Verb aspect: Definition – Part 2

June 23rd, 20121:55 am


Verb aspect: Definition – Part 2

Verb aspect: Definition – Part 1

All theoretical works on the category of aspect in Germanic languages may be easily divided into two types. The first shows a purely semantic ap­proach that describes actions without paying any attention to the way they are expressed. As a result, aspect is seen not as an element of certain verbal forms but as a feature peculiar to a verb as a lexical unit. That is, aspectual characteristics are attributed to the lexical meaning of a verb.

The explanation why the first attempts of grammarians to study the problem of aspect in English brought them into the sphere of lexicology is not hard to find, if we keep in mind that Germanic aspect forms were con­stantly compared with aspect forms in Slavic languages. In Slavic languages the category of aspect is composed of pairs of parallel verbs, one of them denotes a completed action, the other – an action in progress (писати – написати, читати – прочитати). In Germanic languages, as it is known, such oppositions are non-existent but, since the aspect theory in Germanic languages was rooted in the Slavonic aspect theory, studies of aspect in Germanic languages tended to be restricted to analysis of lexical groups, not verbal forms as it was the case in the Slavic system. As a result, verbs were divided into various groups in accordance with their lexical meaning. For example, the division might be drawn along the lines of terminative or non-terminative semantics. As a result, verbs were divided into terminative (to come, to die, to reach, to find, to lose, to make, to descend, to forget, to bring, to say, to approach, to give, to take, to start) and non-terminative (to belong, to blame, to conflict, to consist, to contain, to detest, to endure, to await, to grow, to hold, to hope, to lie).

On the basis of lexical meaning, the differentiation of verbs could also be drawn along the following types of aspectual characteristics: 1) durative; 2) frequentative; 3) ingressive; 4) momentaneous; 5) iterative; 6) inchoative, i.e. denoting the beginning of an action. For example, the verbs to keep, to stand, to remain are sometimes referred to those expressing so-called Durative Aspect, to hammer, to pant, to flicker to verbs of Frequen­tative Aspect, to quicken, to brighten, to strengthen to verbs expressing Ingressive Aspect and so on.

Gradually, linguists have come to realize that the criterion of aspectual meaning could hardly be seen as belonging to the lexical sphere. The main function of the lexical meaning is to name a certain notion, the grammatical meaning is never revealed in a word explicitly. The grammatical meaning is only an accompanying (but, of course, necessarily present in a word) meaning. These considerations gave rise to the second approach that may be called grammatical. According to the grammatical point of view, aspect is a grammatical, not lexical category.

Hermann Paul Poutsma was the first who took into account the influence of context. The linguist pointed out that one and the same verb may enter different groups, and that it was context that ultimately influenced verbal aspectual characteristics. Poutsma observed these changes in so-called mo­mentaneous verbs when they occur in an “expanded” form: momentaneous verbs, as Poutsma noted, either acquire in this form a “more or less durative character” (Dawn was already breaking) or change their meaning.

Another classification was put forward by Deutschbein in his work Aspekte und Aktionsarten im Neuenglischen. He suggested that English had three aspect types: Introspective (I am writing), Retrospective (I have written) and Prospective (7 am going to write). However, this classification lacks consistency as soon as it is not purely grammatical but notional (i.e. the starting point here is meaning, not grammatical forms). Besides, Deutschbein regards aspect as a category that has nothing to do with tense. Meanwhile, tense and aspect are tightly connected categories. One may ar­gue the degree of their integrity, or which of them is subordinated to the other, but it is hardly possible to argue their interrelation.

Holt in his work Etudes d’aspect tried to interpret grammatical phe­nomena as a system in a new way. According to the scholar, the English language has three aspects:

1) Perfect expressing completion and being a positive element in the aspectual system;

2) Durative conveying incomplete actions and being a negative element in the system;

3) Indefinite – the neutral element.

Soviet linguists tended to regard tense forms as aspectual ones, though some denied aspectual characteristics to the Past Perfect forms (see Ilyish). Also, Smirnitskiy supported the idea that aspect exists in English arguing that as soon as the phrases he sat and he was sitting are lexically identical, there should be some grammatical difference between them. According to Smirnitskiy, one may discern here two different characteristics of an action: the statement of an action in the first case and the progressive character of an action – in the second. This linguist distinguished only the Indefinite and the Progressive forms as aspectual ones, whereas Perfect forms were excluded from his classification.

By now a definite understanding of aspect has been worked out. As a result, aspect is seen as a grammatical category, that is, the unity of a gram­matical meaning and a grammatical form. Aspectual meaning is a meaning of an inherent limit of an action. The inherent limit is a moment when the action is completed because it is exhausted and cannot develop any more. For example, the verb to arrive has a moment of arrival as a limit, so in the sentence He is arriving the limit is not achieved, whereas it is clearly achieved in the sentence He arrived in the evening. The further elaboration of this category may differ from author to author.