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 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.