Perfectivity As An Attention Phenomenon: The Aspectual Theory Expects Neural Evidence

Nezrin Samedova
Azerbaijan University of Languages
1.1. The idea that aspectual meaning has a specific cognitive nature already appears in a paper published in 1891 [1: 379]. In 1927 work, S. Karcevski writes that perfectivization is nothing else but the concentration of our attention on one concrete moment of a process that excludes all other moments and creates the impression that the perfective process has no duration at all [2: 89]. Cf. [3].
Having imbibed classical ideas, the theory I follow states that perfectivity is the seme ‘punctual bound’. The seme has a peculiar cognitive nature. Attention focuses on it and, consequently, the seme backgrounds some semantic features of a verb, the seme ‘process’ in particular. Very importantly, the ability of backgrounding has a fixed power. The perspective corroborates and explains, among others, the scholars’ intuitions about the following cases in Russian verbal system.

2.1. Verbs like prygnut’ (“jump”) are traditionally treated as punctual / punctive, instantaneous, momentary, i.e. as having no seme ‘process’. Indeed, cf. prygnut’ k stolu and doprygat’ do stola. On the other hand, one cannot deny that such verbs possess the seme ‘process’, cf., e.g. [4: 185, 227] and phrases like медленно прыгнул (“jumped slowly”).

The paradox is solved due to differentiating the homonymous imperfectives prygat’1 and prygat’2 (“jump”). We show that they significantly differ regarding their behavior. The latter refers to a very short physical action that does not last long. The action is conceptualized in full accordance with the characteristic and Russian captures the concept, namely prygat’2 possesses the peculiar seme ‘process having short (i.e. non-standard) duration’. This is also true for prygnut’, while both prygat’1 and doprygat’ have the seme ‘process of standard duration’.

Thus, the illusion that prygnut’ is punctual emerges because it is the seme ‘process of short duration’ that is overshadowed by the aspectual seme ‘final bound’, whereas in doprygat’ the seme ‘process of standard duration’ is backgrounded. Cf. the visual metaphors:
doprygat’ do stola prygnut’ k stolu
─────────────• ─────•

2.2. When comparing units like stat’ prygat’ and zaprygat’, some scholars note that the construction foregrounds the process, cf. e.g. [5: 221]. We show that stat’+INF, unlike the verb, is characterized with the syncretic seme ‘process of long (i.e. non-standard) duration’ and the seme ‘initial bound’ is not able to conceal it completely.

2.3. The seme ‘initial-final bound’ makes interesting effects in perfectives like poprygat’ and proprygat’.
3. Thus, the theory provides linguistic evidence regarding one case of the interaction of semantic elements, namely the existence of attention phenomena in language, cf. [6]. We expect neurolinguistic studies to reveal the underlying neural mechanisms of the described phenomena.

1. Размусен Л.П. (1891). О глагольных временах и об отношении их к видам в русском, немецком и французском языках // Журнал министерства народного просвещения, С.-Петербург, № 6, с. 376-417.
2. Карцевский С.И. (2004). Система русского глагола / С.И. Карцевский. Из лингвистического наследия. Т. 2, Москва, с. 31-207.
3. Петрухина Е.В. (2000). Аспектуальные категории глагола в русском языке в сопоставлении с чешским, словацким, польским и болгарским языками. Москва.
4. Маслов Ю.С. (1959). Глагольный вид в современном болгарском литературном языке (значение и употребление) / Вопросы грамматики болгарского литературного языка. Москва, с. 157-312.
5. Зализняк А.А., Шмелёв А.Д. (2002). Семантика ‘начала’ с аспектологической точки зрения / Логический анализ языка. Семантика начала и конца. Москва, с. 211-224.
6. Talmy, L. (2007). Attention phenomena. In: Handbook of Cognitive Linguistics. Ed. By Geeraerts, D. and Cuyckens, H. OUP. P. 264-293.