Aspect defs. (long)

From: Rolf Furuli (
Date: Sun Aug 03 1997 - 09:43:37 EDT

Fri, 1 Aug 1997 08:11:59 Rod Decker had an interesting "Summary of Verbal

Dear Rod,

You have done a good job with your definitions which generally are clear
and illuminating. And your system is coherent and logical. Particularly
fine is the way you differentiate between aspect and Aktionsart (I use
aspect as you do but Aktionsart for what you call lexis, the result being
one strict objective and one strict subjective category, which are easy to
work with). Agreeing with your definition of the nature of aspect, I will
concentrate on the definition of the imperfective and perfective ones,
which I find problematic.

< Perfective aspect views the situation in summary as a complete event
without <regard for its progress (or lack thereof). Imperfective aspect
views the <situation as in progress without regard for its beginning or end.

I realize that this is the view of Porter, Fanning and others with a long
experience, and that my suggestion is a humble innovation made by myself.
But just the same I find the above explanation problematic. A definition of
the imperfective aspect should be compatible with all the uses of this
aspect (or be the common denominator), but this is hardly the case with the
above definition.
The most important objection is that the beginning often is included in the
imperfective aspect. Further do we have conative events, viewing an
attempted action "before the beginning",and we have iterative events, to
mention the most clearcut counterexamples to "without regard for its
beginning and end". I also see problems with the "complete event"
definition of the perfective aspect. It may be compatible with most
situations, but neither with states where the entrance into the state is
stressed or where the state continues and therefore just a part of it is
made visible.

My suggestion is that we discard "viewed from the inside" and "viewed from
the outside", and difine both aspects as viewed from the outside, the
difference beeing that of scope and distance: The perfective aspect is a
view from some distance, covering the whole state or event or a great part
of the state, details not visible. The imperfective aspect is a closeup
view of a small part of the event or state, details being visible. As far
as I can see this definition is compatible with ALL uses of the perfective
and imperfective aspect.We get the following picture: B= beginning, E= end,
xxx= area of focus


-xxxB----------E--- = conative
----Bxxx-------E--- = inceptive
----B--xxx-----E--- = progressive (there are more alternatives between B and E)
----B------xxxxE--- = egressive
----B-------xxxEx-- = resultative


--xBxxxxxxxxxxEx-- = seen as a whole


--xBxxxxxxxxxxEx-- = seen as a whole
---xBxx-------E--- = ingressive
-xxxBxxxxxx---E--- = a part is viewed

<The categories often used in traditional grammars (tendential, gnomic,
<iterative, etc.) are not appropriate to either aspect or Aktionsart in the
<sense defined above. They are relevant as descriptions of the verbal
<complex, but not of specific verbs or specific forms of verbs.<9> This
<approach, illustrated in figure 7, seeks to balance formal and contextual
<contributions, form and function, semantics and pragmatics.<10>

I see your logic here. I will, however, remark that for instance a category
called iterative is accounted for by my outline above. We must remember
that aspects are not creating the meaning of events and states, but aspects
are used as a means to communicate something which is a reality, in the way
the reporter wants to make it visible. An interative/frequentative event
may be communicated by either of the two aspects. If the context implies
iterativity/frequency a perfective aspect may be used. If the context does
not, an imperfective aspect may be used. The logic seems to be that if we
have a semelfactive verb, say knock, and the reporter will communicate a
series of knocks, he chooses the closeup view, because this aspect is used
to make visible a small part of an event and not one single occurrence.

The general nature of aspect is clear, what needs to be discussed is the
nature of the SUBJECTIVITY of aspects, and the meaning of the imperfective
versus the perfective aspect.


Rolf Furuli
University of Oslo

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