LINGUIST List 10.812

Mon May 24 1999

Sum: Verbs of inert perception

Editor for this issue: Jody Huellmantel <>


  1. Minako NAKAYASU, Summary: Verbs of inert perception

Message 1: Summary: Verbs of inert perception

Date: Mon, 24 May 1999 13:59:37 +0000
From: Minako NAKAYASU <>
Subject: Summary: Verbs of inert perception

Dear linguists,

It was almost half a year ago when I made a query about verbs of inert
perception. (I apologize for the delay of this summary.) My sincere
thanks go to these 25 linguists listed below and an anonymous one who
kindly replied to the questions:

Shelley Tulloch
Marilyn Silva
Noel Hunt
Patrick C. Ryan
Gaby Charing
Lee Hwee Hoon
John Atkinson
Vincent Jenkins
Dick Watson
Peter T. Daniels
Price Caldwell
E. Basir
Patricia M. Lestrade
Mai Kuha
Karen Davis
Gwen A. Frishkoff
Annie Clark
Deborah Milan Berkley
Scott Thomas
Daniel E. Collins
Jack Wiedrick
Yasuhisa Watanabe
Suzette Haden Elgin
Mary Ward

- -----------------------------------------------------
My original query was like the following:

I would like to conduct a very small survey about verbs which Leech
(1987: 2nd edition) calls 'verbs of inert perception.' In the
examples below, do you accept both simple and progressive forms? If
so, which would you prefer and why?

(1) (a doctor to a patient) How do you feel/are you feeling?
(2) (to your friend) How do you feel/are you feeling?
(3) (in a taxi) Please stop. My wife feels/'s feeling sick.
(4) (in a taxi) Please stop. I feel/'m feeling sick.
(5) (Could you make a proper context?) I feel/'m feeling I can do that.

(I corrected the mistakes in numbering.)
- -----------------------------------------------------

First of all, Leech (1987, 2nd ed.) classifies perception verbs into
active and inert. In case of _feel_, active perception 'touch' can
take both simple and progressive forms; inert perception, according to
his argument, normally takes only simple form. The fact, however,
does not seem to be like this: _feel_ of inert perception often takes
progressive form. In my survey, almost all the linguists point out
that the significant difference exists between (1) - (4) and (5).
That is, the former can employ either the simple or the progressive
form with some (sometimes very slight) difference in meaning; in the
latter, on the other hand, the progressive form is much less
acceptable. This difference in reaction is produced probably because
there are at least 2 types of _feel_ of 'inert perception.' For this
reason, it would be proper for me to start examining the results of
the former four.

My working hypothesis was that which form, i.e. simple or progressive,
the speaker employs is due to the closeness he or she feels toward the
subject: that is, the simple form expresses remoteness while the
progressive signifies closeness. The responses are, against my
expectation, diverse. Not simply less close/close, but also
friendly/less friendly, blunt/emotive, formal/less formal,
immediate/less immediate, general/time-specific, stable/changeable
(this seems to be a basic difference between the two),
statement/excuse, ingressive/progresive, and so on. The results go as
in the following. The number in the parentheses signifies the number
of the linguists who are of that opinion. The last one 'depending on
the situation' does not necessarily mean that only one of them is
possible: the other is also possible, though it sounds better in such
and such situation. I will introduce the opinions that are
conspicuous in the survey.

(1) equally acceptable (9)
 simple better (1)
 simple only (1)
 progressive better (0)
 progressive only (0)
 depending on the situation (15)

"How do you feel?" is a more typical expression in a medical
situation. This implies that the doctor has some knowledge of the
patient's history: the doctor is asking how the patient feels after
the operation or treatment, or knows how the patient was feeling
(probably ill) last time. For this reason, it is quite natural to say
"How do you feel today?" On the other hand, in the progressive case,
it could be the first visit, and the doctor is asking the patient's
condition during medical check-up or some treatment. However, some
linguists are against this idea and argue that it is the other way

(2) equally acceptable (9)
 simple better (2)
 simple only (0)
 progressive better (1)
 progressive only (1)
 depending on the situation (13)

In addition to less friendly/friendly distinction between the simple
and the progressive, the linguists let me know of the differences in
situation. In the simple form, the speaker knows that something has
happened to the hearer, e.g. accident, nausea, cramp, or the hearer
has just woke up. In the same way as (1), it needs a context as in
"How do you feel today?" Interestingly enough, the progressive can be
used as a greeting, "How are you doing/going?" And I find it
intriguing that there is a further possibility of meaning. In the
simple form, "How do you feel about the proposed argument?" is no more
asking the hearer's experience of sensation but his or her opinion.
It can be demonstrated by the context a linguist let me know of, "I
think Phil Dick is the greatest author who ever lived. How do you
feel?" I will come back to this point later in (5).

(3) equally acceptable (5)
 simple better (4)
 simple only (0)
 progressive better (6)
 progressive only (2)
 depending on the situation (9)

(4) equally acceptable (11)
 simple better (4)
 simple only (0)
 progressive better (0)
 progressive only (0)
 depending on the situation (11)

In (3) and (4), _feel_ signifies an on-the-spot assessment and the
situation is an emergency. The progressive form, on the other hand,
implies the person has been sick for a while. Though many of the
linguists do not notice a significant difference between the two and
vacillate in judgment, it can be said that in case of the wife, the
time lag exists and therefore the assessment is less immediate. In
fact, a linguist states that this expression itself is less
appropriate with strangers. I suppose that the subject of _feel(ing)_
is an interesting point to pursue.

(5) equally acceptable (0)
 simple better (7)
 simple only (12)
 progressive better (1)
 progressive only (0)
 depending on the situation (6)

The _feel_ in this example means something like 'have an opinion,'
'believe,' or 'think.' The simple form sounds completely acceptable,
the progressive being unacceptable or by far less acceptable. Some of
the linguists state that the progressive is not standard English,
although the meaning is intelligible to them. (What attracted my
attention is 'Friends English,' which is from American TV series
'Friends' and uses the progressive very often.) Another linguists,
who judge the progressive acceptable, inform me of the difference
between the two. The progressive signifies a tentative, temporary
(changeable) state of mind and the speaker is less confident. It
should be noted that the simple is employed as a response to a request
as in "Do you think you could have the accounts ready by 5 p.m. today?
- Yes, I feel I can do that." The request is normally a
time-consuming or difficult job. The progressive, on the other hand,
is not a response: the speaker has been trying to do it for a while
and now on the brink of actually doing it, for example, during a
treatment of phobia.

Sorry for anything I might have missed. Again, I appreciate the help
very much.

Shigakukan University (former Kagoshima Women's College)
1904 Uchi, Hayato-cho, Aira-gun, Kagoshima
899-5194 Japan
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