Re: Tense and aspect in English

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Wed Apr 30 1997 - 09:26:58 EDT

On 30 Apr 97, A K M Adam wrote:

>I thought Aspect geeks didn't say "Aktionsart" at all. . . .

They always discuss it in their introductions, generally deciding it means
the same thing as lexical aspect. Some of them continue to use the term
Aktionsart, after pointing out what they mean by the term. The time element
of individual words is really pretty important to understanding aspect.

>To Jim's deliberations, let me point out that the construction in question
>depends on an idiomatic ellipsis of the notion "planning": "I was *planning*
>to go to my brother's house. . ." I'm not sure this example teaches us
>something about verb tenses themselves, save possibly that peculiar idioms
>of which we are no longer sensitive may play havoc with our theoretical

This example teaches us:

1. That native speakers can understand constructions like this without being
able to provide a logical explanation for the way that the tense use functions,
2. That this stuff can be really tricky for various reasons, including idioms,
3. That we shouldn't be too surprised if we have difficulty understanding
tense and aspect in Greek, since most of us don't have a good formal grasp
of it in English either, and
4. That this kind of problem is not limited to Greek.

It may also have ramifications for courtship and horseback riding, but I'm
not done analyzing this example yet, so I really can't say.

>I'm still most impressed with Mari's take on these matters.

So am I, and I really *do* think that formal theories can help us come up
with better explanations. But this stuff can get really complicated, and we
shouldn't be too surprised if we find it difficult.


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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