The Terminology of Aspect & Aktionsart

Stephen Carlson
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 14th, 2013, 1:16 am

Jonathan Robie wrote:OK, but let me try to understand your objection to the term "lexical aspect".

Most aspects of meaning of a verb are affected by the objects of the verb. Sure, "John walked in the park" and "John walked to the park" have different lexical aspects, but "John hit a ball in the park" and "John hit on her in the park" also have different meanings. I generally think of the various meanings of a verb as being lexical, even if a single verb can have many senses, which may sometimes be selected based on the objects of the verb.

Is my thought model flawed here? If not, then "lexical aspect" still seems like a useful term, it's just that the aspect for a given lexeme may need to be parameterized further.
I think the term "lexical aspect," imprecise as it is, will be understood as "non-grammatical aspect" by exegetes. So we're not really talking about lack of clarity. But it does beg questions about what's going on, and that may be inappropriate. You see, different theorists have somewhat different ideas about how the aspect of these sentences are built up, and they disagree about how much is handled by the lexicon and how much is handled by the syntax and how much by the context, and there are different ways of slicing up the division of labor. For example,

1. The approach you've described is a polysemy approach, where the lexicon for walk would have one entry that's telic and another that's atelic. Presumably context (here the prepositional phrases) would disambiguate which sense of walk is meant.

2. Another approach is a coercion approach, where the lexicon for walk would say that its lexical aspect is atelic (activity), but the PP to the park causes the lexical aspect of walk to be coerced into a telic accomplishment. (Conversely, one could claim that walk is telic and the PP in the park coerces the predication to atelicity.)

3. Yet another approach is a compositional approach, where (non-grammatical) aspect can be assigned to verbs, participants, and adjuncts. In this approach, walk may not have a "lexical" aspect at all, but that the non-grammatical aspect comes from the PP phrases, either the atelic in the park or the telic to the park. This sort of analysis is more popular among those working in Finno-Ugric languages where the aspect of the predication is encoded by the case of the object (genitive for perfective, and partitive for imperfective).

I'm sure there are other combinations of lexical, syntax, and grammar too.

So depending on which approach you take, the work of aspect can be handled in the lexical, the syntax, or context, or in various combinations of them. And linguists are still fighting over which approach can give the best explanatory value, best fit, and/or smallest grammar. The term lexical aspect picks a particular side in this debate almost by definition. Ideally, one would want a term less prejudicial.
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RandallButh
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Re: The Terminology of Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by RandallButh » May 14th, 2013, 1:50 am

Stephen, your number '2' description on lexical aspect also interacts with valency of verbs, that is, how many arguments are central and implicitly connected to the verb and how many are peripheral and optional. The prepositional phrases with 'walk' would be called peripheral in your examples.

English, and I would guess Swedish, is particularly fluid at this point because of the tendency to create new vocabulary items by adding adverbs/prepositions to the end of the verb that may be separated and come at the end of the clause in normal speech and also where transitivity changes. She stood up for a long time, she stood him up (separate vocab/lexical aspect/transitivity). These things do not map well across languages.
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Re: The Terminology of Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 14th, 2013, 4:12 am

Yes, #2 can interact with valency (and there are some differences of opinion how valency lexicalized), and I suspect that supporters of the other approaches can find ways to work in valency there as well.

It is true that researchers of certain particular languages will tend to gravitate to particular approaches. For example, one interesting thing about Swedish is that it virtually has no grammatical aspect. There's no real progressive, for instance, though one get the effect of one in limited contexts with a sequential verb construction using one of the locative verbs. E.g., Jag sitter och läser boken. "I am reading the book" (lit. "I sit and read the book"). (This could eventually grammaticalize to a progressive, when semantic bleaching loosens the contextual restrictions.) So, it's hard to get Swedish linguists excited about two-level aspect theories, because the aspect work has to be done in just one of the levels. In Greek, the aspectual labor can be divided among lexical, syntactical, and grammatical components, with the verb stem doing a lot of the work.
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David Lim
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by David Lim » May 14th, 2013, 6:04 am

Stephen Carlson wrote:1. The approach you've described is a polysemy approach, where the lexicon for walk would have one entry that's telic and another that's atelic. Presumably context (here the prepositional phrases) would disambiguate which sense of walk is meant.

2. Another approach is a coercion approach, where the lexicon for walk would say that its lexical aspect is atelic (activity), but the PP to the park causes the lexical aspect of walk to be coerced into a telic accomplishment. (Conversely, one could claim that walk is telic and the PP in the park coerces the predication to atelicity.)

3. Yet another approach is a compositional approach, where (non-grammatical) aspect can be assigned to verbs, participants, and adjuncts. In this approach, walk may not have a "lexical" aspect at all, but that the non-grammatical aspect comes from the PP phrases, either the atelic in the park or the telic to the park. This sort of analysis is more popular among those working in Finno-Ugric languages where the aspect of the predication is encoded by the case of the object (genitive for perfective, and partitive for imperfective).
Stephen, do you mind if I ask you what are the disadvantages of (1)? My opinion is inclined towards that at the moment. To extend Jonathan's example:
"John sat in the park" is valid but not "John sat to the park"
"John went to the park" is valid but not "John went in the park"
So it seems that it is because "walk" has (at least) two different lexical meanings, one of which is compatible with "in the park" and the other with "to the park", whereas "sit" and "go" have lexical meanings that are incompatible with one or the other.

Unlike (2), I would instead say that the context including prepositional phrases are merely factors that determine which lexical meaning is intended, rather than creating the lexical meaning. For Jonathan's example, "in the park" / "to the park" supplies the necessary information to exclude the other lexical meanings. And for (3) I would say that the context must be compatible with the intended lexical meaning of the verb, which means that for languages that have aspect encoded in the object case, that encoded aspect must follow the intended aspect of the verb, rather than contributing the aspect. My reasoning is that my examples still hold when translated into any language, so implying that each verbal idea corresponds to exactly one lexical meaning including aspect, and "changing" aspect actually necessitates changing the lexical meaning to another one that has the different aspect.

Likewise I consider different possible valencies for the same word to indicate different underlying lexical meanings. For instance "walk the dog in/to the park" immediately selects a particular lexical meaning because it is the only one that fits, either "accompany the dog in walking around in the park" or "accompany the dog on a walk to the park" respectively. The English dictionaries I have looked at lumped both meanings together, but I think it is better to differentiate telic and atelic lexical meanings, as not every verb allows both as I mention above. At the same time, the above examples exclude these two lexical meanings which both require exactly one object.

I thought of one more example:
"Move quickly!"
"Move the stone quickly!"
As with the others I would say that "move" already has two sets of lexical meanings, one being intransitive and the other being transitive, thus the two sentences are both possible and the presence or absence of an object determines the correct set. I say "set" because each may be further divided into different lexical meanings. For example, "move through the air quickly" is atelic, "move to the door quickly" is telic, but "move quickly" has "undetermined" telicity without knowing its context. But the possibilities for the verb are already fixed and a verb like "became" in the simple past tense cannot be "coerced" into being atelic simply because it does not support such lexical meaning.

Is there any problem with this kind of reasoning?
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by cwconrad » May 14th, 2013, 8:12 am

David Lim wrote: ... To extend Jonathan's example:
"John sat in the park" is valid but not "John sat to the park"
"John went to the park" is valid but not "John went in the park"
So it seems that it is because "walk" has (at least) two different lexical meanings, one of which is compatible with "in the park" and the other with "to the park", whereas "sit" and "go" have lexical meanings that are incompatible with one or the other.
David Lim wrote:
I thought of one more example:
"Move quickly!"
"Move the stone quickly!"
As with the others I would say that "move" already has two sets of lexical meanings, one being intransitive and the other being transitive, thus the two sentences are both possible and the presence or absence of an object determines the correct set. I say "set" because each may be further divided into different lexical meanings. For example, "move through the air quickly" is atelic, "move to the door quickly" is telic, but "move quickly" has "undetermined" telicity without knowing its context. But the possibilities for the verb are already fixed and a verb like "became" in the simple past tense cannot be "coerced" into being atelic simply because it does not support such lexical meaning.

Is there any problem with this kind of reasoning?
What David's little exercise here seems to me to demonsrate is the questionability of such fine-tuned analysis. Only at the simpler levels of concrete meaning does it seem possible to define the meanings of verbs. Context is almost always, if not always, king.
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ἀλλὰ χρόνῳ ζητέοντες ἐφευρίσκουσιν ἄμεινον. (Xenophanes, Fragment 16)

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KimmoHuovila
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by KimmoHuovila » May 14th, 2013, 10:26 am

Is there any reason why not recognize aspect as truly layered? 'Walk' is atelic, 'walk to the park' is telic, 'walk to the park every day' is atelic, 'walk to the park every day for a week' is telic etc?

While there is aspectual polysemy, here the issue seems to be the whole phrase, not just the verb.
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by David Lim » May 14th, 2013, 11:42 am

KimmoHuovila wrote:Is there any reason why not recognize aspect as truly layered? 'Walk' is atelic, 'walk to the park' is telic, 'walk to the park every day' is atelic, 'walk to the park every day for a week' is telic etc?

While there is aspectual polysemy, here the issue seems to be the whole phrase, not just the verb.
Kimmo, thanks for your examples! I certainly grant that at the level of the whole phrase, it is layered, but I still posit that internally the lexical meaning of "walk" chosen in all except the first are telic. And in the first I prefer to say that the lexical meaning of "walk" is insufficiently determined, since we cannot tell without further context. I don't quite understand why there shouldn't be a reason to consider lexical meaning to include aspect, since some verbs cannot even be put into the same constructions. For example the word "sit" is fundamentally incompatible with "to the park", and hence cannot replace "walk" in all your examples except the first, which is sufficiently vague as to allow any intransitive verb whatsoever. "every day" is compatible with any verb and returns an atelic verb phrase. "for a week" accepts atelic verb phrases and returns a telic verb phrase. Thus "walk to the park every day" can be modified by "for a week". For exactly the same reason we can have "walk for a week" but not "walk to the park for a week". Note that "for a week" may accept a telic verb phrase in the circumstance that the verb phrase lexically allows a specification of duration of the resulting state. For example "he went to the park for a week" is valid but not "he headed to the park for a week".
cwconrad wrote:What David's little exercise here seems to me to demonsrate is the questionability of such fine-tuned analysis. Only at the simpler levels of concrete meaning does it seem possible to define the meanings of verbs. Context is almost always, if not always, king.
Actually I hoped to gain an insight into any serious problems with what I was doing, which is to take polysemy all the way to its logical end but stop short before the verb becomes wrapped up in layers of syntactical constructions, as Kimmo's examples demonstrate. I do agree that context is the final arbiter, but I think that in some cases certain words are by their nature simply incompatible and can't be taken together regardless of context. For instance "he went to the park for a week" cannot support the interpretation "it took a week for him to get to the park" no matter what the context may suggest, unless we take the phrase to be an incorrect usage or an erroneous recording. (Similar to Randall's example of the invalid "he came tomorrow", but I'm saying that it should apply to aspect as well.) Does this make sense?

And I hope I'm not detracting too much from the original topic. :)
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KimmoHuovila
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by KimmoHuovila » May 14th, 2013, 1:17 pm

David Lim wrote:
KimmoHuovila wrote:Is there any reason why not recognize aspect as truly layered? 'Walk' is atelic, 'walk to the park' is telic, 'walk to the park every day' is atelic, 'walk to the park every day for a week' is telic etc?

While there is aspectual polysemy, here the issue seems to be the whole phrase, not just the verb.
Kimmo, thanks for your examples! I certainly grant that at the level of the whole phrase, it is layered, but I still posit that internally the lexical meaning of "walk" chosen in all except the first are telic.
I don't see any change in the telicity of the lexeme. Walking is the same activity, regardless of whether you are just walking with no goal or walking to get to the park. 'Walk' becomes telic only by adding a goal to be attained ('to the park'). Thus the telicity resides solely in the phrase outside of lexical semantics.
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by MAubrey » May 14th, 2013, 2:07 pm

KimmoHuovila wrote:
David Lim wrote:
KimmoHuovila wrote:Is there any reason why not recognize aspect as truly layered? 'Walk' is atelic, 'walk to the park' is telic, 'walk to the park every day' is atelic, 'walk to the park every day for a week' is telic etc?

While there is aspectual polysemy, here the issue seems to be the whole phrase, not just the verb.
Kimmo, thanks for your examples! I certainly grant that at the level of the whole phrase, it is layered, but I still posit that internally the lexical meaning of "walk" chosen in all except the first are telic.
I don't see any change in the telicity of the lexeme. Walking is the same activity, regardless of whether you are just walking with no goal or walking to get to the park. 'Walk' becomes telic only by adding a goal to be attained ('to the park'). Thus the telicity resides solely in the phrase outside of lexical semantics.
+1

And again, no native speaker of English would ever accept all these different clauses as involving different senses of "walk."
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Stephen Carlson
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Re: Aspect & Aktionsart

Post by Stephen Carlson » May 14th, 2013, 3:02 pm

David Lim wrote:Is there any problem with this kind of reasoning?
Well, a fully lexical approach tends to miss patterns and generalizations. Yes, walk, go, and sit behave differently. If that's all there was, a lexical approach would be fine.

But what about run? It behaves like walk but not like go, and sit with these PPs (in the park/to the park). Same for hop. Same for amble. Same for limp. Same for dance.

What about come? Well, that's more like go than walk or sit. And stand is more like sit than either go or walk.

Something seems to be operating a higher level of generality than the lexicon. (Aspectologists might say, well that's because walk etc. and other verbs of mannered motion are activities, and that's what they do with these PPs; and go etc., well, they're achievements and they like to the park but not in the park; and sit, stand, etc., you see, they're states, which like in the park but not to the park.)

If too much of aspectuality is in the lexicon, then these patterns cannot be seen and grammatical rules for their interaction with other words and phrases cannot be predicted or articulated.
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