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The Category of Aspect

The Category of Aspect

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Published by: Trilli77 on Aug 07, 2010
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06/04/2013

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THE CATEGORY OF ASPECT
Aspect
 – 
a notion of time, distinct from tense, which describes the internal temporal structure of eventsWhat Tense and Aspect have in common: both are functional categories delimiting the lexical category Verb, theyare related morpho-syntactically (realized by verb inflections and auxiliaries) and semantically (both partake of thenotion Time but in distinct ways).Where Tense and Aspect differ:Tense
 – 
represents the chronological order of events in time as perceived by the speaker at the moment of speaking;it locates the time of the event in the sentence relative to NOWAspect
 – 
gives info about the contour of the event as viewed by the speaker at a given moment in timeTraditional grammars: aspect is used for the perfective
 – 
imperfective opposition, referring to different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situationThe perfective
 – 
provides a holistic view upon the event, looking at the situation from outsideThe imperfective
 – 
is concerned with the internal phases of the situation, it looks at the situation from insideCurrent approaches: aspect covers two perspectives. It is still used to refer to the presentation of events throughgrammaticized viewpoints such as the perfective and the imperfective (viewpoint / grammatical aspect). In addition,the term also refers to the inherent temporal structuring of the situations themselves, internal event structure orAktionsart (situation/eventuality-type aspect). Situation/eventuality type aspect refers to the classification of verbalexpressions into states, activities, achievements, accomplishments and semelfactives (how we conceive of situationsor states of affairs).Both viewpoint aspect and situation type aspect convey info about temporal factors such as the beginning, end andduration of a state of affairs/situation. However, we need to draw a clear line between them as situation types andviewpoint aspect are realized differently in the grammar of language, i.e. they differ in their linguistic expression:-
 
viewpoint aspect (perfective vs imperfective) is signaled by a grammatical morpheme in English (be-ing);it is an overt category-
 
situation type aspect is signaled by a constellation of lexical morphemes. Situation types are distinguishedat the level of the verb constellation (i.e. the verb and its arguments (subjects and objects) and the sentence(adverbials)). Situation types lack explicit morphological markers. Situation type aspect exemplifies thenotion of a covert category.Compare:She ate an apple.She was eating an apple.She walked to the park.She was walking to the park.The two components of the aspectual system of a language interact with each other in all languages, althoughacross languages, aspectual systems vary considerably, especially the viewpoint subsystem. Situation types canbe distinguished as covert categories in all languages.Since Aspect can be assumed to be defined as the interaction of the lexical meaning of the verb, the nature of itsarguments (subjects and objects) and grammatical inflection, aspectual meaning holds for sentences rather thanfor individual verbs or verb phrases. Sentences present aspectual info about situation type and viewpoint.Although they co-occur, the two types of info are independent. Consider:Mary walked to school. (perfective
 – 
past tense, goal / natural endpoint)Mary was walking to school. (imperfective
 – 
be-ing, goal not reached)Mary walked in the park. (perfective, no goal; the event was simply terminated)Conclusion:Aspectual info is given by the linguistic forms of the sentences: situation type is signaled by the verb and itsarguments, while viewpoint is signaled by a grammatical morpheme, usually part of the verb or verb phrase.
 
The perfective viewpoint gives info about endpoints (beginning and end) while the imperfective gives infoabout internal or other stages or phases.The domain of aspect offers choices within a closed system to the speakers of a language. There is a small,fixed set of viewpoints and situation/eventuality types. One of each must be chosen whenever a sentence is
framed. In other words, speakers‟ choices in
presenting actual situations are limited by conventionalcategorization, conventions of use and the constraints of truth.
ASPECT - Conceptual features of the situations types
There are three semantic features that help us distinguish among situation types: [+/- stative], [+/- telic] and [+/-durative]. They function as shorthand for the cluster of properties that distinguishes them.
[+/- STATIVE]
 
covers the distinction between „stasis‟ and „motion‟ and separates situation types into the classes of 
states and events (activities, accomplishments, achievements and semelfactives).
States are the simplest of situation types, consisting of undifferentiated moments. States are said to „hold‟ whereas
events occur, happen, take place or culminate. Events are doings; they are [+ dynamic] or [- stative], involvingcausation (which includes both agentive and non-agentive subjects), activity and change. Events consist of stages/phases rather than undifferentiated moments.
[+/- TELIC]
separates situation types into telic and atelic. Telic situation types are directed towards a goal/outcome,that is, they have a culmination point. The goal may be intrinsic to the event, in this case constituting its naturalendpoint, as it is with accomplishments and achievements (e.g.
break 
). In other cases, the endpoint is arbitrary, as itis for activities and semelfactives, which can be stopped or terminated at any time.N.B. The existence of telicity does not necessarily imply the presence of an internal argument (a syntactic object)and conversely the existence of an internal argument does not imply telicity:a)
 
John stood up in a second. (telicity given by the particle „up‟; the verb is intransitive/atelic)
 b)
 
John pushed the cart for hours. (the verb has a direct object/internal argument, yet the situation is anactivity)N.B. Telic events are not limited to events that are under the control of an agent. In
The rock fell to the ground.
there
is a final point given by the expression „to the ground‟, but the subject is not an agent
.
[+/- DURATIVE]
distinguishes between situation types that take time (activities, states, accomplishments) andinstantaneous events (achievements and semelfactives). Duration is grammaticized overtly or covertly. In Englishduration is explicitly indicated by adverbials (
 for 
phrases) and main verbs (
keep
,
continue
). The imperfectiveviewpoint (be
 – 
ing) is also related to duration, since imperfective focuses on the internal stages of durativesituations. With instantaneous events, which lack an interval, the imperfective may focus on preliminary oriterated/repeated stages:She was jumping up and down. (repeated activity from a semelfactive)The plane was landing. (preliminary stage from an achievement)+/- stative +/- durative +/- telicStates Stative Durative AtelicActivities Dynamic Durative AtelicAccomplishments Dynamic Durative TelicAchievements Dynamic Instantaneous TelicSemelfactives Dynamic Instantaneous Atelic
 
STATES
States are stable situations. Typical, basic states are:
know the answer, be tall, desire, want 
. States are characterizedby the features [+ stative] and [+ durative]. The feature [+ telic] is not relevant for states because they areunbounded and have an abstract atemporal quality. Intuitively, they predicate a quality or property of an individual(possession, location, belief and other mental states, dispositions, etc).There are different types of states: basic-level states and derived stative predicates.Basic-level statesAccording to the type of referent they apply to, basic states separate into predicates that apply to individuals (kindsof objects or objects) or to stages of individuals. Thus, English syntactically distinguishes between:a)
 
Individual level predicates: permanent, non-temporary states (
know, desire, be tall, be widespread 
), whichdescribe relatively stable, non-transitory inherent properties that apply to individuals (objects or kinds), andb)
 
Stage level predicates: temporary states (
be available, be in the garden, be drunk, be angry
), which denotetransitory properties and apply to stages of individuals. They are compatible with expressions of simpleduration and punctuality: He was angry for an instant. She was hungry at noon.c)
 
Individual / stage level predicates: with interval statives, that is, with verb constellations of position andlocation (
sit, lie, perch, sprawl, stand 
). They may appear in the progressive, although they involve noagency or change.The socks are lying on the bed. (stage level predicate)London lies on the Thames. (individual level predicate)*London is lying on the Thames.Here, the progressive has a stative interpretation (they denote temporary states), whereas usually theprogressive is associated with an active interpretation. The progressive is acceptable with these predicates only if thesubject denotes a moveable object, hence the ungrammaticality of the third sentence in which London does notqualify as a moveable object.Derived stativesa)
 
generic sentencesb)
 
habitual sentencesEvents can be recategorized into states, changing into individual level predicates, if used in the simple present orpast. They are semantically stative precisely because they denote properties that hold over individuals orpatterns/generalizations over events rather than specific situations.Tigers eat meat. (generic)My cat eats carrots. (habitual)He writes novels. (habitual)N.B. Perception verbs (
see
), verbs of feeling (
like, love
) and some verbs of mental states (
know, understand 
), whichare stative at the basic level of classification, may also have an achievement interpretation in the context of adverbs
like „suddenly‟ or with completive adverbials. Compare:
 I saw the city hall from my window. (state)Suddenly, I saw a star. (achievement)I like music. (state)I liked him in a second. (achievement)
ACTIVITIES (PROCESSES)
The term „process‟ is favored over „activity‟ because, while „activity‟ is associated with human agency, “process”
encompasses both activities associated with human subjects (external causation) (
he swam/slept/strolled in the park 
)and activities that are not cases of human agency (
the ball rolled/moved, it rained for hours, the jewels glittered 
).Processes are atelic, durative, dynamic events. An activity does not have a goal or natural endpoint. Its termination
is merely cessation of activity, that is, an activity has an arbitrary endpoint, which is why they simply „stop‟ or „terminate‟, but never „finish‟.
Process sentences consist of verb constellations presenting a process situation. The verb constellations may consistof:
a)
 
an atelic verb and compatible complements (if any):
 push a cart, play chess/the piano, laugh, sleep, think about, dream, walk in the park, run along the beach, enjoy, etc.

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