Home » Greek » Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (4)

Reading Aubrey’s Thesis (4)

Okay, if you’re coming at this from a Koine Greek angle like me, we’re now getting to the good stuff. In chapter 4 Aubrey takes his methodological work and begins to apply it specifically to the Greek perfect. Firstly, he reviews some of the disagreements about the perfect, and this is actually really helpful to. For example, he talks about the Perfect as historically a derivation of a PIE stative verb that is generally agreed in the Homeric period to be a resultative type gram. There is less agreement about the shift into Classical Greek, with most agreeing that it came to be a kind of anterior gram, but little consensus about when this took place, McKay puts it as late as Byzantine Greek! As for the Koine period, there’s no consensus at all. Fanning sees it as a state-predicate, Porter treats it as stative but then goes out on a limb and says that stativity is its own aspect. Evans and Campbell are the most extreme, claiming that it is in fact imperfective in aspect. What’s a poor Greek scholar to do!

Well, Aubrey says let’s go ahead and apply the methodology and tests previsouly outlined. p83 has a useful table that talks about Greek morphemes in a way maybe you hadn’t thought about before. Put the root in the middle: λυ, now what can come immediately after that? 3 options: nothing, σ, or κ, so this is a 3-way contrast between imperfective, perfective, and perfect. Note that the aorist and the future are marked by sigma for perfective aspect. Immediately before the root there is a slot for reduplication, and then further ‘out’ the front you have the tense marker (the ε augment), while on the end slot you have “everything else”. If you’re reading Aubrey’s thesis with me, the table really makes this clear.

Anyway, what’s the upshot? Perfect marking goes next to the root, and in an aspect slot. You can’t mark perfect and also mark perfective or imperfective. You can mark perfect and then mark past time. So this supports both aspect prominence for Greek, and aspect for understanding the perfect.

Moving on to grammaticalisation, paradigmaticity, obligatoriness, and pervasiveness (remember those long words!), aspect is more pervasive (p84) because aspect is marked in both indicative and non-indicate forms; tense is only marked in the indicative.

The next step is to test the perfect with quantification. We talked about this back in my second post, and it’s around page 50 or so of the thesis. Basically, we want to see whether the perfect takes certain types of adverbs and not others. Cardinal counting (once, twice, thrice) should occur with perfectives, frequency counting (always, twice a day, five times a year, etc..) should occur with imperfectives. You probably need to read this section (p85-88) to get a full scope of it. Aubrey talks about how the different types of quantifier adverbs appear with different semantic types of perfects (resultatives, completives, anteriors), and talks about how ἀεὶ appears to function with perfects to indicate persistence rather than frequency. Anyway, the conclusion is that this test too confirms that the perfect should be understood primarily in aspectual terms.

The next metatest (p89-91) looks at discourse function, with a passage from Josephus. The conclusion is that the perfect do not provide mainline information that moves the narrative forward, which is what the perfective aspect does. It provides background information. This does not mean, as Campbell concluded, that the perfect is in fact imperfective though. “They both do convey temporal internal structure (Comrie 1976), but the type of temporal internal structure is distinct. The imperfective has no inherent endpoint, while the perfect at times places the focus on the completion of a backgrounded event and other times presents an event as a persistent state that existed concurrently with the foregrounded narrative” (p92).

The next section looks at gram-specific tests (anteriors, resultatives, and completives). In this post I round out the shorter section, looking at adverb tests, and leave the second half of chapter 4 for the next post. Specifically, we should expect adverbs such as “just” and “already” with anteriors, and “still” with resultatives. The conclusion is somewhat inconclusive, because the data splits. But what Aubrey does claim is that the Greek perfect allows for resultative-like grams. However the adverb test does not help us with completives, so the status of completives and anteriors requires further testing. Which we shall see in the second half of chapter 4.


  1. Wow! This is great stuff. I wrote my dissertation on the Biblical Hebrew passive voice, looking at situational aspect (state vs activity). I can see a lot of parallels in your work.

    Have you done cross-linguistic analysis regarding the development of perfect and perfective? My colleague in Hebrew linguistics, Dr John Cook, has done some.


    • Well, to be clear this is Mike Aubrey’s work, I am just writing blog posts to make sense of it all. As for cross-linguistic analysis, I haven’t done any personally, though I have the chronic problem of most polyglots of drawing unsubstantiated inferences simply by comparing languages.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wonderful! I know about the problem of unsubstantiated inferences. I’m lucky that I did some pretty theoretical work in linguistics. The field offers some models to help prevent that. But it’s still easy to do.


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