CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Aspect

This is the second of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Tense, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here. It is recommended that the entire series be read in order from the beginning before reading this article

In the previous chapter it is said that tense is nothing more than a way of describing the contrast between two temporal reference points on the timeline of an utterance.  The form of that reference though, particularly the type of temporal reference used in establishing tense, is determined by aspect, perfection, and aktionsart, all of which convey the actual nature of the time information conveyed.  Just as tense cannot be properly analyzed without awareness of an utterance’s aspect, perfection, and aktionsart, aspect must be considered within the context of the aktionsart of the inclusive verb within the utterance.  OK, lot’s of words there, repeated and used together, so let’s begin with a quick review:

Utterance — remember this is the linguistic term for any complete speech formation.  That is, an utterance is the generic name for a sentence, clause, phrase or such that has at the least a subject and verb and expresses a complete thought.  Utterances can be questions, statements, commands, or exclamations; regardless of type, they are all utterances.

Timeline — time is a key attribute of any human communication. Regardless what is being discussed, some time information (when, how long, etc.) is always included.  Because time is always a key bit of the information communicated within an utterance, this means that any utterance can be shown appearing within a timeline on which the temporal references of the utterance may be plotted.

Temporal Reference — because every utterance conveys the same types of time information, they all have similar characteristics (although these characteristics may take very different forms).  One characteristic that all utterances share is that they each temporal references (or standard, identifiable things that can be plotted on their timeline).  The temporal references are used to determine tense by contrasting the primary temporal reference with a secondary temporal reference.  The primary temporal reference for all utterances is called the Time of Utterance (abbreviated TUTT).  This is simply the time at which the information conveyed by the utterance is communicated.  TUTT is always contrasted with a secondary temporal reference in determining tense, and the type of secondary reference — Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Evaluation (TEVL), or Time of Completion (TCOM) is determined by the aspect, aktionsart, perfection, and mood of the utterance.

Tense — regardless of what type of secondary temporal reference the utterance requires, tense represents a contrast between the secondary reference and the primary one (TUTT).  If the secondary reference coincides with TUTT, the tense is present; if it occurs before TUTT, tense is past; and, if it occurs after TUTT, the tense of the utterance is future.  In regard to tense, past and future are ranges and the degree of those tenses is determined by the distance between TUTT and the secondary reference on the timeline of that utterance (close together = near past/future, far apart = distant future/past).

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So, tense as described above is the name given to a way of describing the contrast between two temporal references along the timeline of an utterance. Tense however, has nothing to do with the type of time information given or the nature of the information conveyed by the utterance, it is merely a manner of describing the above explained contrast between TUTT and the secondary reference.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, not of any element within that utterance (meaning that verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositions cannot be said to ‘have tense’).  Tense though is only one of the five attributes which every utterance in every language uses to express time.  These attributes together form the mnemonic TAMPA (for tense, aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart).  Whereas tense has nothing to do with the nature of information conveyed by an utterance, aspect, perfection, and aktionsart revolve entirely around this.

Like tense, aspect is an attribute of the utterance (and not of any component within that utterance).  Again, this is important in that the concept of aspect is something that reflects a quality of the entire utterance.  This means that every utterance expresses aspect, but that while specific components within the utterance may take on forms specific to the aspect used, that nothing that is less than a full utterance carries aspect (so verbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, etc will never ‘have aspect’).

Aspect refers to the use of  structural elements to express certain attributes of the temporal nature of an utterance.

The term aspect means literally ‘how it’s looked at’ when referring to language.  It is derived from the Latin aspectus — ‘a view’, from the verb aspicere — ‘to look at’.  In selecting the term aspect in relation to languages, linguists had chosen a term to describe how a verb is looked at or viewed within the context of the utterance in which it appears.  Thus aspect came to be used to describe how the structure of an utterance (the actual grammatical forms used) determined the role of the inclusive verb within that utterance.

Historical Development

In considering the various attributes of aspect for any given language, it is necessary to first consider the history of the study of aspect in general.  Tense and aspect have long been a topic of debate and research among linguists with philosophical debate on these fronts long predating linguistics as a separate field of study.  Much of the meaning currently assigned to aspect had been seen originally as the domain of tense, with tense being an all encompassing term for anything involving time.  The study of tense has not always been as clearly defined as is currently, with tense dealing with temporal contrast within the utterance (the relevance of TUTT to TAST, TCOM, or TEVLsee Tense above) as being within the range of present, past, or future.  Study of tense began in earnest with declined languages of learning such as Latin and Greek in which tense is marked with affixes (endings) and declensions (changes in form that convey a specific meaning).  The original function of these tense markings in many languages was not that of temporal contrast (present, past, and future) but actually of aktionsart, perfection, or aspect which convey temporal nature.

The study of aspect (and later perfection and aktionsart) as independent of tense began to develop in the early 20th Century, mostly through the work of Russian linguists studying Slavic languages.  These early proponents of a separate grammatical category dealing with the circumstances of the verb, or more precisely as they saw it, its viewpoint within the utterance as independent from true tense of the utterance focused primarily on languages (Russian, Latin, Greek) in which aspectual characteristics tend to occur in opposing pairs.  The roots of this system are still quite obvious today with binary systems such as perfective versus imperfective (not to be confused with ‘perfected’ and perfection), telic versus atelic, etc.  In attempting to apply these more clear-cut assessments of aspect into other languages, German linguists found this system did not effectively convey the what was happening in Germanic languages.  They recognized that just as aspectual characteristics of the language had been shown to be separate but related to tense, that there existed an even further differentiation within language between nature of the action inherent in the meaning of a verb and that inherent in the structure of the utterance itself.  Their solution was the proposal of a dual system in which the temporal nature of the verb itself, which they named aktionsart (literally translated as action-type) operated as separate yet complimentary to the temporal nature of the utterance in which it appeared – for this, they retained the term aspect.

Thus, within TAMPA temporal nature is determined by both the Aspect of the utterance and the Aktionsart of the verb within that utterance.  Whereas aktionsart is universal to a specific usage of a verb (in other words whenever a given verb is used within the context of a specific meaning (say work meaning to function) it will have the same akionsart regardless of the utterance in which it appears), aspect is just the opposite; it is an expression of temporal nature determined entirely by the structure of the utterance and thus remains the same regardless of the inclusive verb (although affected by it –see Aktionsart below).

Aspect as Related to other TAMPA Elements

Aspects can be divided into durational and non-durational varieties.  Within this division, further classifications may be used to determine the type of information conveyed.  These types of information can show whether something is meant to be purely informative, whether it is habitual (occurring over and over again), an activity, a change of state, an accomplishment, or simply to show that any of these others occur with a prolonged measurable duration.  Multiple systems of classifying and naming aspect within various languages exist and while little agreement has been achieved toward a universal system, the common points of all are that all aspects (regardless of what they are called) are either durational or non-durational, and that they are a method of using the specific structure of the utterance (word order, auxiliary verbs, special forms, etc) to override any lexical attribute of verbs (aktionsart) used within that utterance.  It should be noted that aspect cannot be considered without awareness of the aktionsart of the inclusive verbs, and also with perfection as this too is tied to aktionsart as well, and also expressed via structural forms.

The important thing to remember is that tense and aspect are separate from each other with tense being merely a contrast of temporal references.  The temporal references used to establish tense are determined by the temporal nature of the utterance.  That temporal nature is determined first by the inherent temporal nature of the inclusive verb itself (a characteristic of the verb as part of its meaning) as either durational or non-durational, and also within that division as various types of verb as described in the paragraph above, and also, as naturally completed or not naturally completed (telic and atelic); these are attributes of the individual verb(s) used within an utterance and are collectively called aktionsart.  These attributes inherent in the verb are universal and remain the same regardless of the utterance in which the verb is used so long as the meaning of that verb remains the same (in languages where one verb can have multiple meanings, in other languages each word/verb can only have a single meaning and thus the aktionsart for specific verbs within that language is always the same for that verb).  Those aktionsart attributes may however be overridden or enhanced by using the structure of the utterance in which the appears to express this same type of information.  Within the context of the utterance, it is the structure of that utterance that expresses such information.  And, structural expression always overrides lexical expression (or, attributes of the utterance trump attributes of the verb).  Whether a verb is completed/finished or not may be determined by the meaning of the verb as aktionsart (as either telic or atelic, the terms for a verb being naturally completed (like ‘kill’ or ‘finish’ — no additional killing or finishing goes on once the verb is accomplished) or lacking that quality).  It may also however be determined by the structure of the utterance. This is called perfection.  Perfection expresses completeness of the verb through structural forms.  These are often referred to as ‘the perfect’, but this is not quite correct as all utterance express perfection as either perfected (which forms like ‘I have eaten’ or ‘I have been eating’ express — in English perfected forms consist of the auxiliary ‘have’ conjugated for agreement with person, number, and tense with the past participle form of the verb), or non-perfected (which all other forms such as ‘I eat’ or ‘I am eating’ express).  If the verb within an utterance is atelic, perfecting that utterance overrides that aktionsart and completes the verb.  If that verb is already telic however, perfecting the utterance with structure may not be necessary as the verb is already completed but perfecting an utterance with an already completed verb can further emphasize that completion or draw specific attention to the exact point of completion.

Other temporal attributes such as duration may also be determined not only by the inclusive verb’s aktionsart, but by the structure of the utterance.  When the structure of the utterance is used to express a quality of temporal nature other than completion, this is called aspect.  The primary domain of aspect in most languages is in expressing duration.  Some languages have only a single durational and a single non-durational form.  Some actually have no specific form for duration at all and rely on the aktionsart of the inclusive verb or merely context to establish durative qualities.  Most however have one or more durational and one or more non-durational aspects.  English has a single durational aspect (either called the progressive or the continuous and having the form auxiliary ‘be’ plus present participle of the verb, i.e. ‘I am eating’ or ‘She had been driving’), and four non-durational aspects which while structurally identical may express different types of information such as being purely informative, whether something is habitual (occurring over and over again), an activity, a change of state, or an accomplishment; the type of non-durational aspect is often heavily influenced by the aktionsart of the inclusive verb.  Still, the important thing to get from this discussion is that aspect refers to the use of the structure of the utterance to determine temporal nature (mostly duration or lack of duration) other than completion, which is also structural but referred to as perfection.

Continue reading Perfection

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February 1, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Perfection

This is the third of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Tense, Aspect, Mood, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here. It is recommended that the entire series be read in order from the beginning before reading this article.

As has been discussed up to now, the communication of information related to time is a universal of languages.  The way in which languages express temporal information may vary greatly from one to the next in form, yet all convey this information via five common universal attributes.  These five attributes (Tense, Aspect, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart) make up the TAMPA scheme for linguistic analysis for time.  Every utterance in every language conveys each of these five attributes in one way or another.  Thus far, two types of time information have been discussed: temporal contrast which is conveyed as tense; and temporal nature which is conveyed as aspect, perfection, and/or aktionsart.  Aspect is covered in the previous section and within that discussion perfection and aktionsart are touched upon as all three are inherently interrelated.  Perfection shall be discussed in further detail below.

Temporal Nature: Completion, Duration, and the Rest

Temporal contrast and temporal nature are basically the two super categories of time expression in language, with temporal contrast being solely the domain of tense with temporal nature determined by the combined expression of aspect, perfection, and aktionsart.  It is important to remember is that tense and aspect/perfection/aktionsart are separate from each other with tense being merely a contrast of temporal references regardless of what information is conveyed by the other TAMPA attributes.  But, that the temporal references used to establish tense are in fact determined by that temporal nature.  Temporal nature is determined first by the inherent temporal nature of the inclusive verb itself (a characteristic of the verb as part of its meaning) as either durational or non-durational, and within that division as various types of verb (changes of state, achievements, accomplishments, etc), and also, as naturally completed or not naturally completed (telic and atelic); these are attributes of the individual verb(s) used within an utterance and are collectively called aktionsart.  These attributes inherent in a verb are universal and remain the same regardless of the utterance in which the verb is used so long as the meaning of that verb remains the same (in languages where one verb can have multiple meanings, in other languages each word/verb can only have a single meaning and thus the aktionsart for specific verbs within that language is always the same for that verb).  Note that when referring to the ‘inclusive verb(s)’ within an utterance, that only the content verbs are considered, and not any verb acting as an auxiliary (such as ‘am’ in ‘I am running’ or ‘have’ in ‘I have eaten’ or ‘will’ in “I will see you tomorrow’).

Those attributes of temporal nature expressed by the aktionsart of the verb, while providing the basis for the overall temporal nature of the utterance, may however be overridden or enhanced by using the structure of the utterance in which that verb appears to express these same types of information.  When the considering the utterance as a whole, it is the structure of that utterance, moreso than the aktionsart of the inclusive verb, that expresses such information and determines the ultimate temporal nature of that utterance.  Structural expression of temporal nature always overrides lexical expression (or, attributes of the utterance trump attributes of the verb).  Whether a verb is completed/finished or not may be determined by the meaning of the verb as aktionsart (as either telic or atelic, the terms for a verb being naturally completed (like ‘kill’ or ‘finish’ — no additional killing or finishing goes on once the verb is accomplished) or lacking that quality).  It may also however be determined by the structure of the utterance. This is called perfection.  Perfection expresses completeness of the not only the verb, but of that verb as employed to convey the predicate of the whole utterance, through structural forms.  These are often referred to as ‘the perfect’, but this is not quite correct as all utterances express perfection as either perfected (which forms like ‘I have eaten’ or ‘I have been eating’ express — in English perfected forms consist of the auxiliary ‘have’ conjugated for agreement with person, number, and tense with the past participle form of the verb), or non-perfected (which all other forms such as ‘I eat’ or ‘I am eating’ express).  If the verb within an utterance is atelic, perfecting that utterance overrides that aktionsart and completes the verb.  If that verb is already telic however, perfecting the utterance with structure may not be necessary as the verb is already completed but perfecting an utterance with an already completed verb can further emphasize that completion or draw specific attention to the exact point of completion.  Attributes of temporal nature other than completeness such as duration may likewise be expressed through structural forms of the utterance in addition to such information conveyed via the inclusive verb’s aktionsart.  Such expression, as discussed in the previous section, is the domain of aspect.

Perfection

Perfection refers to the linguistic quality of completeness.  The term (often just ‘perfect’ in common parlance) derives from the Latin perfectus and further further from the verb perficio meaning ‘finish’ or ‘bring to an end’.  Perfection is actually a universal concept of many fields and comes originally from philosophy.  Greek philosophers first coined the idea to describe a uniform circle as being whole and without beginning or end.  Because a true circle had no corners or starting or stopping points, they referred to it as ‘perfect’ (the ‘perfect circle’).  This idea spread first through the sciences, and later entered everyday speech with the meaning of flawless.  The idea was first proposed by Aristotle who defined perfect as ‘that which is complete or which has attained its purpose.’  Thus in linguistics, perfect refers to the quality of a verb or predicate as completed or not.  Like tense, aspect, and mood, perfection is an attribute of the utterance as a whole (structural), unlike aktionsart which is an attribute of the verb itself (lexical).  At the lexical level, perfection is also expressed as an attribute of the verb’s aktionsart as complete or not (called telicity rather than perfection at the lexical level).  When referring to perfection though, it is the completion of the overall predicate of the whole utterance rather than a characteristic of the inclusive verb that is discussed.  It should be noted that terms such as perfective and imperfective refer not to perfection but are names given to certain classifications of aspect within some languages.  These terms actually refer to not only aspect but forms expressing several TAMPA attributes together.  Within the TAMPA system perfection is described simply as perfected or non-perfected.

Perfected & Non-Perfected Forms

In discussing perfection, many analyses of language focus solely on forms showing completion.  These perfected forms are generally marked in most languages with specific structures.  In English, utterances in the non-durational aspects are perfected by replacing the auxiliary do (which may be omitted in affirmative statements in the present tense) with the auxiliary have which is then declined for agreement with person, number, and tense, with the content verb taking on its past participle form.  For utterances in the durational aspect the change is similar with have being placed in initial verbal position and declined as above, aspectual auxiliary be taking its past participle form been, and the content verb (already marked for duration) retaining its present participle (-ing) form.  While easily observed in the structure of such utterances, it should be noted that perfection is an attribute of all utterances.  And, that non-perfected forms also express perfection, but that that information conveyed is that the temporal nature of this utterance in regard to completion is the same as that established by the aktionsart of its inclusive verb.  In other words, in utterances with non-perfected forms, if the verb is telic (naturally perfected) then the utterance is perfected; if the verb is atelic (not naturally perfected) then the utterance is not perfected either.  As with aspect, perfection trumps aktionsart and if the aktionsart of the inclusive verb is not perfected, a perfected structure of the utterance would override it.  If they aktionsart of the verb is already perfected, then a perfected structure of the utterance would further emphasize that complete nature or be used to draw attention to that completion or to provide a specific time of completion for that verb in relation to the utterance as a whole.

February 1, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments