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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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7. The Metacategories of Action, Tense and Aspect 199


7. The Metacategories of Action, Tense and Aspect This chapter examines the categories of tense, aspect and action on the basis of English as the primary source-language. The methodo- logical framework for the proposals and the formal representations are those introduced and argued for in the previous chapters. 7 .1. Preliminary Identification of Category Concepts We have already looked at some relevant data in our discussion of the locutionary agent's choice of verb form and, indeed, its signi- ficance for metacategories. We have also seen (especially in section 2.5) that basic to any description of verbal categories is the linguist's recognition of some sort of relationship between form and meaning in actual, language-specific data. That recognition may spark off a process of segmentation, co-ordination, differentiation and classification. The substitution test described in chapters 5 and 6 is an important instrument at the linguist's disposal when he is trying to cope with that process. In other words, looking at a broad range of data and substitutional variants in a language such as English may sharpen the linguist's sense of form-meaning rela- tionships and lead to the setting up of grammatical categories in universal grammar and its general metalanguage. This section puts theory into practice and tries to identify some of the important general category concepts in the analysis of verbal categories as a first step towards formulating a grammar of tense, aspect and action. The initial task in the process of establishing general metalinguistic categories is to consider some language- specific...

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