Aspect in Chinese: Toward a unidimensional model

TitreAspect in Chinese: Toward a unidimensional model
Publication TypeCommunication
Année de publication2021
AuthorsSaillard, Claire
Titre de la conférenceNouvelles perspectives sur l'aspect : du "modèle slave" vers les autres langues
Date de publication04/2021
Lieu de la conférenceUniversité Sorbonne Nouvelle
Mots-clésaspect, Chinese, coercion

The systematic study of aspect in Chinese started in the late 20th century, and due to typological considerations and to the influence of Vendler’s (1957) seminal work, aspect in Chinese was compared to its counterpart in English, rather than Russian. Smith’s model of aspect has also been widely used in Chinese linguistics, not the least because she herself published about aspect in Chinese (Smith 1990; 1994; 1997; Smith et Erbaugh 2005). But some linguists have argued for the specificity of Chinese regarding the expression of aspectual meaning.
Thus, in this talk, we start by reviewing works that adopt the bi-dimensional approach to aspect – distinguishing “situation aspect” from “viewpoint aspect” (Smith 1997), while discussing the relevance of certain situation types for Chinese.
We then discuss propositions of three-dimensional models for Chinese, like Xiao and McEnery's (2004), where the analysis of situation aspect is split in two levels, to explain how aspect operates both at the lexical and the phrasal levels. Similarly, Jin (金立鑫 2008) advocates a distinction between Aktionsart (applying to lexical verbs ) and situation types (encompassing verb phrases). Such a distinction aims to disentangle what in aspectual meanings pertains to the
lexicon proper, as opposed to morphosyntax.
However, we aim to show that it is not a straightforward task, given the imbrication of the lexical and the morpho-syntactic levels as regards aspectual meaning. As exemplified in (1-3) below (examples from Lin 2004), alongside verb meaning, perfective grammatical aspect marker -le crucially contributes to the definition of situation types.
(1) State
zhe shuang xie hen po
this CL shoe very broken
This pair of shoes is lousy.

(2) State + -le à Achievement
zhe shuang xie po-le
this CL shoe broken-PFV
This pair of shoes is worn out.

(3) Activity + [Achievement State+ -le] à Accomplishment
zhe shuang xie chuan-po-le
this CL shoe wear-broken-PFV
This pair of shoes has been worn to tatters.

Building on the difficulty to ascertain the aspectual specifications of verbs abstracted from their morphosyntactic contexts in Chinese, we argue for a unidimensional model, ranging from the lexicon to aspectual syntax. We adopt Michaelis' (2004) claims that the lexicon (verb types) and the morphosyntax (aspectual operators) basically use the same aspectual classes, the same
basic distinction obtaining at both levels. Focusing on three different aspect markers – perfective -le, durative -zhe and progressive zai, we describe coercion as a central operation accounting for the versatility of aspectual types in Chinese.