Perfectivity and Reference-Time Building

In: Cross-Linguistic Perspectives on the Semantics of Grammatical Aspect
Author: Galia Hatav

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Along with the other chapters in this volume, this chapter aims to contribute to the understanding of the semantics of grammatical aspect. In particular, it deals with the notion of perfectivity, which is considered to be the most typical category of grammatical aspect and has been given much attention in studies dealing with temporality in language.

There have been two main influential approaches dealing with the notion of perfectivity, namely, the completeness and temporal approaches. Comrie’s (1976) analysis, developed further by the part/whole theories, defines perfective and imperfective clauses as denoting complete and incomplete situations, respectively. Klein’s (1992; 1994) analysis defines the notion in purely temporal terms, stipulating that perfective clauses denote situations whose event-time is included in their reference-time while imperfective clauses denote situations whose event-time includes their reference-time. It seems to me that both approaches are compatible, as each concentrates on one of the (im)perfective properties. However, I argue that those properties are only part of the picture. Connecting the dots between several studies on aspect in general and the Russian and Biblical Hebrew aspect systems in particular, I conclude that the perfective is also a reference-time builder, as opposed to the imperfective, whose clauses must borrow their reference-time from the (extra) linguistic context.