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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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3. A Possible Framework for a New Approach 49


3. A Possible Framework for a New Approach 3 .1. The Conceptual Reality of Grammatical Categories In the preceding chapter I discussed the problem of analytic direction at length and reached the conclusion that there is a point at which the distinction between the two approaches (form-to- meaning, meaning-to-form) becomes more or less neutralized, viz. when I bring the notion of 'the set of humanly conceivable notions' into the discussion. It is now time to have a closer look at the role of conceptual structures in the study of grammatical categories in natural language. As we have seen, for it to make sense at all to work with form- meaning relationships we must assume as a bare minimum that it is possible to assign one or more meanings to specific forms in a language, and that the rationale of these forms is the expression of certain meanings. In other words, a basic interpretative capacity on the part of the linguist is required if he or she wants to work with form-meaning relationships. Similarly, for a native speaker of the language to encode and decode the specific forms of a grammatical category in a language requires some sort of knowledge, if only intuitive, of the meanings conveyed (provided of course that the category conveys any meaning at all; for this problem see section 4.4 below). When encoding, the native speaker wants to convey certain meanings, and when decoding he or she interprets meanings conveyed in the message. Interpretation, whether by the...

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