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Verbs and situation types continued LIN1180 Semantics Lecture 11
Classifying verbs: lexical semantic distinctions Part 1
Dynamic vs. Static Compare: 1. John is a lazy guy. 2. Stephanie is a beautiful woman. (1) and (2) describe “situations” or “states of affairs” which are stable or unchanging 3. Steve is driving across Europe. 4. I ate a pizza last night. (3) and (4) describe “situations” or “states of affairs” which are dynamic, changing over time
Dynamic vs. static The distinction affects lexical choice. Often, static situations are described using adjectives: Static: the pears are ripe (adjective) Dynamic: the pears ripened (verb) But not always: John is a lazy guy. Adjectives tend to be inherently stative Verbs differ in whether they are stative or dynamic.
Stative verbs Allow the speaker to view a situation as steady and relatively unchanging. no reference to an explicit endpoint no reference to change Compare: 1. Mary knows Greek. (stative) 2. Mary learned Greek. (dynamic)
Stative verbs ?Mary is knowing Greek. progressive has connotations of dynamism and change clashes with the inherent semantics of the stative verb Mary is learning Greek. progressive is fine with a dynamic verb
Stative verbs ?Know Greek! imperative usually odd with statives Learn Greek! imperative is fine with dynamic verbs Exceptions: remain seems to be inherently stative allows imperative: Remain seated! Maltese equivalent of know (jaf): Kun af li lbiera ħ morna. (Know that we went yesterday) but: ?Kun af il-Greek (Know Greek!) Maybe a special usage?
Dynamic verb types Further classified into sub-types: 1. durative vs. punctual whether situation described by verb lasts for a period of time or not John winked. (punctual) John slept. (durative) 2. telic/resultative vs. atelic whether verb describes a situation with a natural end-point I built a house (telic) I looked out over the mountains (atelic)
Semelfactive punctual verbs inherently punctual tend to describe situations which are very brief e.g. wink, blink, flash, shoot, knock, sneeze, cough Combination with durative adverbials like all night, results in clash between lexical aspect (non-durative) and the modifier (durative) The light flashed for an hour I knocked for 5 minutes Clash results in an iterative interpretation
More on durative verbs 1. Resultative durative verbs describe situations with a natural end-point She baked a meat pie. Process + end-point During the process, the meat pie doesn’t exist Meat pie is the result of the process. 2. Inchoative verbs describe situations which give rise to a new state The leaves turned brown. Process giving rise to new state At the start of the process, the leaves aren’t brown the state of being brown is the outcome
More on the telic/atelic distinction Though a verb can be inherently telic/atelic, the overall aspect of a sentence can change depending on grammatical environment: Atelic: Jane was singing. no specific endpoint Telic: Jane was singing a song. direct object gives rise to a telic reading singing a song has a natural endpoint
More on the telic/atelic distinction Telic/atelic also interacts with grammatical aspect Telic: Lucien Freud painted my portrait. implies completion: my portrait was finished Atelic: Lucien Freud was painting my portrait. no implication of completion: no information about whether the portrait was finished
More on the telic/atelic distinction In some languages, there is a derivational process to turn atelic to telic ones. German: essen (eat) aufessen (eat up/finish eating) aufessen implies completion
The verb classification so far Verb stative be, know dynamic durative walk, bake X, sleep telic (resultative) bake a cake atelic gaze at the stars punctual explode, wink, cough semelfactive wink, cough, flash
Some assumptions Our task: describe types of verbs based on lexical aspect correlate these to types of situations We will assume a basic distinction between static and dynamic situations static: tends to be described by stative verbs dynamic: tends to be described by dynamic verbs
Dynamic situations Punctual/durative verb distinction correlates with the kind of situation we’re talking about. 1. event: speaker views the entire situation the mine blew up blow up is a punctual verb 2. process: speaker considers the internal change in the situation she walked into the theatre walk is a durative verb
Vendler’s classification Vendler (1957): proposed a classification of situation types main aim was to describe real situations and correlate them with different verb types in language main distinctions: states activities accomplishments achievements processes and events
Vendler’s states Roughly, the kinds of situations that can be described by stative verbs know, believe etc typically, verbs describing these states don’t allow the progressive aspect in most contexts ?I am believing the news I believe the news
Activities vs. Accomplishments Both are kinds of processes e.g. they are described by dynamic verbs the verbs allow the progressive aspect Main difference is one of boundedness roughly corresponds to the semantic telic/atelic distinction Activities: I am pushing a cart. The act of pushing a cart doesn’t imply any necessary endpoint. Accomplishment: I am drawing a circle. Act of drawing a circle does imply an endpoint (when the circle is done)
The activity/accomplishment distinction John was pushing a cart. Test 1: Q: For how long did John push the cart? perfectly legitimate question, focuses on the time the activity took Q: How long did it take to push the cart? strange question, focuses on the end-point of the activity, which is not implied by the sentence NB: question becomes OK if our sentence is John was pushing a cart to the village. The direct object makes it an accomplishment. Test 2: If John stopped pushing the cart after some time, can we say that the sentence is still true? Yes.
The activity/accomplishment distinction John was running a mile. Test 1: Q: For how long did John run a mile? strange question, focuses on the time the activity took Q: How long did it take to run a mile? legitimate question, focuses on the end-point of the activity, which is implied by the sentence Test 2: If John stopped running a mile after some time, can we say that the sentence is still true? No. The sentence is only true if John finished running a mile.
The activity/accomplishment distinction One of the ways this is reflected in language has to do with durative adverbials sentences describing activities can have a durative adverbial John pushed the cart for an hour sentences describing accomplishments are often odd with a durative ?John ran a mile for an hour
Correlation with the semantic distinction Activities: durative, atelic push a cart Accomplishment: durative, telic run a mile Interaction with grammatical context: John pushed a cart. (activity, atelic) John pushed a cart to the village. (accomplishment, telic)
Achievements Vendler’s achievements are not processes but events typically described by non-durative, telic verbs recognise, find, stop Compare: I recognised Bill. ?I recognised Bill for an hour. durative adverbial gives rise to an odd sentence just like accomplishments different in that the situation described is understood to take place instantaneously
Summary of situation types situation stateevent -durative achievement +telic process +durative activity -telic accomplishment +telic
Summary Different types of situations are encoded differently, depending on: whether they are conceived as holistic events or processes with internal structure whether they are long-term states whether they are know to have endpoints Different verbs are suited to different types of situations depending on: telicity durativitity stativity