I just finished a careful reading of a brand new book that ought to be of interest to everyone interested in Greek grammar, and particularly the verbal system in koine Greek. (Your number, no doubt, is legion! 🙂 ) This is not a full, formal review; just some initial reactions to the book. (If Con has any corrections to the way I’ve represented his work, I’ll post an update here later.)
Campbell, Constantine R. Verbal Aspect, the Indicative Mood, and Narrative: Soundings in the Greek of the New Testament. Studies in Biblical Greek, vol. 13. New York: Peter Lang, 2007. 285 pgs. Hardcover (available now): ISBN, 1433100231, $119.95 (!); paperback, coming in December, ISBN: 1433100037, $34.95.
This is the proverbial “light revision” of the author’s dissertation (PhD, Macquarie Univ, 2006) done under the supervision of Trevor Evans (and examined by DA Carson, Moises Silva, and Anssi Voitila–I don’t know AV, but the rest of the examing committee is a formidable one! 🙂 ) Campbell now teaches at Moore Theological College in Australia.
I first saw this book in late July when Andy Naselli let me borrow his copy overnight at a conference where we were both speaking (I had about 3 hours of actual reading time with it then). I received my own copy several weeks ago and have have been reading/thinking my way through it as time permitted since then. My overall assessment is very positive. Con develops an area that has needed attention for some time: the discourse function of aspect in narrative. Porter’s work has suggested some lines of approach, and my own book spent a bit of time on it as well, but those were only sidelines rather than the main purpose of those books (vols. 1 and 10 in the same SBG series).
The test corpus is primarily the Gospel of Luke, but, to avoid some of the limitations in studies (like my own in Mark) of a single corpus, he also adds several other corpora: John, Life of Aseop, Story of Callirhoe, narrative sections of the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, a section of Thucydides, and a speech in Lysias. That covers primarily koine texts, but with the last two representing Attic works. This is a good methodological step (though one which has added an enormous amount of extra work–well worth it, but lots of work nonetheless!).
The approach within this corpus is different from other related studies to date. He uses a statistical method to demonstrate the clear patterns of the various tenses of the indicative mood in various strands of narrative. For example, 96.3% of the present indicatives in Luke are found in direct discourse, and when other forms of discourse are added (indirect and authorial) the figure rises to 97.8%. The imperfect is similar at 91.6% in narrative. By contrast the aorist indicative has 77.7% of its uses in Luke in narrative proper or embedded narrative. And so on.
I found the first four chapters, in particular, to be compatible with the aspect system within which I have been working for the past dozen years. Con demonstrates that there are clear aspectual patterns and that these are not based on temporal reference of the verb. Beginning in chapter five, however, there are some differences. The fifth chapter deals with the future tense and proposes two major points: the future grammaticalizes perfective aspect and that the future tense (unlike present, aorist and imperfect) encodes temporal reference (in this case, future time). I have not yet been persuaded of the first of these (that the future is perfective), mostly on methodological grounds; I do not think there is sufficient justification for the methodological grounds which Con says result in his conclusion. (You can read it for yourself and see what you think!) As to his second thesis in this chapter (that the future tense encoding future time), I accept this as a possible corrective to my approach (following Porter, that the future is not, strictly speaking, a consistently future time tense). I need to think about it some more before I make a decision on this one.
The sixth chapter is perhaps Con’s most unique contribution. Here he argues that the perfect tense grammaticalizes imperfective aspect rather than perfect/stative aspect, as McKay and Porter argue (I have followed Porter’s terminology here), or the traditional def. or Fanning’s or Wallace’s tweaks to it. This is the longest chapter in the book and the most demanding. I’ve not “bought” the aspect classification yet,* but it is quite interesting that the way Con works out the function of the perfect, as the heightened imperfective form, comes very close to the way I’ve been working with the perfect in narrative for some time. Perhaps he has a better explanation as to why this is, but at the functional level it is ironically close (even in translation) to a stative aspect approach.
*My hesitancy on classing the perfect as imperfective is particularly because I’m not convinced that just because the perfect appears statistically in discourse along with the present that this must mean that the perfect must share the same aspect. If there were a third category, why can’t it function in the same narrative strand as one of the other aspects? Unless it were an aspect that overlapped with both the perfective and imperfective forms in some way, it would *have* to be in either narrative or discourse!
The result here is that verbs are described both in terms of aspect (perfective/imperfective) and in terms of “spatial quality”: proximate and remote (for present and imperfect; I like the terminology here), but with an additional grouping: heightened proximity for the perfect and heightened remoteness for the pluperfect. This means that the perfect functions in one of two ways: intensively or prominently. In Con’s words, “It is proposed here that heightened proximity is a semantic value that involves one of two pragmatic implicatures: the first is the intensive use of the perfect…; the second is the prominent use of the perfect” (201). The distinction drawn here between semantics and pragmatics is crucial and Con gets it right. He defines the aspect value as semantics, but recognizes that this aspect functions (= pragmatics) in particular ways, due in part to the Aktionsart value of the verb employed.
The same approach is taken for the pluperfect: imperfective aspect, but related to the imperfect as the present is to the perfect–it heightens the remoteness of the imperfect. As Con puts it, “the pluperfect supplements the supplement [i.e., the imperfect], or gives the background to the background” (231).
I like the explanatory power as to how this works out in narrative. It sounds very much like what I’ve been teaching my students for some time. I’m just not sure about how we define the aspect of the plu/perfect tenses. Maybe Con is right and we ought to class them as imperfective. But maybe stative is adequate as well (if so, the definition could use some clarification, as Con rightly points out). The key, I think, will be working through the sort of verbs that are used in this way and thinking about how their Aktionsart affects this. Con gives a number of examples along this line–enough to provide a good starter for someone else’s dissertation! (Perhaps several.) And it might also begin to show the exegetical vlaue of the category of Aktionsart–which I’ve told my students more than once hasn’t been worked out very helpfully yet.
I’ve some other thoughts on specific issues (e.g., how periphrastics work in this framework–which Con mentions several times–Rob Green, are you getting this dissertation hint? 🙂 ), but this is long enough already.
The bottom line (for those of you who stuck with a technical summary this long!): buy this book. If you have a corporate/library budget, get it now. If you’re paying with your own money, order the paperback and wait (impatiently) until it’s available in December (at least if the Amazon.com info is correct as to its availability).
Update: I tweaked one phrase to clarify one of Con’s points (at his suggestion).
Also see Andy Naselli’s earlier note regarding this book.