DURATIVE VALUE OF ENGLISH PRETERIT
Before we proceed with the description of preterit durativity and its various manifestations, we shall start with a few words concerning aspectuality and temporality, essential, due to durativity being type of aspectual meaning, on the one hand, and on the other, because of omnipresent tense-aspect interaction in English. According to what Comrie writes (Comrie 1998: 1) “Tense relates the time of the situation referred to to some other time, usually to the moment of speaking. (...) Since tense locates the time of a situation relative to the situation of the utterance, we may describe tense as deictic.” (Comrie refers to Lyons (1968: 275-81) (ibid.).
As far as aspect is concerned, we should mention the fact that there is a vast variety of definitions pointing out characteristic features of this category. However, we shall quote two statements, most concisely and clearly presenting the essence of aspect. Let us start with Comrie’s classical definition “...aspects are different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation.” (Comrie writes this is based on the given by Holt definition (1943: 6 in Comrie 1998: 3). We shall cite as well Kruisinga’s ideas suggesting that aspect “expresses whether the speaker looks upon an action in its entirety, or with special reference to some part (chiefly the beginning or end).” in Brinton (1988: 2-3) Thus, to summarize, aspect may show whether a process is finished (perfective) or continuous (imperfective), and if perfective, whether there is stress on its beginning, end, duration or number of repetitions. We must state that current article’s issue, preterit durativity, can be only examined in the framework of preterit’s perfective, non-current relevant aspectual meaning.
2. Durativity in the context of English aspects and their formation
Durativity represents an aspectual meaning of English preterit along with repetitiveness, ingressiveness, punctuality and termination. Aspectual values’ formation (including durativity) in the studied language is the result of a large series of lexical, grammar, contextual and pragmatic interactions (which is not the case in Slavonic languages forming aspect through the use of morphological markers). In English (French, etc.) aspect possesses for this very reason “analytical” (Boteva 2001: 180, footnote 58) or cumulative characteristics, resulting from the intersection of numerous factors some of which will be concisely discussed in the following lines before proceeding with durativity characterization.
Aktionzart is amongst the great variety of lexical and grammar factors mutually influencing the process of aspect formation such as: adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, articles, plurality, animate / inanimate, human / non-human markers, temporality and pragmatics.
However cumulative the character of aspect may be, Aktionzart plays a crucial role in aspectual meaning building.
The category of aktionzart (Comrie 1998: 7; Brinton 1988: 3) represents the lexical expression of the verb’s typically inherent aspectual meaning, i.e., this one related to the way the process is viewed.
According to their immanent aspectual characteristics verbs in English are subdivided into the following categories: dynamic / static (Quirk 1985: 178); static (be, know, love) / non-static, punctual / continuative, telic (assuming the presence of a goal or conclusion of the activity, complete a poem, write a poem)/ atelic (expressing the lack of a purpose or conclusion, work on a poem), agentive (conveying activity intention of the doer, decide to, mean to) / non-agentive (conveying the lack of such an intention) (Brinton 1988: 23-27); momentaneous (leave, arrive), indefinitely durative (live, carry), ingressively durative (arise, blacken), terminatevely durative (bring, acquire), continuously durative (maintain, subsist), momentaneously iterative (pant), duratively iterative (struggle). (Poutsma 1926 in Brinton 1988: 20)
We shall add to studied category the group of aspectualizers (Brinton 1988: 4), verbs inherently expressing the beginning, continuation or end of process, which are subdivided into the following groups: ingressive (begin, start doing sth), continuative / repetitive (keep on, go on), egressive (finish, cease doing sth), as well as the so-called phrasal verbs expressing through the combination of a verb and adverbial particle ingressiveness (hurry up) or perfectivity (drink up), continuation / repetitiveness (hammer away, drive on) ortermination of a process combined with direction (check in/out).
As it was mentioned above, aspect formation depends on a large spectrum of components which we shall briefly present so that they may be better interpreted while motivating basic and secondary preterit durativity meanings.
As it will be shown in the process of describing English preterit durativity, prepositions play a crucial role in the mutual formation of overall aspectual meaning (Verkuyl 1972: 41-46) mainly interrelating with aktionsart, articles and plurality.
We shall make some brief deductions about the way they function examining the following examples excerpted from our own utterances corpus:
To briefly illustrate transitivity influence on meaning we shall quote a few exemplifying utterances of ours (following the model in Verkuyl 1972:48) sharing common meaning, though exhibiting aspectual differences:
We reckon the first utterance demonstrates ingressiveness, the activity being described by above formula, whereas the second (transitivity) example shows conclusion of activity, and, consequently terminative aspect. (For details on similar nominal constructions see Kabakčiev 1993.)
Quite often, other factors like definite / indefinite article and determined number of activity objects being present, an agentive verb involves perfectivity (or end) of the process (Verkuyl 1972: 51). However, there are examples proving the statement should not be considered as absolutely valid, like: take measures, express thanks, settle matters, these phrases expressing perfectivity notwithstanding their composition of agentive verb + no article (Kabakčiev, 1993).
While discussing agentive verbs and the way they relate to perfectivity, we shall add human / non-human markers’ influence. Human activity doers are considered to most often express a unique and finished activity (Danchev 2001: 174).
Adverbs can often play a really vital role in aspect formation influencing perfective/ imperfective meaning, ingressiveness, punctuality, repetitiveness or terminativeness. That is why they are considered to be “the most powerful aspectual marker in English” (Danchev 2001: 173).
We shall adduce utterances, some of which excerpted again from our corpus linguistics, illustrating this adverbs’ role.
3. English preterit durativity. Types. Explanation
Having mentioned some basic features characterizing aspect formation factors, we shall proceed with presenting English preterit durativity and its different subtypes logically proceeding on the one hand from theoretical works aspect-related conclusions (some of the authors of which we have already mentioned) and on the other, from analysis and research on our corpus linguistics, including fiction and technical texts, some of which original and some, translated from French.
While examining preterit durativity we should always keep in mind the fact that English preterit functions in that use as perfective (the same form expressing the imperfect as well), that is, pointing out the end of the process it describes and its lack of present relevance.
In result of corpus research we determined the following types of preterit durativity in English: common, participial-simultaneous, adverbial, mobile, temporal-prepositional, lexically continuative, phrasal, plural and mixed.
We shall present in the following lines through supporting utterances essential features of above enumerated subcategories.
This value bears the name of common as it explicitly indicates the finished activity duration. It is frequently expressed through quantifiers like in (1) and (3), phrases comprising a time indication word and a preposition like in examples (2)-(5) or durativity expressions - (6). This subtype of studied category illustrates some of above mentioned various aktionsart - time prepositions, (2)-(5) and context, (6) interaction. As utterances below demonstrate it, had not authors used italicized phrases, verbs inherent durative meaning would participate in a different aspectual meaning formation.
This kind of preterit durativity is based on the assumption that in the case of at least two happening at the same time past and not current relevant activities, one of which expresses duration, all processes logically exhibit the same aspectual feature.
This type of durative shade is due to mainly two structures, the first one related to the use of a present participle in a participial adjectival clause, expressing by nature on-going and parallel activity to the process in the main sentence. This form can be accompanied as it is the case in (1) by the conjunction while, thus, making stronger stress on simultaneity. Preposition in together with gerund (or -ing-form) financing in utterance (6) sounds similar to while financing or while the expedition was financed, simultaneity being natural because of typical to this form mixture and interference of verbal and nominal characteristics. However, example (6) does not follow immediately after (1) as simultaneity, though present, is not as explicitly shown as in the first utterance which must, in our view, be considered possessing the highest simultaneity degree.
The second structure is based on the implementation of conjunctions while and as linking at least two going at the same time activities; most often, like in utterances (2)-(5), they express duration.
This type of preterit durativity as its name reveals it, reinforces this very shade as it happens in example (5) or modifies another aspectual meaning into duration, like in utterances (1)-(4). We can state that only slowly in (1) possesses its true temporal dimensions; however, cautiously, thoughtfully, carefully and painfully logically exclude prompt or momentary happenings.
This type of durativity is based on a movement-expressing verb combined with a preposition explicitly showing either the final boundary of an oriented path or this one of a non-oriented, random or accidental line, thus, creating in result of presuming the fact that each body executes the A → B movement in a certain time period, aspectual meaning of duration. Amongst quoted utterances, examples (1)-(3) are based on oriented way expression, putting forward final point of path whereas (4) and (5) bring forth a complicated (4) and circular trajectory which does not point out so obviously final point although it does exist. We can state that example (5) due to movement’s circular form which is revealed by context, does not unambiguously show whether the path was once or several times covered, this fact, not preventing durative meaning understanding.
This type of durativity is based on a principle similar to this one of above presented mobile durative aspectuality, now the final explicitly shown boundary being not spatial, but temporal. Time preposition till (examples (1)-(3)) accompanying clearly stated final activity, unambiguously points out duration necessary to underlined in bold activities’ execution. We consider utterance (4), though presenting features which may relate it to adverbial-simultaneous durativity subtype, temporal-prepositional, due to adverbial particle up in swallowed up, proving definitely end of process. This way, the phrase as the long string of carriages was swallowed up should be interpreted as until the long string of carriages was swallowed up.
3.6. Lexically continuative durativity
This type of durativity is based on the one hand on durative aktionsart as it is the case in example (1), and on the other, on nouns or adjectives inherently possessing durative hues as in utterances (2)-(6). Thus, phrases like in a moment of national crisis, whole afternoon, long and tender kiss or even nouns like day logically possessing certain duration, contribute to this meaning creation.
This type of durativity is based on the use of slow movement-expressing verbs, accompanied by direction movement preposition, like in examples (1)-(3) or non-oriented path preposition as it is the case in utterance (4). Prepositions as well as general context, mutually indicating final boundary of process, bring forth duration; otherwise, final point being absent and continuous aktionsart being present, aspectuality would have been interpreted as ingressive.
This type of durative aspectuality is based on plurality of activities’ objects, this way logically extending processes time period’s length, as it is shown through the following examples.
This type of durativity is mixed, that is, it sometimes combines several different aspect-formation principles amongst above presented ones. In following utterances, examples (1) and (2), durativity results from mutual action of lexical and participle-simultaneous subtypes; in (3) we can state joint action of lexical and plural subtypes; (4) exhibits lexical-prepositional subtype emphasized by precise description of itinerary; (5) demonstrates cooperation between lexical-prepositional, adverbial and mobile aspectuality; example (6) encompasses movement description (kind of lexical durativity) and participial-simultaneous one.
In the current article we tried to concisely demonstrate really varied, multilateral and, accordingly, exciting nature of English preterit durative aspectuality. Its richness (this very quality characterizes other above enumerated aspectual preterit values as well) stems from English aspectuality cumulative essence imposing at least two different factors’ joint functioning such as durative aktionsart and: local/temporal prepositions, adverbs or adverbial expressions, plurality, participles and simultaneity, durativity possessing nouns. We hope the paper contributes through presented new durativity insights, into deepening of research into intriguing combinations between aspect formation factors at other aspectuality levels too.
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© Boryana Ruzhekova-Rogozherova