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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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6. Categories and Form-Meaning Relationships 133


6. Categories and Form-Meaning Relationships We have already discussed the nature of form-meaning relationships at length (especially in chapter 2), but that discussion was primarily about analytic directionality. We have also (especially in section 2.4) hinted at the problem of defining what is meant by the term 'category', which is crucial for the description of form-meaning relationships. I shall now take a closer look at categories as such and the complex form-meaning relationships involved. 6.1. Formal and Semantic Complexity It is a commonplace in grammar that the relationship between form and meaning is complex. Thus in all languages there are cases where one grammatical form seems to require a description in terms of several meanings, and, conversely, cases where there are several competing expressions for a given meaning (though variation of form tends always to lead to some variation of meaning, cf. e.g. Bolinger 1977). One example is the simple present tense in English, which - among other things - may be used to express a strictly present situation (/know her very well), a future situation (He leaves for Rome tomorrow), a past situation (In 1939 Hitler invades Poland), an occupation (Jack teaches linguistics), a habit (Jill smokes fat cigars), an eternal truth (The sun rises in the east), or serve as a performative (I promise to help her). Conversely, there are in English a number of possible ways of expressing a future situation, each with a subtle additional shade of meaning: e.g. the simple present (He leaves for Rome...

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