Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at
Thu Aug 12 20:29:02 UTC 1999

Patrick C. Ryan <proto-language at> wrote:

> If one says in English: "He is eating up the food,"  we have a present
> progressive perfective.

> "He was eating up the food, " past progressive perfective;

What is your definition of ``perfective''? In particular, do you think that,
say Stadnard Arabic has perfective vs imperfective distinction? It looks to
me like your ``perfective vs imperfective'' is my ``non-atelic vs telic''
or, ``having an overt bounder vs not so''.

I base my definition on the data collected in Dahl, Tense and Aspect
Systems, 1985. Perfective is the form used to refer to events considered as
a whole and having a definite end point; it must be opposed to an
imperfective which is seen as either neutral with regard to
result/termination or explicitely denying it [which makes it unsuitable to
be the narrative form.]

> In fact, IMHO, the major original employment of IE -*i, which, added to
> "secondary" personal endings yields the "primary" set, was to create a
> "progressive" form, with "progressive" understood as designating a verbal
> action regarded as a period of time during which something else happened or
> was happening.

The focal use of progressive is to state that a dynamic action extends
across a reference moment. It does not seem to be common when duration is to
be indicated. See Dahl, p.91.

> While he ate the up food, I drank.  =   He was eating up the food (and) I
> drank.

English uses the progressive in more contexts than many other languages. So
we need to be careful.[But even then, it seems to me that ``John was singing
for ten minutes'' makes the listener think that something else is coming,
unlike ``John sang for ten minutes.'' which stands by itself.]

>> But languages with a perfective do not do that. As soon as the narrative is
>> in the past, they use the perfective.

> Pat interjects:

> That does not seem to be true of Russian: pisal (impf. past); napisal (pf.
> past).

What is the frequency of imperfectives among the past forms in stories
narrated using past forms?

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