proto-language proto-language at
Mon Aug 30 00:59:27 UTC 1999

Dear Lloyd and IEists:

----- Original Message -----
From: <ECOLING at>
Sent: Friday, August 20, 1999 11:32 AM

> Momentary-Durative is a misleading set of terms,
> because BOTH are highly marked and specialized.

> Perfective-Imperfective in their standard uses
> probably work much better for the needs of this discussion.

[ moderator snip ]

Pat comments:
Actuallly, I believe the terms momentary and durative are more more readily
understood than perfective and imperfective.

Larry, for example, in his dictionary defines "perfective" as "A
superordinate aspectual category involving a lack of explicit reference to
the internal temporal consistency of a situation", which, I believe is most

As grammarians of those languages in which the perfective aspect is
prominent know, the essence of the perfective is "one which desribes an
action which has been or will be definitely completed" (The Russian Verb,
Nevill Forbes, Oxford, 1961).

Larry writes that the perfective aspect "is chiefly expressed by the simple
past-tense form", and then offers the example "The hamster climbed up behind
the bookcase." But he obviously does not realize that the "up" is what, in
this case, makes the verb of perfective aspect.

"The hamster (has) climbed up behind the bookcase."
"The hamster climbs up behind the bookcase."
"The hamster will climb up behind the bookcase."

All above are equally "perfective".

"The hamster (has) climbed behind the bookcase."
"The hamster climbs behind the bookcase."
"The hamster climb behind the bookcase."

All above are equally "imperfective", or would normally be construed so.

I am sure any of our list-members who command Russian will subscribe to this
basic division.

If Larry and other modern linguists want to obsfuscate the traditional
meaning of "reflexive (verb)" to cover non-instances of the definition "A
verb which indicates an action of which the subject or agent and the object
are identical" (Mario Pei, Dictionary of Linguistics, New York, 1954), as he
seems to, there is little harm done once one is aware of his expanded
definition but neglecting to identify the *primary* characteristic of
perfective aspect in a definition is, assuredly, fuzzily "modern" but
unfortunately, completely beside the point.

Once one has the correct definitions in mind, one can see why Lehmann has no
hesitation in attributing to the IE injunctive (-perfective, +durative), to
the aorist (+perfective, + momentary), to the perfect
(+perfectuve, -momentary) (Winfred Lehmann, Proto-Indo-European Syntax,
Austin, 1974).

It is also surprising that Larry's definition makes no mention of

"He ate bread" will usually be imperfective; "He ate the bread" will usually
be perfective.

The problem, of course, is that English grammarians did not previously
recognize these regular mechanisms in English (and other IE languages except
Slavic), and they are not a part of everyone's cultural background.


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