Re; kirk-aspect vs kind of action

yochanan bitan ButhFam at
Fri Dec 17 04:17:17 EST 1999

kirk wrote:
>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!

structurally, the above appears quite close to greek, except that i've read
about more syntactic/semantic aspects in slavic than simple

before going on, a brief discussion of semantics is probably in order,
since the semantics of the lexicon has apparently been merged with the
semantics of the syntactic system in the above 'challenge'. that should not
be done if clarity is to be a result. 

easier example: genitives in greek are used for encoding many different
semantic relationships between the genitive noun and its neighbouring words
(nouns, verbs, relators, as the case may be). those semantic relationships
are tied to the 'genitive' morpho-syntactic structure and represent
semantic components of the syntactic system. however, thing nouns, quality
nouns, verbal external-event nouns, verbal psychological nouns, verbal
experiential nouns and personal nouns all have different internal semantics
and will pattern in different frequencies with the semantic relationships
of the genitive constructions. but the semantics of the individual words,
and of the sub-groupings of words is and should be distinguished from the
higher-level semantic "roles" of the genitive.

back to russian verbs:
it appears fairly straightforward that #1 and #3 above are perfective
aspect and that #2 and #4 are imperfective aspect, regardless of lexical
the prefixes are not syntactic/semantic aspects but ways in which russian
can create new lexemes that focus on different internal, lexical semantics,
that is on different kinds of action.

the various prefixes are lexical variations used to create new lexical
items. and those lexical items may or may not pattern more frequently in
one aspect or another because of natural affinities of states, processes,
resultative, experiential, durative, instantaneous and iterative events,
all of this is a natural part of internal lexical semantics, including any
idiomatic limitations to mainly one aspectual use or another. 

a.    the prefixes will not be as precise as listed above for russian. 
english, another good indoeuropean language, may serve as an example.
re- is commonly used to signal an 'additional, second action'. e.g. to
redo, rewrite, renew 
but this kind of action is neither an aspect, nor a watertight lexical
on aspect: 'he rewrote', versus 'he was rewriting'
on lexical category, notice: reduce, report, return 
(none of these currently means 'an additional, second time')
b.    some of the words will be idiomatically restricted or more common in
one aspect or another.
c.    many/most of the compound, semantically complex verbs will be
commonly and easily used in both perfective and imperfective aspects. (e.g.
'the liquid was pouring out', vs. 'the liquid  poured out'.)
d.    complications and fuzzy boundaries may result because the aspectual
collocations of predictions 'b' and 'c' will get written into the 'mental
lexicon', in the same way that transitivity and number of arguments with
propositions gets written into the 'mental lexicon' (e.g. english 'to
return something', 'to return'). [i use 'mental lexicon' to signal a
technical use of 'lexicon' within the theory of a structure of a language
and i am not referring to anything ever articulated, written down or
published. we don't even know how to best articulate this yet.]

yisge shlamax
randall buth

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