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CAS LX 502 4 b. Tense and aspect 5. 1 -5. 2
Situations • We can think of sentences as referring to situations (events, states, eventualities). • A sentence like Pat opened the door can be thought of as meaning • ‘There is an event, it is an opening, it affects the door, and it is instigated by Pat. ’
Tense • Events take place in time, and language uses tense to situate events in time. (deictic, like a pronoun) • Pat sang the national anthem. • (The singing event was in the past—before now) • Pat will sing the national anthem. • (The singing event is in the future—after now) • Pat is singing the national anthem. • (The singing event is now) Now
Situation types • States: static and unchanging • Individual-level: • Pat is tall. • Pat knows French. • Stage-level: • Pat is hungry. • Pat is bored. • Events: dynamic, involving motion/change • Pat is pushing the cart into the corner.
Tense vs. aspect • Tense locates a situation in time, aspect describes the internal temporal structure of the situation. • Completed (perfect) • Pat had eaten a sandwich. • Pat has eaten a sandwich. • Pat will have eaten a sandwich. • Ongoing (progressive) • Pat was eating a sandwich. • Pat is eating a sandwich. • Pat will be eating a sandwich.
Classifying situations • States (want, love, hate, know, believe) • Activities (run, walk, swim, push a cart) • Accomplishments (run a mile, walk to the store, paint a picture, draw a circle) • Achievements (recognize, find, stop, reach the top) • Semelfactives (cough, knock) (don’t change state)
Classifying situations • The different situation types essentially define the different kinds of “shadow” the situation casts on the timeline.
Diagnosing situation types • Statives and achievements are generally incompatible with the progressive. • Pat knows French. Pat is hungry. • #Pat is knowing French. #Pat is being hungry. • #Pat is reaching the top. • Pat is walking to the store. • Individual-level statives don’t sound good in the imperative. • Be tall! Know French!
Lexical aspect vs. sentence aspect • Lexically, predicates have an inherent situation type (aktionsart or lexical aspect). • However, a sentence can denote a situation type that differs from the lexical aspect of its predicate. Structure also plays a role, sentence aspect can be coerced. • Pat knocked on the door. (achievement/semelfactive) • Pat is knocking on the door. (iterative, activity) • Pat drank beer. (activity) • Pat drank a beer. (accomplishment)
Inchoative vs. resultative • Different predicates can also concentrate on different parts of an event. • Melting is inchoative, focuses on the beginning. • The ice is melting. (The ice has melted). • Baking a cake is resultative, focuses on the endpoint. • Pat is baking a cake. (Pat has not baked a cake).
Telicity • An event that has a natural endpoint is said to be telic. An event that does not is said to be atelic. • Pat pushed the cart into the corner. • Frame adverbials (in 5 minutes) and durative adverbials (for 5 minutes) can usually distinguish these: • Pat pushed the cart (#in 5 minutes) (for 5 minutes). • Pat pushed the cart into the corner (in 5 minutes) (#for 5 minutes).
Aspect and telicity • Even for a telic event (cross the street), the sentence aspect can affect whether a sentence implies that the endpoint was reached. • Pat crossed the street. • Pat has crossed the street. • Pat was crossing the street.
Aside: Verbs of creation • Suppose Pat dumps some flour into a mixing bowl. • We can say that Pat is making pancakes or that Pat is making a cake. • Which is it?
The house Jack London was building when he died. • In northern California, one can visit Jack London State Park and see the house that Jack London was building when he died. At least this is what the tourist guides say. It isn’t much of a house—only a foundation and parts of some walls. But native speakers of English call it a house. Ordinary language seems to be governed here by something like Plato’s theory of forms: material things that “aspire after” ideals are named after those ideals, in spite of their failure to live up to the ideal itself. In short, people describe unfinished houses as “houses, ” and my analysis assumes that this is the correct usage. The problem is not ontological—everyone agrees that the thing in question exists. The issue is whether it is a house. (Parsons 1990: 174) • Cf also Douglas Adams, Last Chance to See, p. 146.
Predicates and objects • If we think about the denotation of apples as compared to an apple, only the latter has a definite boundary. How big is an apple? How big is apples? Similarly, how big is soup? • Events are sort of like this too. A telic event has a size, a boundary. Reach the top vs. climb. • We can think of events as sort of like abstract individuals. • I saw Pat eat lunch. • Fido’s barking kept me awake.
Mass and count • Nouns can be distinguished into two types, those that can be counted (count), and those that can’t (mass). • I have two tomatoes. • #I have two barleys. • One thing that differentiates them is what happens if you cut them in half: • If you divide your tomato, neither resulting thing is a tomato. • If you divide your barley, both resulting things are barley.
Homogeneity • Soup + soup = soup • Tomato + tomato = 2 tomatoes. • We can call the property that mass nouns have homogeneity. • Pretty much the same property can be said to hold of states and activities, but not accomplishments or achievements. • Eating + eating = eating • Being tall + being tall = being tall • Walking to the store + walking to the store = walking to the store twice. • Finding a quarter + finding a quarter = finding two quarters
Combining predicates and objects • Interestingly, for something like eat (an activity, homogeneous), if it is combined with a homogeneous object, the result is a homogeneous activity, but when it is combined with a bounded object, the result is a bounded event (accomplishment). • Pat ate soup (for an hour) (#in an hour). • Pat ate the apple (? ? for an hour) (in an hour).
Coercion/shifting • Things that are normally count nouns can be treated as mass nouns if coerced, and vice versa. • There is too much apple in the salad. • I ordered two soups. • And, then: • I ate a soup in five minutes. • I ate apple for five minutes.
Sentences as denoting events • One way of looking at what sentences mean is as event descriptions. • Pat ate an apple. • (There was) an eating, it affected an apple, it was instigated by Pat. • Like definite descriptions denote individuals, sentences denote events. • The student in the corner.
Sentences as denoting events • Some events are described by Pat swam. • Some of those are described by Pat swam fast. • If we look at sentences in this way, we can understand why Pat swam fast entails that Pat swam. All of the events described by Pat swam fast also fit the description of Pat swam. • Pat struck the door violently. • Pat struck the door with a hammer. • Pat struck the door violently with a hammer.