LINGUIST List 31.2040

Mon Jun 22 2020

Confs: Syntax/France

Editor for this issue: Lauren Perkins <>

Date: 22-Jun-2020
From: Eric Corre <>
Subject: Conf/Journal Title DATE Message Subject ( Help ) Msg # New perspectives on aspect : from the “Slavic model” to other languages
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New perspectives on aspect : from the “Slavic model” to other languages

Date: 08-Apr-2021 - 10-Apr-2021
Location: Paris, France
Contact: Eric Corre
Contact Email: < click here to access email >
Meeting URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Syntax

Meeting Description:

In connection with the syllabus of the Agrégation externe (national examination for secondary school teaching qualification) in English, which includes the issue of Aspect, Paris 3 Sorbonne Nouvelle, Sorbonne Université and Université de Paris, with the added sponsorship of the Association des Linguistes Anglicistes de l’Enseignement Supérieur (ALAES), are holding a two-day international conference in April 2021:
- a whole day is devoted to aspect in English;
- the rest of the conference deals with aspect in various languages, including Russian.

Keynote speakers :
- John Beavers (university of Texas, Austin)
- Henriette de Swart (Université d’Anvers)
- Astrid de Wit (Université d’Anvers)
- Vladimir Plungian (Moscow State University)
- Laurent Gosselin (Université de Rouen)

Program Information:

Both the concept and the term “aspect”, as they are commonly used in non-Slavic Indo-European languages, essentially come from the description of Slavic languages, in which we find an obligatory morphological contrast between a perfective and an imperfective verb. B. Comrie’s seminal book Aspect (1976) contributed to the entrenchment of the Slavic model of aspect in the theoretical descriptions of English verbal categories, alongside the traditional concept of tense. Since Comrie & Smith (1991), many contemporary researchers in aspectology (in and beyond the study of English) have established a theoretical distinction between grammatical (outer, viewpoint) and lexical (inner, situation) aspect. Viewpoint aspect (Smith 1991), being expressed inflectionally, is manifested by a set of oppositions that largely overlap the category of tense: simple vs. progressive, perfect vs. non perfect constructions. According to Bertinetto & Delfitto (2000), « aspect is the specific perspective adopted by the speaker/writer », and it is distinct from actionality, or Aktionsart, « the type of event, specified according to a limited number of relevant properties » (190). The notion of perspective or viewpoint in turn sparked research into the types of non explicit aspectuo-temporal meanings licensed by some constructions: among others, we find the “general factual” use of the Russian imperfective (Forsyth 1970, Glovinskaja 2001, Grønn 2004), the modal values of the English progressive (Adamczewski 1982, Larreya & Rivière 2010), the mirative and sometimes evidential meanings conveyed by progressives cross-linguistically (Vafaeian 2018, de Wit 2017, Vydrin 2012). Many of the works devoted to aspect have noted paradoxes or puzzles: the “imperfective paradox” (Dowty 1979), which allows telic predicates to co-occur with the naturally unbounded progressive; the “present perfect puzzle” (Klein 1994), which sets out to explain the impossible interaction between an English present perfect construction and a specific temporal adverbial like yesterday, and more recently, the “perfective paradox” (de Wit 2017), which seeks to account for the incompatibility between the present tense and perfective aspect in some languages, especially Russian, and the strategies adopted by languages to overcome it.

We find a similar wealth of theories in the domain of lexical aspect: Vendler (1957) – but also Malsov (1947) – set the groundwork for the lexical aspectual classifications of verbs and verb phrases (VPs) according to their inherent temporal properties, among which the most prominent are dynamism, duration, (a)telicity. Following Vendler, those properties were fine-tuned with the introduction of independent features. For Verkuyl (1972, 1989, 2005) and Krifka (1989, 1992), (a)telicity is computed from the interaction between properties of the verb and the nominal in the VP. A crucial notion which features prominently in all models of aspectual classifications is the presence (or lack thereof) of a privileged endpoint to the action expressed by the verb, the telos. Many have demonstrated that Aktionsart (the verb and its complementation structure) and the (a)telicity associated with it, have important repercussions in the syntax of sentences and in argument alternations, as shown by Krifka (1992), Tenny (1994), Borer (2005), among others. This led to the concept of an aspectual role induced by certain distinguished arguments of the verb, in particular, the direct internal complement with its incremental theme role. The latter is a distinguished aspectual argument because it ensures the homomorphism between the object and the event, which sets apart telic or quantized arguments from others (cumulative), in turn providing independent criteria for deriving (a)telicity. In her book Aspectual roles and the Syntax-Semantics Interface (1994), Tenny came up with a challenging proposal in which she defended the notion of an aspectual role as the principle that underlies argument realization. In the same vein, the concept of event structure (Pustejovsky 1991 ; Levin & R. Hovav 1998, 2001, 2005 ; Croft 2012) was an attempt to provide stable and predictable principles of semantic/syntax mapping by appealing to Aktionsart and participative properties of verbs and their argument(s) – causation, among others. However, classification issues started to appear with variable-telicity verbs, also known as “degree achievements” (Dowty 1979): verbs like widen, lengthen, cool, dry, straighten, pose a difficulty: they can be telic or atelic if we subject them to the traditional tests for (a)telicity. These difficulties sparked more ambitious research into how telicity can be derived via independent features of certain verbs, in attempts to compute the notion of change from scalar dimensions in the semantics of those verbs. (Kennedy & Levin 2008, Beavers 2008, 2010).

The goal of this conference is to bring new perspectives on the different domains described above; we invite talks on any of the topics below, on English, Russian or any other language:

- Slavic languages, mainly Russian, have undoubtedly played a major role in the development of the concept of aspect. It would be interesting to further explore the question of the origin and definition of the “aspect” category from an epistemological standpoint, contrasting it with the other verbal category, tense (Comrie 1976, Dahl 1985). The pairing of verbs of different aspects, “perfective/imperfective” in Slavic languages has been accepted since the beginning of the 20th century (V.A. Bogorodickij 1904’s grammar); the works of Agrell (1908), who introduced the concept of Aktionsart, put an end to discussions on the number of aspects in Polish or Russian. The distinction between perfective and imperfective is found as early as 1904 in Bogorodickij’s grammar. In the Russian tradition, the term vid – the grammatical category of aspect – is distinct from aspektual’nost’ – “aspectuality”, the notional category. Therefore, we encourage talks on what is specific about Slavic aspect and the role of Slavist linguists in the formation of the concept. It is interesting to observe that most grammarians of the English language of the first half of the 20th century were busy defining sub-classes of aspects (Curme 1931), describing the “character’ (Poutsma 1921) of English verbs, and continued to call the progressive a “continous” ou “expanded” tense.

- Bidimensional theories of aspect like Smith (1991)’s, continue to hold a prominent place in most accounts of aspect. This leads to two types of issues:
1) it is necessary to distinguish between aspect as a grammatical category and aspect as a universal, notional category, which can be expressed by different means: many empirically-oriented approaches have shown that these means can vary a great deal across languages, and that one often finds polysemous aspectual clusters rather than neat oppositions between the two types of aspect (Dik 1989, Plungian 2012); sometimes, what pertains to a lexical aspect component in one language can be expressed grammatically in another (Tournadre 2004);
2) it is also important to question the nature of aspect itself: in Russian, this corresponds to the lexico-grammatical opposition between a perfective and an imperfective verb, even if it is very difficult to sum up its exact notional content; in other languages (including some Slavic languages like Bulgarian), the aspectual opposition may include other types: “accomplished/unaccomplished, aoristic/perfect”, etc. What is grammatically expressed in Slavic languages is the perfective vs. imperfective category, while other aspectual features are expressed lexically; in other languages, the distribution is different.

- However, as observed by de Wit (2017), some authors defend a unidimensional approach to aspect, like Sasse (2002) for whom lexical and grammatical aspect belong to a similar cognitive domain, [the domain] “of human perception of states of affairs in terms of situations and situation changes.” (37, quoted in de Wit 2017 :18). For these authors, aspectual meaning comes from several domains of the grammar and interacts with other domains. We invite talks on type-shifting or coercition-type theories of aspect, which contend that the main function of markers of grammatical aspect is to modify the input of basic actional types of events, and which de facto consider that grammatical aspect and Aktionsart are of the same ontological nature (Moens & Steedman 1998, de Swart 1998, 2000; Michaelis 2004).

- In relation with the question of aspectual coercion, it is also essential to further examine the different subtypes of imperfectivity: Comrie (1976) distinguishes between two sub-domains of imperfectivity, continuous and habitual imperfectives; the former is further divided into progressive and non-progressive. As regards habituals, it would be interesting to try and clarify certain notions, as in Gosselin (2013) for whom the frequentative is a sub-type of iterative aspect. Some languages have dedicated markers: Breton has one form of the verb bezañ, “be” in the frequentative mode, Hungarian uses a construction with a grammaticalised form of szokott, “used to”, followed by an infinitive, earlier Russian had the -iva/-yva suffix as a second imperfective (pisat’, ‘write’ > pisyvat’, ‘used to write’), English has the (semi-)modal auxiliaries would and used to, etc. Other languages such as French, do not have a dedicated marker of multiplicity, so that frequentative aspect emerges from the combination of several elements (scope of adverbials, tense, etc.), which requires a mechanism of conflit resolution (Gosselin 2013).

- Concerning lexical aspect and English in particular, one important topic to explore is the models that have proposed a unified and generalised analysis of variable (a)telicity verbs by uncovering an independent semantic feature along the lines of Kenney & Levin (2008:1), who contend that it is essential to take into account “a function that measures the degree to which an object changes relative to some scalar dimension over the course of an event”. The idea is that an argument or co-argument of the verb contains an underlying scale or measure function (quantity, distance, temperature, etc.) that can provide a criterion for ordering events of drinking, cooling, running, eating, etc., and select a possible maximal point on that scale. That in turn gives rise to (a)telicity (Rothstein 2004, Filip 2008). The outcome of such analyses is a classification based on independent principles: there are verbs of non scalar change and verbs of scalar change, associated with different types of scales (Rappaport Hovav 2008, Beavers 2008, 2010). This classification seems to correspond to a distinction that cuts across the English lexicon, namely that between manner and result verbs (Levin & Rappaport Hovav 2005, Levin 2010). The conference could be the occasion to explore whether this distinction is found in other languages, in particular those in which aspect is grammaticalized.

- In connection with the last topic, we invite talks on the aspectuality of the VP which can serve as an interface between the thematic structure and the syntactic projection of arguments, as suggested in the works of Tenny (1994), Borer (2005), etc. In particlar, it would be interesting to study the constructions and argument alternations which affect the Aktionsart of the VP: for English, the role of cognate objects, of the conative construction, of fake reflexives, of resultative constructions (Rosen 1999, Borer 2005), and for other languages (Inuktikut, Hungarian, Finnish, etc.), the phenomena of antipassive constructions, the role of cases, of verbal prefixes, etc.

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