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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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8. Towards a Theory of Action, Tense and Aspect 299


8. Towards a Theory of Action, Tense and Aspect This chapter offers an overview of the description proposed in chapter 7 and briefly describes some of its applications. Let us begin by recapitulating one of the central tenets of this book: one of the tasks of universal grammar is to provide a general metalanguage and an absolute standard if we want it to serve as a useful framework for the analysis of any particular language. This approach to universal grammar is prompted by the need to improve interscholarly communication and to have instrumental research strategies in our continual quest for insights into the nature of human language. The assumption here is that only by having such a 'too strong' and 'too regular' model to relate to, can one hope to be able to determine, with any degree of precision, the nature of a language-specific system, including its irregularities and peculiarities. The description of action, tense and aspect and the general metalanguage proposed in chapter 7 is an absolute, image-based prototype model. It embodies, in a coherent and regular way, what sense we can make out of the meanings and relations that we recognize as important in language-specific data. Any deviation from this model in a specific language may falsify it or show it to be incomplete at one level. That is the rule of the game for any model. But at the same time, at another level, by being capable of identifying language-specific deviation with great precision, the model confirms...

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