Variety in Ancient Greek aspect interpretation


The wide range of interpretations of aoristic and imperfective aspect in Ancient Greek cannot be attributed to unambiguous aspectual operators but suggest an analysis in terms of coercion in the spirit of de Swart (Nat Lang Linguist Theory 16:347–385, 1998). But since such an analysis cannot explain the Ancient Greek data, we combine Klein’s (Time in language, 1994) theory of tense and aspect with Egg’s (Flexible semantics for reinterpretation phenomena, 2005) aspectual coercion approach. Following Klein. (grammatical) aspect relates the runtime of an eventuality and the current time of reference (topic time). We claim that these relations can trigger aspectual selection restrictions (and subsequent aspectual coercions) just like e.g. aspectually relevant temporal adverbials, and are furthermore susceptible to the Duration Principle of Egg (Flexible semantics for reinterpretation phenomena, 2005): Properties of eventualities must be compatible with respect to the duration they specify for an eventuality. The Duration Principle guides the selection between different feasible coercion operators in cases of aspectual coercion but can also trigger coercions of its own. We analyse the interpretations of aorist and imperfective as cases of coercion that avoid impending violations of aspectual selection restrictions or of the Duration Principle, which covers cases that are problematic for de Swart’s (Nat Lang Linguist Theory 16:347–385, 1998) analysis.


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We thank Emar Maier, Henriëtte de Swart, Peter de Swart, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments on earlier versions of this paper.

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Correspondence to Markus Egg.

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Bary, C., Egg, M. Variety in Ancient Greek aspect interpretation. Linguist and Philos 35, 111–134 (2012).

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  • Semantics
  • Aspect
  • Ancient Greek
  • Aspectual coercion