reiterating iteratives (once again)

Hartmut Haberland hartmut at RUC.DK
Sat Aug 30 21:44:36 UTC 2003

Pier Marco Bertinetto wrote:

> I read the correspondence concerning iteratives, and I would like to
> add a personal comment.
> I agree that no terminology is perfect, for the simple reason that
> human beings are not. On the other hand, I think a little effort to
> find a common ground would be welcome. Just think of this. Suppose you
> want to browse the Konstanz Archive about this matter (caution: I did
> not do the experiment, this is simply an example).
> Well, what are you going to do? I presume you would do the same as me,
> namely search for any possible term relating to the concept in
> question, because the Archive obviously inherits the terminology of
> its sources (iterative, reiterative, pluractional, frequentative,
> repetitive action, repeated action etc.). This is unfortunate. Even
> more unfortunate, though, is the fact that you do not know what these
> words actually stand for, unless the source provides an explicit
> explanation.
> So, after all, I agree with those who are in favour of a "light" (non
> intrusive) standardization.
> By the way, D. Cusic 1981 (Verbal plurality and aspect, PhD Stanford
> University), introduces a nice distinction here: "event-internal (vs.
> external) plurality". This does not need any further comment, anybody
> would understand what is meant by that.
> Needless to say, this does not solve the problem. Event-external
> plurality may in turn mean two different (alas, often confused in the
> literature) things, namely simple iterativity or habituality (as
> implemented in the Romance languages or in Bulgarian, and as defined
> in Lenci & Bertinetto 2000 ( "Aspect, adverbs and events: Habituality
> vs. perfectivity", in James Higginbotham, Fabio Pianesi & Achille
> Varzi (eds.), Speaking of Events, Oxford University Press, New York /
> Oxford: 245-287).
> In any case, one step at a time is not a waste of time.
> Best
> Pier Marco Bertinetto

Another personal comment:

As to "event-internal (vs. external) plurality": a good example is the
well-know film title,

The postman always rings twice.

I guess this is not ambiguous (in most if not all conceivable contexts), but

The postman rang twice

is - and the ambiguity is exactly that between event-internal and
external plurality.

Finding catching examples pinponting a terminological distinction by way
of ambiguity of a sentence-out-of context (an ambiguity that often may
not even be observed when a sentecnce is presented in context) should
not be dismissed as a mere pedagogical device. We all know cases of
terminological distinctions where the distinction in itself is obvious
enough, but we can never remember which is which. My favorite examples
are transaction vs. interaction, or coherence vs. cohesion. (Admittedly
not typological examples, but maybe well-chosen for exactly that reason.)

Needless to say, I completely agree with Pier Marco.

Another good example is the stubbornness with which scholars of Slavonic
languages insist on calling aspect which really is Aktionsart. Yes, I
know I am being provocative, but in spite of the fact that numerous
people have tried to persuade me that this terminology actually is
correct (or adequate), I'm not convinced.

Of course, this is in part a consequence of the use of English as a
terminological lingua franca. Nobody would probably claim that Russian
vid and Greek opsi actually are the same phenomenon (unless you only are
interested in function and disregard form completely), and this might be
a point in favour of good old Rasmus Rask's proposal to use separate
grammatical terminology for every language you are talking about. But if
you follow his suggestion, typology turns out to be virtually
impossible. I don't want to elaborate on this since it is obvious what
this implies, but I wanted to remind the community that we are not just
discussing terminology - you never discuss just terminology - but that
we are getting at something very basic and central.

For a number of reasons, and for good reasons, typology must answer
'yes' to the two questions,

1. Can languages be compared?, and
2. is it posssible to find a system of classification which works across

at least as a working hypothesis. But making such a decision does not
make the problem disappear. If we don't make any classifications, we
cannot talk. This doesn't mean that classifications are unproblematic -
but not just because the one classification might be more suitable than
the other. The very premises on the basis of which we classify may be
the real problem. For this reason, I believe that the history of
terminilogy gives us invaluable insight into the basics of any
discipline. On the other hand, doing our job requires that we forget
this - most of the time.

Hartmut Haberland

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