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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

7 - Aspect marking


We opened the previous chapter with a description of the grammatical category of tense, which achieves a location of situations in time relative to the time of utterance (moment of speaking), or some other temporal reference point. We will continue this discussion in the present chapter, but will shift the focus to the internal temporal properties of the situation described by a sentence and the grammatical means available for portraying them. The label conventionally used for such grammatical marking is ‘aspect’. Comrie (1976: 3) defines aspects as ‘different ways of viewing the internal temporal constituency of a situation’. The temporal properties that we will be interested in involve central parameters of the situation described, especially such parameters as boundedness, completion, continuity, repetition, inception, and progressiveness, as well as some others. Moreover, these temporal properties are not objective, but, crucially, depend on how a speaker construes a real-world situation in their mind, or, put differently, how they view the situation. Aspect, thus, is a highly subjective category insofar as it allows the speaker to highlight different temporal properties of a situation, and to portray a situation in different ways.


We stated above that the term ‘aspect’ relates to grammatical exponents. As with tense marking, not all languages have aspects, but all languages can express aspectual distinctions by lexical means. For example, the contrast between perfective and imperfective situations in German may be expressed by a prepositional construction, as shown in (1), even though German lacks a corresponding grammatical aspect. We may translate (1a) into English using the simple past and render (1b) with the progressive aspect.

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Further reading
Bao, Zhiming. 1995. Already in Singapore English. World Englishes 14(2). 181–8.
Bao, Zhiming. 2005. The aspectual system of Singapore English and the systemic substratist explanation. Journal of Linguistics 41(2). 237–67.
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Miller, Jim. 2004. Problems for typology: Perfects and resultatives in spoken and non-standard English and Russian. In Bernd Kortmann (ed.), Dialectology Meets Typology: Dialect Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective, 284–311. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Pietsch, Lukas. 2008. Prepositional aspect constructions in Hiberno-English. In Peter Siemund and Noemi Kintana (eds.), Language Contact and Contact Languages, 213–36. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Siemund, Peter. 2004. Substrate, superstrate and universal: Perfect constructions in Irish English. In Bernd Kortmann (ed.), Dialectology Meets Typology: Dialect Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective, 401–34. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
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