Aspect as a Communicative Category: Evidence from English, Russian and French

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Abstract

On the basis of internal evidence from primarily the use of imperfective forms and external evidence from primarily first language acquisition, it is argued that English, Russian, and French aspect differ from one another, because they go back to an obligatory choice among three possible communicative directions: should a grammatical category be grounded in the speaker's experience of a situation, in the situation referred to or in the hearer as information about the situation? The progressive vs. non-progressive distinction in English is acquired in the present tense of atelic (simplex) verbs as a distinction within imperfectivity between the speaker's visual or non-visual experience. It is first-person oriented. The perfective vs. imperfective distinction in Russian is learnt in the past tense of telic (complex) verbs as a distinction between two complex situations in reality, an event and a process. It is third-person oriented. French aspect in written discourse is a three-way distinction between one imperfective form, imparfait , and two perfective forms, passé composé and passé simple , which present a deductive, abductive and inductive argument to the reader. It is learnt in school and is connected to the meta-distinction between atelic (simplex) and telic (complex) verbs. It is second-person oriented. The specific order arrived at reflects the Peircean categories of Firstness, Secondness, and Thirdness and their predictions. This can account for the fact that the English and Russian types can be found in the same language (e.g., Chinese) and the Russian and French types, too (e.g., Georgian), but never the English and French types
Original languageEnglish
JournalLingua
Volume209
Pages (from-to)44-77
Number of pages34
ISSN0024-3841
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

Keywords

  • Perfectivity and imperfectivity
  • External and internal evidence
  • Atelic and telic verbs
  • States, activities, and actions
  • Direct and indirect reference
  • Lexical-grammatical and grammatical categories

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