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The Study of Aspect, Tense and Action

Towards a Theory of the Semantics of Grammatical Categories

Carl Bache and Carl Bache

This book addresses some methodological problems in the study of tense, aspect and action: How should linguists go about describing these categories and with what terminology? How does our work in this area relate to descriptions of language(s) in general? What research strategies should be explored? Bache discusses the interaction between language-specific grammars and universal grammar, including the problems of analytic directionality, semantic minimalism, and the general metalanguage of universal grammar. The book has several sources of inspiration: generative linguistics, structuralist phonology, glossematics, functional grammar, cognitive semantics and prototype theory. Bache argues strongly for the inclusion of a paradigmatic dimension in the study of the semantics of morphosyntactic categories. Rather than adhering to one particular linguistic school, Bache provides a general description of tense, aspect and action in the form of generalizations that should be accommodated in any theory.

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1. Introduction 9

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1. Introduction This book addresses some challenging methodological problems in the analysis of tense, aspect and action in natural language. Over the last two decades an increasing number of linguists have been concerned with these verbal categories from a universal (or cross- linguistic) point of view. At the same time, and often as an immediate result of general-linguistic contributions to the subject (such as e.g. Comrie 1976, 1985 and Dahl 1985), there has been a proliferation of language-specific studies (for a recent publication on aspect and tense in a broad range of languages, see Bache, Bas bell & Lindberg 1994 ). In itself, this is highly desirable. Major advances have been made, both at the general-linguistic level and at the language-specific level. However, there is in this productive development of the field often a worrying lack of concern for certain fundamental methodological and terminological issues. The present study is an attempt to highlight notoriously problematic areas in the analysis of tense, aspect and action and to offer tentative solutions. At the same time it presents an alternative, or at least a supplement, to existing introductions to the field. In this study, an emphasis is placed on such basic questions as: How should we go about describing these categories and with what terminology? What are our working conditions? How does our work relate to descriptions of natural languages in general? What issues are we interested in and how should they be presented? What research strategies should be explored? In my attempt to deal...

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