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Runge's Critique of Porter

Steve Runge has an interesting post in which he challenges the foundation of Porter’s theory of Greek verbal aspect. Here’s an excerpt:

To be sure, aspect is far more prominent in Greek than it is in English, whereas the opposite is true of tense in English. However, in neither case is it a matter of absolute tense or absolute aspect, with the other being completely absent. Nonetheless, this is the kind of case that Porter undertakes to build. The arguments marshaled by Wallace advocate taking a different tack in describing the relationship of tense and aspect to time in Koine Greek. These issues should have been engaged 20 years ago when the ideas were initially being formulated.

I think Runge raises an important issue. In dealing with Porter, Fanning, Decker, Campbell, and a few others in a grammar seminar, I kept coming back to the same question: If temporal reference is encoded in the tense-form (i.e., it is a semantic feature), should one expect the temporal reference to remain unchanged in (most) every usage of any given tense-form?

If you say yes, you’ll tend to side with Porter since every usage of a given tense-form does NOT implicate the same temporal reference. If you answer “no,” you’ll tend to side with Fanning or others who don’t exclude temporal reference completely from discussion of semantics.

5 Responses to Runge's Critique of Porter

  1. FWIW, I spoke at some length with Campbell in New Orleans, and he wanted to make it clear that he does not disavow temporal semantics in the indicative. However, I think that the course of argumentation he has taken has made it hard to see much of a difference between his position and that of Porter or Decker. Sorry to have missed you as SBL, I presented a paper in the Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew section during the Verbal Aspect section. Would have been nice to be there and heard all of the papers. I have not seen Porter’s or Campbell’s.

    • Ahh, I’ve been imprecise… I actually meant to refer to a grammar seminar in my PhD program in the above post. Even so, I was also present at the SBL seminar which was enjoyable. In both experiences, the same question comes to the fore of my mind: Its answer determines in large part the outcome.

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