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?
If Luke could be interviewed, these questions could be settled with
relative ease. But in his absence an evaluation of Porterâ€™s proposal must
take a more scientific form. This is easier said than done, however, since
the data is fossilized and therefore cannot be repeated or exposed to the
Some have contested this, however, and have argued that the conven-
tions of Modern Greek are not so different from Hellenistic Greek. Chrys
Caragounis, for example, states that â€œthe Greek of today is not a different
language from ancient Greek ... Thus, on the basis of the unity of the
Greek language ... later Greek (that is, from NT times to the present) is
of relevance in interpreting the NTâ€19. Concerning the prominence value
of verbal aspect he states â€œ... nor is his [Porterâ€™s] assertion (p.92) that the
aorist backgrounds an action, while the present and imperfect foreground
it, generally trueâ€20. Thus, if there is continuity between Hellenistic and
Modern Greek in this respect, then there is an evident discontinuity
between Porterâ€™s proposal and the way in which the Greek language is
appropriated by its users.
Porter et al., however, would want to maintain a more profound dis-
tinction between the Hellenistic and Modern phase than Caragounis and
in preference of synchronic analysis Porter will be given the benefit of
any doubt21. So, we are left with the problem of how to test such a global
theory on the basis of the data in an ancient text.
Rodney Decker encountered the same problem in his attempt to
evaluate Porterâ€™s non-temporal view of the verb and his comments are
Direct proof for such a proposal is not possible due to the nature of the
theory. ...The theory can only be examined empirically for internal consisten-
cy and (especially) for conformity to the data available ... A negative approach
C.C. Caragounis, The Development of Greek and the New Testament (TÃ¼bingen 2004)
Caragounis, The Development, 333, n.335.
The father of modern linguistics, Ferdinand De Saussure (1857-1913), insisted on the
priority of synchronic analysis â€œsince for the community of language users that is the one
and only realityâ€ (R. Harris [trans.], Course in General Linguistics [London 1983] 89). This
does not mean that there is no place for diachronic analysis, rather, as A.C. Thiselton states
â€œthe two methods are fundamentally different, and perform different tasksâ€ (â€œSemantics
and New Testament Interpretationâ€, in I.H. Marshall (ed.), New Testament Interpretation
[Exeter 1997] 80).