Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect

peter_kirk at peter_kirk at
Thu Dec 16 20:48:44 EST 1999

Since the evidence from Russian which I promised to Dave off-list also 
deals with this point, it is relevant to the wider discussion even if 
not directly to Hebrew. So here goes with some Russian verbs...

brosit'       (bros-)          (perfective)    throw
brosat'       (bros-a-)        (imperfective)  be throwing

razbrosat'    (raz-bros-a-)    (perfective)    scatter
razbrasyvat'  (raz-bros-a-va-) (imperfective)  be scattering

zabrosat'     (za-bros-a-)     (perfective)    fill by throwing (etc) 
zabrasyvat'   (za-bros-a-va-)  (imperfective)  be filling by throwing

pobrosat'     (po-bros-a-)     (perfective)    throw about 

(The vowel changes from -bros- to -bras- and -a- to -y- in the last 
case are quite regular, and probably -a- and -va- are allomorphs. The 
same sequence can be demonstrated with several prefixes: raz- "in 
different directions", vy- "out", za- "on to" or "to the top" etc.)

I took the above data from an earlier E-mail. This is typical of 
Russian verb formation, though in many verbs the first stage, the 
simple perfective, is not attested or is obsolescent, and a prefixed 
form (most often with the prefix po-) is used with neutral meaning.

What we see here is a building process by adding bound morphemes from 
a closed set to the verb stem. The following sequence is attested:

1. Perfective with neutral type of action;
2. Imperfective with neutral type of action;
3. Perfective with type or direction of action specified by a prefix;
4. Imperfective with type or direction of action specified by a prefix.

Certain prefixes (of the closed set of 22 or so which are used) 
clearly correspond to recognised types of action, e.g. za- (also vz- 
and sometimes raz-) means inceptive, u- means instantaneous or 
semelfactive, po- means continuation for a limited duration 
(perfective) or intermittent action (imperfective). Other prefixes 
have different meanings e.g. directional; most have mulitple meanings. 
For further details see T. Wade "A Comprehesive Russian Grammar", 
Blackwells 1992, especially sections 238-254.

I challenge anyone to make a clear distinction here between syntax and 
semantics or between aspect and type of action!

Peter Kirk

______________________________ Reply Separator _________________________________
Subject: Re[3]: Prototype Theory and Hebrew Tense/Aspect
Author:  <ButhFam at> at Internet
Date:    16/12/1999 05:20

for clarification:
>I interpret buth's statement as saying that 'kind of action' is lexically 
>bound to particular morphemes, but that aspect and tense are bound at 
>levels to higher structures.

friberg is probably reading me correctly, 
though for clarification
his "lexically bound to particular morphemes" should mean
that individual words have 'kind of action' as part of their own 
inherent lexical meaning.
kind of action is not marked by a small set of syntactic morphemes. 
on the other hand,
tense/aspect/mood are related to morphological categories 
that apply to verbs in general.

randall buth

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