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?
tense or sometimes the perfect tense, which is entirely consistent with
Porterâ€™s proposal. It was also observed, however, that some of these so
called foreground and frontground tenses occur in background contexts.
Furthermore, it became evident that Porterâ€™s system does not adequately
account for certain restrictions upon aspectual choice, which reduces the
likelihood that Luke was invariably free to choose verbal aspect.
Not only can prominent points and climactic junctures be discerned
by the careful reader without the aid of verbal aspect, but it is evident
that every aspect occurs in every plane of discourse. For Luke, the aorist,
the present and the perfect tenses were legitimate tenses to place in back-
ground, foreground and frontground narration. This not only undermines
Porterâ€™s proposal but also alternative models of aspectual prominence
such as that advocated by Fanning and others111. Indeed, the fact that
Porterâ€™s hypothesis has achieved a measure of acceptance demonstrates
the inadequacy of the more traditional models.
We began by asking â€œis verbal aspect a prominence indicator?â€ and,
although the texts considered in this study are too small a sample to
generalize, they offer little or no reason for answering â€œyesâ€ to this
question. Although Porterâ€™s model of aspectual prominence sometimes
coheres with emphatic or climactic junctures, this might owe more to
coincidence than to an intentional marking of prominence. It is possible,
if not probable, that verbal aspect communicates aspect in these instan-
ces and has nothing to do with the indication of prominence. Further
research would be required to substantiate this claim, of course, but with
regard to the data evaluated in this study it makes just as much sense
as Porterâ€™s proposal. It would also explain why two virtually opposite,
though equally credible, branches of scholarship have emerged on this
issue. Although disagreement is often the nature of scholarship, in this
instance the disagreement may be due to category misplacement.
Jody A. BARNARD
London School of Theology
Green Lane, Northwood
Middlesex, HA6 2UW
In contrast to Fanning et al. S.J.J. Hwang has disputed the â€œwidely acceptedâ€ belief
that the imperfective aspect signals background information. He has observed that it is
often employed simply to convey simultaneous action with another foregrounded event
(see â€œForeground Information in Narrativeâ€, Southwest Journal of Linguistics 9.2