Jody A. Barnard, «Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator? An Evaluation of Stanley Porter’s Proposal with Special Reference to the Gospel of Luke.», Vol. 19 (2006) 3-29
The purpose of this article is to evaluate Stanley Porter’s theory of
aspectual prominence. According to Porter the three verbal aspects of the
Greek language (perfective, imperfective and stative) operate at a discourse
level to indicate prominence (background, foreground and frontground). This
theory will be tested against the points of emphasis and climactic junctures
evident in a selection of Luke’s miracle and pronouncement stories.
Is Verbal Aspect a Prominence Indicator?
mean that virtually everything is prominent, which is tantamount to
virtually nothing being prominent.
The reception of sight (v. 43) is quite clearly the main point for Luke.
The importance of the blind receiving sight is evident from the fact that
Luke makes it one of the features anticipated in Jesusâ€™ programmatic
sermon (4,16-21 cf. Mk 6,1-6), yet this is the first actual narrative of such
a healing. Not only is it explicitly marked with the fronted Ï€Î±ÏÎ±Ï‡Ïá¿†Î¼Î±,
but the entire discourse deliberately dwells upon the theme of the presen-
ce or absence of sight.
Apart from Jesus, whose presence is assumed, the Ï„Ï…Ï†Î»á½¹Ï‚ is the first
participant to be introduced, and thus the complicating action is already
implicit from the outset. Yet the climactic resolution is delayed by the
dialogue between Jesus and the blind man (vv. 41-42). In these verses the
manâ€™s request (á¼€Î½Î±Î²Î»á½³ÏˆÏ‰) and Jesusâ€™ solution (á¼€Î½á½±Î²Î»ÎµÏˆÎ¿Î½) are made ex-
plicit. The discourse preponderance upon sight is all the more significant
when compared to Markâ€™s simple á½•Ï€Î±Î³Îµ (Mk 10,52). Although the Mar-
kan counterpart is present tense it is unlikely to be any more prominent
than Lukeâ€™s á¼€Î½á½±Î²Î»ÎµÏˆÎ¿Î½. Indeed, assuming Mark was Lukeâ€™s source for
this pericope, it could be argued that Lukeâ€™s deliberate alteration is more
significant, yet it is aorist. Finally, the climactic resolution is presented
with yet another occurrence of á¼€Î½Î±Î²Î»á½³Ï€Ï‰, but it is conjugated in the
aorist tense (á¼€Î½á½³Î²Î»ÎµÏˆÎµÎ½).
The overwhelming testimony of these passages leads one to doubt
Porterâ€™s understanding of the discourse function of, at least, the aorist
tense since so many prominent events and actions are grammaticalized
in that tense form. This does not deny that background information is
expressed with the aorist; indeed, it is frequently found in such contexts.
Rather, it calls into question the bold statement that â€œthe aorist is the
background tense [italics mine]â€53. It would seem that â€œbackgroundâ€ is
not inherent to the aorist; therefore, one cannot say that no attention is
being drawn to an action simply because it is grammaticalized in this
According to Porterâ€™s system the stative aspect communicates the
highest level of prominence and admittedly some important events are
grammaticalized in this aspect (e.g. 5,20; 18,42). However, some relatively
Porter, Idioms, 23.