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The relation between aspect and inversion in English 1

  • ASTRID DE WIT (a1)

Abstract

This article discusses the peculiar use of the simple present/past in full-verb inversion (i.e. locative inversion, directional inversion, quotative inversion, presentational there), and the corresponding scarcity of progressive aspect in these contexts. While it is normally ungrammatical in English to use the simplex tenses to report events that are ongoing at reference time, inversion seems to defy this restriction. Building on a combination of insights from analyses of aspect and of full-verb inversion in English, this study presents a cognitive-functional explanation for this exceptional characteristic of inversion that has gone largely unnoticed in previous accounts. I argue that there exists a canonical relationship between the preposed ground and the postposed figure in full-verb inversion and that this meaning of canonicity ties in perfectly with the perfective value that I deem constitutive of the English simple tenses. In addition, some cases of directional inversion involve a ‘deictic effect’ (Drubig 1988): in these instances, the conceptualizer's vantage point is anchored within the ground and the denoted (dis)appearance of the figure is construed as inevitable. On the basis of a large sample of corpus data and native-speaker elicitations, I demonstrate that the use of the progressive is disallowed in inverted contexts that involve a deictic effect, while its use is dispreferred but not excluded in other cases of inversion. This study thus brings together insights from the domains of information structure and aspect in English, and merges these into a comprehensive cognitive account.

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1

The present analysis was written at the University of Colorado at Boulder under a fellowship granted by the Belgian American Educational Foundation. I thank Laura Michaelis and Frank Brisard for our challenging discussions on the ideas presented in this article, and the editor of ELL and two anonymous reviewers for their detailed comments on previous versions of this analysis. I further wish to express my gratitude to Betty Birner and Carlos Prado-Alonso for allowing me to make use of their corpus data, and to Jena Hwang for assisting me in collecting my own.

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The relation between aspect and inversion in English 1

  • ASTRID DE WIT (a1)

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