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Academic Year : 2015/2016

Department :English Language and Literature

:Culture and Linguistics (Master)
: Argument structure and Aspect
: 3, Module 16

Handout 04- Argument Structure and Aspect: An Introduction

The term "aspect" is recent; according to the Oxford English Dictionary, it appeared in
English for the first time in 1853. The concept was imported early in the nineteenth century
into the Western grammatical tradition from the study of Slavic grammar. It fully became part
of that tradition only at the end of that century.
The term "aspect" is a loan translation from the Slavic (e.g., Russian vid). vid is
etymologically cognate with the words view and vision. While the etymological root of aspect
is spect-, which means 'see, look (at), view' (cf. prospect, inspect, spectacle, etc.).
The use of the term "aspect" (vid) proceeds from the fact that the very same situation
(event or state of affairs) may be viewed either imperfectively or perfectively. In a given
context one or the other aspect may be preferred or even obligatory:
1. just the other day I visited Aunt Martha and saw your picture.
2. just the other day I was visiting Aunt Martha and saw your picture.
Both of these sentences describe the same event, although one views the visit as a completed
whole, from the outside as it were. While the other views it as an ongoing, incomplete action,
as if from the inside.
As is the case for tense, aspect was first discussed by the Greeks. The earliest Greek
grammarians seem to have been aware that alongside tense their language marked a second
type of distinction, the one which we call aspect. This is not to say that they understood it in
the way that we do or that they even necessarily distinguished aspectual phenomena as a
distinct type apart from tense. But it was clear to the Greeks that whatever the difference
between the imperfect and aorist tenses was, it was not the sort of differencetensewhich
obtains between the imperfect and the present.
The word comes from Ancient Greek aristos "indefinite",[1] as the aorist was
the unmarked (default) form of the verb, and thus did not have the implications of
the imperfective aspect, which referred to an ongoing or repeated situation, or the perfect,
which referred to a situation with a continuing relevance; instead it described an action "pure
and simple".
Defining Aspect
It is now possible to distinguish the three kinds of "aspect":
a- Aristotelian aspect is a classification of situations and expressions in terms of phasic
structural types;
b- the Aktionsarten,( modes d'action, "kinds of action) constitute a classification of
expressions for subsituations, phases, and subphases of situations; and
c- true aspect concerns the temporal relationship of a situation to the reference frame
against which it is set .
Aspect has to do with the relationship of the event time E to the reference frame R;
a- complexive (perfective) aspect has E within R,
b- imperfective has E and R overlapping, and
c- perfect has E preceding R
Prof. Afkinich

04- Aspect and Argument Structure: An Introduction


Aspect is a term that has been used in linguistics to refer to (at least) two distinct
domains of study. We can refer to these two domains respectively as
a- inner and outer aspect (Travis 1991: 7),
b- situation and viewpoint aspect (Smith 1991: 3), or
c- lexical and grammatical aspect. (MacDonald (2008)
The perfective/imperfective distinction in Romance as well as the progressive/perfect
distinction in English are examples of outer aspect. This aspect has also been referred to as
Aktionsart (Tenny & Pustejovsky 2000: 6). Syntactically speaking, the properties of inner
aspect are manifested only inside the verb phrase. This is not the case for outer aspect. English
outer aspect has morphological manifestations that inner aspect does not have. Outer aspect is
not affected by the nature of the internal argument, inner aspect is.
Aristotelian aspect
So called because Aristotle (in On the Soul) was the first to have distinguished among
three classes of verbs: States, activities, achievements and accomplishements. His distinction
is said to be of the lexical type.Both syntacticians and semanticists have come up with field
specific categorizations of verbs. Semanticists, starting with the pioneering work of Vendler
(1987) and Dowty (1987), have come up with Semanticists verb classes.
Semanticists verb classes
paint a picture
make a chair
deliver a sermon
push a cart
draw a circle
drive a car
recover from an illness
build a house
be happy
states are non-dynamic; while, activities are open-ended processes. achievements are nearinstantaneous events which are over as soon as they have begun. accomplishments are
processes which have a natural endpoint

Prof. Afkinich

04- Aspect and Argument Structure: An Introduction