Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JMAT 2:1 (Spr 98) p. 110
Olsen, Mari Broman. A Semantic and Pragmatic Model of Lexical and Grammatical Aspect. Outstanding Dissertations in Linguistics Series. New York: Garland, 1997. 340 pp. Cloth, $67.
This specialized volume is the published version of the author’s Ph.D. dissertation at Northwestern University (1994). It addresses verbal aspect, which is a major issue in contemporary linguistic theory with considerable significance for New Testament study. Following the pioneering work of Stanley Porter and Buist Fanning that explored this area in terms of New Testament Greek, Olsen’s work represents one of the first major studies to interact with and critique these proposals.1
For those unacquainted with the topic (which probably includes most pastors who studied Greek in seminary prior to the mid-1990s, and perhaps many current students as well), an introductory explanation of verbal aspect is not only helpful but essential. The issues that underlie Olsen’s book evidence a contrast between traditional explanations of the Greek verb and more recent discussion that has arisen from modern linguistic study. It will be helpful to first survey several related facets of the verb: tense, Aktionsart, and aspect. Readers who received their training in Greek a number of years ago may find the differences substantial.
Tense is the expression of a time relationship by the grammatical form of the verb (called grammaticalization). Although it seems “normal” to English speakers, not all languages have tense as defined here. As Moisés Silva points out, “whereas English verbs, whatever else they do, always seem to indicate time reference, a rather large number of languages around the world manage quite nicely, thank you, with verbs that do not by themselves have that reference. The speakers of these languages, of course, can indicate the time through lexi
JMAT 2:1 (Spr 98) p. 111
cal and other means (yesterday, tomorrow, the context of the utterance, etc.), but the verbal form itself gives no hint.”2
Beginning Greek grammars have typically taught the Greek tenses as indicators of absolute tense, at least in the indicative mood: present tense is present time (thus λύω is translated, “I am loosing”), aorist tense is past time (ἔλυσα, “I loosed”), etc. The discussion seldom goes beyond this point. Many students continue to exegete Scripture on this basis for as long as they use Greek as a tool (which, unfortunately, is often not very long). It is thus not uncommon to hear pr...
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