Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 3

June 26th, 20121:32 am


Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 3

Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 1
Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 2

Definitions of progressiveness found in some traditional grammars, along the lines of describing a situation in progress, often fail to bring out the difference between progressiveness and imperfectivity. So, in what does progressiveness differ from imperfectivity? Firstly, imperfectivity includes as a special case habituality, and a situation can be viewed as habitual with­out its being viewed as progressive, as with the English non-Progressive Habitual in Mary used to write poems (contrasting with the Progressive Mary used to be writing poems). As examples like Mary used to be writing poems show, progressiveness is compatible with habituality: a given situa­tion can be viewed both as habitual, and as progressive, i.e. each individual occurrence of the situation is presented as being progressive, and the sum total of all these occurrences is presented as being habitual (the habitual of a progressive).

Just as habituality does not determine progressiveness, so equally pro­gressiveness does not determine habituality, i.e. a situation can be viewed as progressive without being viewed as habitual, as in Mary was writing a letter at 7 p.m. on the fifth of May 2005 (not *Mary used to be writing a let­ter at 7 p.m. on the fifth of May 2005, since the specification of the one oc­casion on which the situation took place excludes the* possibility of habitual meaning).

The ability to express Progressive meaning is used as basis to classify verbs into stative and active. Within this classification, it has been tacitly assumed that some verbs are stative, while others are not. A classification implies that lexical items are divided into non-overlapping sets. With Eng­lish verbs, however, this is not the case: there are many verbs that are treated sometimes as stative, sometimes as non-stative, depending on the particular meaning they have in the given sentence. One such verb is the English verb to be, so that in addition to John is silly we have John is being silly. The second of these can be paraphrased by John is acting in a silly manner, with the non-stative verb act, whereas it is not possible in the first case. The first sentence does not imply that John is doing anything silly at the moment, in­deed he may be behaving quite sensibly at the moment, the only claim is that in general he is silly; the second refers specifically to the way John is behav­ing at the moment, and makes no claim beyond this about his behaviour at other times. Another non-stative use of stative verbs in English can be found in sentences like I‘m liking San Diego more and more every day. Normally, the verb to like is stative. In the example given above with the Progressive of to like, however, the reference is not to an unchanging state of attraction but rather of a change in the degree of attraction: on any given day, I like San Diego more than on any previous day. Thus, the verb to like here refers not to a state, but to a developing process, whose individual phases are es­sentially different from one another.

Even if we allow for non-stative uses of basically stative verbs, howev­er, there are still some uses of the English Progressive that are not accounted for. Thus such verbs as to live, to stand (in the sense of being in a certain position, rather than of assuming that position) are stative and as a rule may not appear in the progressive. However, in English their progressive forms are used and contrast with the corresponding non-Progressive forms, as in I live in London and I’m living with my parents, or the Eiffel Tower stands in Paris and Ms Smith is standing by the Eiffel Tower. In such pairs, the non-Progressive refers to a more or less permanent state of affairs, whereas the Progressive refers to a more temporary state. Thus if I say I live in London, I imply that this is my normal residence, whereas if I say I’m living with my parents, I imply that this is only a temporary residence (for instance, while my flat is being redecorated). Similarly, in the examples with to stand: the Eiffel Tower is a permanent fixture in Paris, while we might expect Ms Smith to be a temporary feature, standing by the Eiffel Tower for a very lim­ited period of time. Equally, the English Progressive can refer to a habitual situation that holds for a relatively limited period, as in we ‘re having a lot of training sessions these days, at that time I was working part-time.

Verb: Perfective and Imperfective Aspect – Part 4