interrelations between grammatical and lexical aspect
Pilar Guerrero Medina
University of Córdoba, Spain
As pointed out by Comrie (1976: 6 and 11), there is no generally
accepted terminology in treatments of aspect. On the one hand,
different authors apply different labels to the same concept;
on the other hand, the same term is often used to refer to
different concepts. In this paper I will try to clarify the
terminological confusion concerning aspectual distinctions
in the linguistic literature, where the pair of terms "telic"/"atelic",
"bounded"/"unbounded" are frequently used
as synonyms. More specifically, I will focus on the treatment
of lexical aspect in FG, where the telicity parameter is not
In discussions of aspect, it is necessary to make a first
distinction between lexically expressed aspectual distinctions
("Aktionsart") and grammatically expressed aspectual
distinctions ("Aspect"). The term "Aktionsart"
may be thus defined as the lexical equivalent of the grammatical
category of "Aspect"1 . Following Dik
(1997: 221), the term "aspectuality" will be used
to cover both subareas.
Drawing basically upon Dahl (1981), Declerck (1979, 1989)
and Depraetere (1995), I will make a further distinction between
(a)telicity and (un)boundedness.
Telicity will be here considered
as an extralinguistic parameter, to a great extent determined
by pragmatic factors, while boundedness
will be defined as a lexico-grammatical property of the linguistic
Finally, in the second part of this contribution, I will illustrate
how aspectuality distinctions manifest themselves in different
clause patterns, using specific material from the English
1 Cf. Siewierska (1991: 231; n 2) and Comrie (1976: 6-7; n 2)
Aspectuality in FG
2.1. "Aspect" vs "Aktionsart"
Dik (1997: 106) reserves the term "Aktionsart",
regarded as synonymous with "Type of state of affairs",
for those distinctions which concern the internal semantics
of the predication. Within the framework of FG, the term "state
of affairs"(SoA) designates the "conception of something
which can be the case in some world" (Dik 1997: 51).2
In what follows I will first discuss the distinctions made
in the typology of SoAs in Dik's FG, then focusing on the
aspectuality distinctions pertaining to grammatical "Aspect".
Table 1 shows the different SoAs distinguished in FG and the
major parameters determining them (cf. Dik: 1997: 114).
table 1: Typology of SoAs in FG
The notion of dynamism distinguishes
Situations ([-dyn]) from Events
([+dyn)], both of which are then subdivided in terms of the
control parameter, resulting in a classification of SoAs into
Positions, States, Actions and
and Processes are further subdivided
on the basis of telicity, resulting
in the following classification: Accomplishment
[+tel], Activity [-tel],
Change [+tel] and Dynamism
As pointed out by Siewierska (1991: 47), there is an evident
parallelism between this typology of SoAs and the typology
developed by Vendler (1967: 97 ff). Both classifications are
compared in (1):
There is, however, an important difference: Vendler's is
a verb classification, while Dik's typology is based on predications.
It is interesting to compare these classifications with the
one presented by Durst-Andersen and Herslund (1996: 67-68).
These authors take their starting point in the perceptual
notion of picture, which is regarded
as "the mediating link between reality and mind"3.
They distinguish between actions
and non-actions. The latter are
further subdivided into states and
activities. While activities
and states manifest themselves in reality, actions are constructs
with no original in reality. An action manifests itself either
as a state situation conceived to be caused by a prior activity,
ie as an event, or as an activity
situation perceived as intended to cause a future state, ie
as a process.
As shown above, the "Aktionsart" subarea, a matter
of intrinsic lexical coding, is captured in Dik's typology
of SoAs (Dik 1997: 221). And it is precisely the classification
of states of affairs which determines the general approach
to aspect and tense followed in FG, specifying the nature
of the interaction between lexical and grammatical aspect
(cf. Siewierska 1991: 44).
In FG the category of grammatical aspect is divided into four
subareas, as shown in (2) (cf. Dik 1997: 221):
||i. Perfectivity vs Imperfectivity:
||The SoA is presented from an outside point of view
||The SoA is presented from an inside point of view, as
being incomplete or in progress.
||ii. Phasal aspect:
||Ingressive, Progressive, Continuous and Egressive Aspect
||iii. Quantificational aspect:
||Iterative, Habitual, and Frequentative
||iv. Perspectival aspect:
||Prospective, Immediate Prospective, Recent Perfect,
and Perfect Aspect.
The two first subgroups (ie Perfectivity/Imperfectivity
and Phasal Aspects) are called
"internal aspects", as they primarily concern the
internal dynamics of the SoAs. Quantificational
Aspects, which concern different types of quantification
over SoAs, and Perspectival Aspects,
which concern the relevance of the SoA to an external temporal
reference point, are labelled "external aspects"
(Dik 1997: 225).4
In what follows, I will focus on the opposition perfective/imperfective,
studying the interaction between imperfectivity and telicity
(see section 2.2.2). It should be noted that the English Progressive,
though expressing one dimension of what may be covered by
the Imperfective of other languages, cannot be equated with
the Imperfective Aspect as such (cf. Dik 1997: 224). However,
as pointed out by Comrie (1976: 7), the opposition progressive
vs. non-progressive, grammatically expressed by means of a
verbal periphrasis in English, is to a certain extent comparable
to the perfective/imperfective distinction, which has not
been grammaticalized in this language.5
2.2. Telicity: a controversial parameter
2.2.1. Telicity vs momentaneousness
As shown above, telicity is one of the parameters applied
in the FG typology of SoAs. In FG a telic SoA is defined as
one that is fully achieved only if it reaches its natural
terminal point (cf. Dik 1997: 108). On the other hand, atelic
SoAs, which lack an inherent terminal point, are completely
realized whenever they obtain. Compare with Comrie's definition
of a telic situation:
||(...) "a telic situation is one that
involves a process that leads up to a well-defined terminal
point, beyond which the process cannot continue".
(Comrie 1976: 45)
In Comrie's (1976: 47) terms, the linguistic expression John
reached the summit is not telic, "since one cannot
speak of the process leading up to John's reaching the summit
by saying John is reaching the summit."
In FG, however, this predication is classified as momentaneous
(and therefore telic) (cf Dik 1997: 11). The treatment of
momentaneous SoAs (which, by definition, have no internal
structure) as telic is, as indicated by Siewierska (1991:
51), a controversial aspect of the FG approach to telicity.
The distinction between [+momentaneous] (ie "punctual")
and [-momentaneous] (ie "durative") within telic
SoAs is highly implausible since a telic SoA always entails
On the other hand, only dynamic SoAs are classified as "telic"
or "atelic" in FG. This is another inconsistency
in Dik's approach, since non-dynamic SoAs, which lack an inherent
terminal point and do not involve change, should be classified
as atelic (cf. Siewierska 1991: 54).
2.2.2. (A)Telicity vs (Un)Boundedness
Following Depraetere (1995), I contend that it is necessary
to draw a distinction between the notions (a)telicity and
(un)boundedness. As stated by the author, telicity relates
to the "potential actualization" of a situation,
whereas the boundedness parameter measures the "actual
realization" of the situation:
||(A)telicity has to do with whether or not a situation
is described as having an inherent or intended endpoint;
(un)boundedness relates to whether or not a situation
is described as having reached a temporal boundary. (Depraetere
The telicity parameter is thus based on the attainment of
a terminal point, which may be "inherent" or "intended".
It seems necessary to clarify this conceptual distinction.
In my view, the notion "inherent endpoint" appears
to be related to the notion of change, affecting either the
first or second argument of the predication. Along these lines,
Rijksbaron (1989: 4) states that only telic SoAs (kineseis)
involve change in the strict sense. He argues (1989: 33) that
the change denoted by telic SoAs may manifest itself in various
ways. The second argument may refer to an "effected entity",
like a house in build
a house, or to an affected entity, like a bicycle
in repair a bicycle. Affectedness
is also involved in SoAs where the change is undergone by
the referent of the first argument. It would be the case,
for example, of the referent of the noun filling the first
argument position in John recovered.
On the other hand, the notion "intended endpoint"
is a pragmatic notion connected with the presence of a conscious
agent deliberately instigating an SoA (cf. Declerck 1979:
As pointed out by Depraetere (1995: 6-7), Dahl (1981) is one
of the linguists who has argued in favour of a distinction
between telicity and boundedness. Dahl speaks of the T and
P properties. However, this distinction is not 100% equivalent
with Depraetere's. According to Dahl, the P property, which
could be equated with the boundedness property in Depraetere's
approach, entails the T property. If the P property corresponded
to the boundedness property and the T property to telicity,
all bounded sentences would be classified as telic, and this
is not the case, as illustrated in John
lived in London for a year, which Depraetere (1995:
5-7) classifies as bounded and atelic.
Telicity could be defined as a pragmatic notion, only applicable
to situations, conceived of as non-linguistic entities7.
On the other hand, boundedness should be characterized as
a property of the clause, or more specifically, of the situation
as it is represented in a particular clause. I agree with
Declerck (1979: 764) that situations are not inherently bounded
||a. John drank whisky
||b. John drank six glasses of whisky
Both (5a) and (5b) can refer to the same situation; however,
in the first case the situation is represented as unbounded,
while in the second it is represented as bounded. In Declerck's
(1979: 782) terms, the NP six glasses
of whisky functions as a quantifying complement that
measures the situation.
And there are cases of linguistic expressions which are not
inherently bounded or unbounded. Declerck (1979: 767) gives
the following examples:
||a. The endless procession walked by the church.
||b. The insect crawled through the tube.
||c. John filled the tank with water.
The examples in (6) are linguistic representations of situations
that are neither inherently bounded nor unbounded. They are
therefore compatible with temporal expressions of the form
in an hour or for
an hour entailing either interpretation.
Comrie (1976: 46) points out that the semantic range of telic
verbs is restricted considerably when combined with the imperfective.
I would reformulate this statement as follows:
||A telic SoA may be presented as unbounded, when viewed
as non-complete or in progress.
Compare, for instance, (8a) and (8b):
||a. I made a chair
||b. I was making a chair
Both linguistic expressions can be said to describe the same
situation8; however, (8a) is telic and bounded,
since it entails the attainment of the terminal point: "the
chair was completed"; on the other hand, (8b) is telic
but unbounded: "the chair was not completed at the time
of speech". Telic events are those that possess an inherent
terminal point, but they are not necessarily presented as
bounded, as shown in (8b). As pointed out by Depraetere (1995:
4), "the (a)telic character of a sentence, unlike (un)boundedness,
is not affected by the progressive". The examples in
(8) are telic, irrespective of whether a progressive verb
form is used or not.
This calls for a revision of the telicity parameter, as applied
by Dik in his typology of SoAs. The Activity category, defined
by Dik as [+control] and [-telic] includes examples such as
John was reading a book, which,
in my view, is an unbounded predication codifying a telic
SoA9. The linguistic predication John
was reading a book is unbounded, because it does not
represent the situation as terminating. It does not imply,
however, that John did not actually finish the book (cf. Declerck
2 An SoA can also be created in a "mental world" of Speaker
and Addressee, and then be described by a predication (cf. Dik 1997:
3 This position seems to be in accordance with the FG approach,
where SoAs do not represent real-world situations, but "the
codified view of reality built into the grammar of a language"
(Siewierska 1991: 43-44).
4 Comrie (1976: 3-5) defines aspect as a way of viewing the internal
temporal constituency of a situation. From this definition, formulated
essentially in semantic terms, it is evident that aspect is connected
with time. However, as stated by the author, aspect and tense are
two distinct categories, concerned with time in very different ways:
"Aspect is not concerned with relating the time of the situation
to another time-point, but rather with the internal temporal constituency
of the one situation; one could state the difference as one between
situation-internal time (aspect) and situation-external time (tense)".
5 Progressiveness, one of the semantic subdivisions of Imperfectivity
cf. Dik 1997: 223) is defined by Comrie (1976: 33) as "imperfectivity
that is not occasioned by habituality".
6 As Siewierska (1991: 232; n 12) indicates, telicity is used in
FG in accordance to what Dahl (1981: 81) calls the "Western"
as opposed to the "Eastern" tradition.
7 It is important to differentiate between the properties of extralinguistic
SoAs and the properties of the linguistic predications which codify
these SoAs. However, it is not always easy to classify an SoA as
telic or atelic, since the speaker can refer to a particular situation
in different ways (cf. Depraetere 1995: 4).
8 The term "situation" is here used to refer both to dynamic
and non-dynamic SoAs (cf. Comrie 1976: 13).
9 It should be noted that the criteria proposed by Dik (1997: 109-110)
to determine the telicity of an SoA rather assess the (un)boundedness
of the predication.
We have seen how the imperfective progressive verb form may
represent a situation as unbounded. But there are other factors
which may determine the bounded or unbounded character of
the predication. In what follows I will try to illustrate
how the bounded/unbounded aspectual distinction manifests
itself in different English clause patterns.
3.1. Adverbial modification (Level-1
As shown in (9b)10 , boundedness may be determined
by a Direction satellite (to the station),
since the adverbial imposes temporal boundaries to the situation
(Depraetere 1995: 4).
||a. John walked in the park.
||b. John walked to the station
In the FG Typology of SoAs, (9a) is classified as an Activity
([-telic]), and (9b) as an Accomplishment ([+telic]). However,
as Siewierska (1991: 56) points out, if SoAs are defined on
nuclear predications, we would not expect satellites, which
do not belong to the nuclear predication, to affect the nature
3.2. Argument terms in transitive
Compare the examples in (10) and (11)11 :
||a. John painted a portrait
||b. John painted portraits
||a. Demonstrators passed the station
||b. The demonstrators passed the station
In (10a) the nature of the second argument gives a bounded
character to the predication. In my view, this bounded predication
("telic" in Dik's terminology) does not represent
a situation that may go on indefinitely, as Dik (1997: 108)
seems to suggest, since it is obvious that there is no real-world
situation which can be continued indefinitely. The pragmatic
implication following from this linguistic predication is
either that John was in the habit of painting portraits or
that John painted an indefinite number of portraits. In both
(10a) and (10b), the situation is pragmatically telic, since
it has an intended terminal point.
In (11a), it is the first argument of the predication which
determines the bounded character of the predication. Since
(11b) presupposes a specified quantity of demonstrators, it
is clear that when the Action finished, all the demonstrators
passed the station. The situation, however, is not inherently
bounded or unbounded. As indicated by Depraetere (1995: 10),
we should bear in mind that "the changes effected by
a particular feature often result in the sentence referring
to a different extra-linguistic reality". Although changing
a singular NP into a plural NP may turn a clause into a bounded
predication, it may also result in the clause representing
a different SoA.
3.3. Adjectival predicates in resultative
The examples in (12), (13), (14) and (15)12 show
how resultative constructions, which in Goldberg's (1995:
81) terms, involve a metaphorical interpretation of the result
phrase as a metaphorical type of Goal , can turn unbounded
predications into bounded predications.
||a. Fred cried.
||b. Fred cried the handkerchief wet.
||a. He cried.
||b. He cried himself asleep.
||a. Sam talked for an hour.
||b. Sam talked himself hoarse.
||a. Terry pushed the door (for an hour)
||b. He pushed the door shut
Following Goldberg (1995: 180), I assume that the necessary
constraint on the appearance of resultatives can be stated
in semantic terms: "the resultative can only apply to
arguments that potentially undergo a change of state".
As shown in the examples above, the combination of the postverbal
NP and secondary predicate expresses a state which constitutes
the endpoint of the activity (cf. Hoekstra 1988).13
10 The examples in (9) have been taken from Dik (1997: 109).
11 The examples in (10) and (11) have been adapted from Dik (1997:
12 The examples in (12) have been taken from Vanden Wyngaerd (1999:
78). The examples in (13), (14) and (15) come from Goldberg (1995:
184, 194 and 196).
13 According to Hoekstra (1988), the combination NP + adjective
forms a "small clause".
In this paper I have dealt with the telic/atelic and bounded/unbounded
distinctions, which have had a long tradition in the linguistic
literature. I have pointed out the necessity of distinguishing
between telicity, viewed as a
pragmatic parameter, and boundedness,
considered as a lexico-grammatical parameter which may depend
on the verb and on the semantic properties of the nominal
constituents of the predication.
I have tried to demonstrate that telicity is a vague parameter,
being determined, to a great extent, by pragmatic factors.
A shown in (3), it is only in a given clause pattern that
grammatically aspectual distinctions manifest themselves,
originating the bounded/unbounded distinction.
The issue of aspectuality distinctions undoubtedly deserves
a more detailed study in a cross-linguistic perspective. I
hope, however, that this contribution has helped to cast a
new light on one of the most confusing areas of the linguistic
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