Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart : a corpus approach to Koine Greek event typology

PangAspectAndAktionsartBrill is publishing a revised version of Francis G.H. Pang’s doctoral dissertation, Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart: a corpus approach to Koine Greek event typology. Pang completed the dissertation at McMaster Divinity College in May of 2014.

As with all things Brill, the projected price puts the book out of reach for most biblical scholars and seems more directed at library collections: $142 (110).

Here’s what the abstract says at Brill’s website:

In Revisiting Aspect and Aktionsart, Francis G.H. Pang employs a corpus approach to analyze the relationship between Greek aspect and Aktionsart. Recent works have tried to predict the meanings that emerge when a certain set of clausal factors and lexical features combine with one of the grammatical aspects. Most of these works rely heavily on Zeno Vendler’s telicity distinction. Based on empirical evidence, Pang argues that telicity and perfectivity are not related in a systematic manner in Koine Greek. As a corollary, Aktionsart should be considered an interpretive category, meaning that its different values emerge, not from the interaction of only one or two linguistic parameters, but from the process of interpreting language in context.

The Library of Congress entry for the book indicates that there is an online version, but I have been unable to find it.

I will have an entry prepared for the bibliography here at later in the day today.

Aktionsart and Aspect

A number of years ago–May 4, 1997 to be exact–I offered a clarification of the terms Aktionsart and Aspect on the b-Greek discussion list. I have decided to post here the essence of that discussion because even this late, both terms are still being used in Biblical Studies, often without a clear distinction between their meanings.

The original post to b-Greek can be found at

Here’s a very slightly edited version of what I had to say then. My additions are included in square brackets [ ]. Deletions are indicated by elipsis (…).

The older grammars use the term ‘Aktionsart’ in a way that is not synonymous with its use in modern linguistics. As Mari [Olsen] stated in her recent note, many linguists use the term as a synonym for ‘lexical aspect.’ Others (especially in the study of Slavic languages) use it to mean ‘aspect which is expressed explicitly through derivational morphology (See R.L. Trask’s A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms in Linguistics for examples.)

A.T. Robertson and company use the term in neither of these senses. They use it in a very broad sense covering both lexical and grammatical aspect as well as both the writer’s *perception* of an action and the writer’s *portrayal* of that action.
. . .
We can distinguish between (1) the way an action really is (out there in the real world, independent of the way we talk about that action), (2) the way that action is perceived by a language user, and (3) the way that same language user decides to portray that action.

In the traditional grammars the term ‘Aktionsart’ is used for a bewildering mixture of these three.

In modern linguistics, those linguists who use the term at all (It is interesting that the term did not even appear in David Crystal’s Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics, Blackwell, 1991.), tend not to ever use it to represent (1). Many use it to cover both (2) and (3) when they are tied to *lexical aspect* (as Mari stated).

We might also distinguish between ‘Aktionsart’ and ‘lexical aspect’ taking ‘Aktionsart’ to refer to (2) while ‘lexical aspect’ represents only (3). On this view, however, we may want to reject Aktionsart, seeing it as beyond the scope of what we can legitimately know. In biblical studies, for example, I might argue that all we can know is how Paul [or any other writer] chose to portray an action (3), and that we can never know for sure how he perceived that action (2). If I take Aktionsart to refer only to (2), I would then reject the term, and say that linguistics is legitimately concerned only with aspect–not aktionsart. Much of the discussion in the traditional grammars does take ‘Aktionsart’ as referring to (2).

Linguists who see ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does, clearly have no reason to reject the term. Since in our context (biblical Greek studies), however, the term ‘Aktionsart’ carries the baggage of the confused discussion in the traditional grammars where it often covers (2) and even sometimes (1), I do not use the term ‘Aktionsart’ as Mari does when talking about biblical Greek. I prefer the term ‘lexical aspect’ for what she means by ‘Aktionsart.’ When I do use the term ‘Aktionsart’ I try to stick as closely as possible to what the Greek grammars mean by the term–where it is usually identified as ‘type of action’ ((1) and possibly (2)), not ‘type of presentation’ (3), though I doubt the authors of those grammars seriously considered the distinction between type of action and type of presentation).

I hope this old post proves useful to some of you. Feel free to comment, challenge, ask questions as you like.