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?
3. Stative aspect, grammaticalized by the perfect and pluperfect ten-
ses8, conveys the action as a state of affairs, stipulating the condition
of the grammatical subject.
Thus, when a writer of Hellenistic Greek conceived of an action they
had the choice of presenting it in one of three ways: perfective, imperfec-
tive or stative. It should not be assumed, of course, that this three-way
choice was available for every verb since many verbs are not conjugated
in every tense form necessary for the grammatical expression of all three
aspects. Porter describes such verbs as â€œaspectually vagueâ€ and lists Îµá¼°Î¼á½·
(I am), Îµá¼¶Î¼Î¹ (I go), ÎºÎµá¿–Î¼Î±Î¹ (I lie), Ï†Î·Î¼á½· (I say), á¼¦Î¼Î±Î¹ (I sit) and Î½á½³Î¿Î¼Î±Î¹ (I
go) in this category9. Therefore, these verbs shall be excluded from the
1.3. Porterâ€™s Proposal
In essence Porter proposes that â€œverbal aspects are a means by which
the points of emphasis or peaks of a discourse may be indicatedâ€10. In his
Idioms of the Greek New Testament, Porter draws attention to the work
of discourse analysts who distinguish between three planes of discourse:
background, foreground and frontground. He then asserts that:
The aorist is the background tense, which forms the basis for the discourse11;
the present is the foreground tense, which introduces significant characters
or makes appropriate climactic references to concrete situationsl2; and the
perfect is the frontground tense, which introduces elements in an even more
discrete, defined, contoured and complex way13.
action is seen as more remote than the action described by the (non-remote) presentâ€
(Verbal Aspect in the Greek of the New Testament with Reference to Tense and Mood
[New York 1989] 207).
Porter also employs the concept of remoteness to distinguish between the perfect and
pluperfect, cf. Aspect, 289.
Porter, Aspect, 442-47.
Porter, Idioms, 302.
Porter suggests that the aorist â€œis the predominant narrative tense of Greek, in the
sense that it is the tense which is relied upon to carry a narrative along when no attention
is being drawn to the events being spoken ofâ€ (Idioms, 35).
Concerning the imperfect Porter writes â€œit is the narrative form used when an action
is selected to dwell upon . . . [it] is similar in function to the historic use of the present.
Although they share the same verbal aspect, the present is used to draw even more attention
to an actionâ€ (Idioms, 34; cf. Aspect, 198-208).
Porter, Idioms, 23; cf. Aspect, 92-93 and his â€œIn Defence of Verbal Aspectâ€, in Porter
and Carson (eds.), Greek Language and Linguistics, 35.