακολουθέω to follow carefully
Luke 1:7 προβεβηκότες προβαίνω the elderly couple
Luke 14:10 κεκληκώς καλέω the host
Luke 15:4 ἀπολωλὸς ἀπόλλυμι the lost sheep
Luke 15:6 ἀπολωλός ἀπόλλυμι the lost sheep
Luke 15:24 ἀπολωλὼς ἀπόλλυμι the lost son
Luke 15:32 ἀπολωλὼς ἀπόλλυμι the lost son
Luke 18:9 πεποιθότας πείθω the self-trusting people
Luke 18:13 ἑστὼς ἵστημι the standing tax collector
Luke 19:10 ἀπολωλός ἀπόλλυμι the lost people
Luke 19:24 παρεστῶσιν παρίστημι the bystanders
Luke 22:28 διαμεμενηκότες διαμένω the reliable disciples
John 4:6 κεκοπιακὼς κοπιάω tired Jesus
John 8:31 πεπιστευκότας πιστεύω the believing Jews
John 11:39 τετελευτηκότος τελευτάω the dead man
John 11:42 περιεστῶτα περιΐστημι the bystanding crowd
Acts 5:23 ἑστῶτας ἵστημι the standing guards
Acts 10:27 συνεληλυθότας συνέρχομαι the assembled crowd
Acts 15:5 πεπιστευκότες πιστεύω the believers
Acts 15:16 πεπτωκυῖαν πίπτω the fallen dwelling of David
Acts 18:2 ἐληλυθότα ἔρχομαι the recently arrive people
Acts 18:27 πεπιστευκόσιν πιστεύω the believers
Acts 19:18 πεπιστευκότων πιστεύω the believers
Acts 21:20 πεπιστευκότων πιστεύω the believers
Acts 21:25 πεπιστευκότων πιστεύω the believers
Acts 21:40 ἑστὼς ἵστημι to stand (place)
Acts 22:25 ἑστῶτα ἵστημι the nearby centurion
Acts 22:29 δεδεκώς δέω the bound Paul
Acts 23:2 παρεστῶσιν παρίστημι the bystanders
Acts 23:4 παρεστῶτες παρίστημι the bystanders
Acts 25:7 καταβεβηκότες καταβαίνω the descended-from-Jerusalem Jews
Acts 25:19 τεθνηκότος θνῄσκω the dead people
Acts 28:11 παρακεχειμακότι παραχειμάζω the wintered ship
Romans 8:38 ἐνεστῶτα ἐνίστημι the present things
Romans 13:2 ἀνθεστηκότες ἀνθίστημι the opposed
1 Corinthians 7:10 γεγαμηκόσιν γαμέω the married
1 Corinthians 7:26 ἐνεστῶσαν ἐνίστημι impending crisis
2 Corinthians 2:3 πεποιθὼς πείθω confident Paul
Galatians 1:4 ἐνεστῶτος ἐνίστημι the present age
Philippians 1:14 πεποιθότας πείθω the confident brothers
Titus 3:8 πεπιστευκότες πιστεύω the believing people
Hebrews 7:5 ἐξεληλυθότας ἐξέρχομαι the from-Abraham people
Hebrews 7:23 γεγονότες γίνομαι the former priests
Hebrews 9:9 ἐνεστηκότα ἐνίστημι the present time
James 5:15 πεποιηκώς ποιέω the sinful person
2 Peter 3:5 συνεστῶσα συνίστημι the formed earth

The pattern is quite consistent, especially once you remove instances of οἶδα and the like. Verbs that default to state predicates, of course, do not fit this pattern, but I have discussed their semantics elsewhere.

Indeed, the pattern is so regular, that I think to functions as solid evidence for my thesis.

 

5 thoughts on “Perfects, telicity, & the stative modifier test

Add yours

    1. Hi Anon,

      Yes, indeed, it would. but only for aorist participles that are also achievement predicates.

      What separates out the perfects is the incredibly high degree to which perfects correlate with achievement predicates. For aorists, it is simply an occasional happenstance, but for the perfect, it’s a regular pattern.

      1. Thanks Mike. So your argument is that the semantic contribution of the perfect requires, more or less, telic predicates (with the exception of state predicates); otherwise, we would see a variety of predicate types used with the perfect. And this is another way of demonstrating that the predicates found with the perfect are indeed overwhelmingly telic, as you’ve demonstrated in other ways before.

        1. Yes, more or less.

          The caveat that I’d make though would be that state predicates aren’t an exception, per se. Rather, the usages of the perfect that we see with state predicates is motivated (but not identical to) by the same semantic contributions, as you put it so nicely, that drive the usage here.

  1. Another question. I haven’t finished your thesis yet so forgive me if you’ve discussed this elsewhere.

    Philippians 3:7-8 seems like an especially useful case for your take on the perfect — the same state verb is used in back-to-back clauses, first in the perfect and then in the present.

    In the first case, Paul uses the perfect when reevaluating what was κέρδη as ζημίαν. If I understand your proposal correctly, ἥγημαι ζημίαν carries some heightened sense here. Perhaps “consider utter loss” instead of just “consider loss”.

    In the second case, Paul uses the present (ἡγοῦμαι) when he switches to discussing the extent of what he considers loss, using πάντα where before he had ἇτινα ἦν μοι κέρδη.

    Under your proposal for the perfect, would the change from degree of verb to extent of object be a reasonable motivation for Paul’s change of tense-forms here?

    I apologize that this isn’t directly related to this post. It seemed somewhat excessive to try and find which of the perfect posts this fit best with seemed somewhat excessive.

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