Semantics of Aspect

Instructor: Berit Gehrke  (

This course provides an introduction to the semantics of aspect. Assuming a general distinction between lexical (situation) and grammatical (viewpoint) aspect we will explore how both interact, also with Tense, to compositionally build up the aspectual interpretation at the sentence and ultimately discourse level. The last part of the course will zoom in on the aspectual system of Russian and end with some description and exploration of differences in the use of morphological aspect between Russian and Czech (and possibly other Slavic languages).


  • Introduction: Lexical vs. grammatical aspect, aspect vs. tense, syntactic background assumptions (Reichenbach 1947; Klein 1995; Demirdache and Uribe-Etxebarria 2000, 2014; Filip 2011, etc)

  • Lexical aspect (situation aspect): Vendler classes, (a)telicity, aspectual composition (Vendler 1957; Verkuyl 1972, 1993, 2005; Bach 1981, 1986; Krifka 1989, 1992, 1998; Ramchand 1997; Hay, Kennedy, and Levin 1999; Kennedy and Levin 2008; Kennedy 2012; Filip 1999; Rothstein 2004; Zwarts 2005; Caudal and Nicolas 2005; Piñón 2008, etc).

  • Grammatical aspect (viewpoint aspect): Progressive (e.g. English, Spanish), (Im)perfective (Slavic), Aorist vs. Imperfect (e.g. French, Spanish, Bulgarian), Perfect? (Germanic) (Smith 1991/97; Kamp and Reyle 1993; Portner 1998, 2011; de Swart 1998, 2012; Filip 1999, 2003; Alexiadou, Rathert, and von Stechow 2003, etc).

  • Grammatical aspect in Russian (Schoorlemmer 1995; Klein 1995; Mehlig 1996; Borik 2002, 2006; Paslawka and von Stechow 2003; Grønn 2004, 2015; Romanova 2007; Altshuler 2012; Tatevosov 2015, etc).

  • Cross-Slavic variation in grammatical aspect (Stunova ́ 1993; Kresnin 2000; Dickey 2000, 2015; Gehrke 2002, 2008; Dickey and Kresnin 2009; Fehrmann, Junghanns, and Lenertova ́ 2010; Alvestad 2014; Arregui, Rivero, and Salanova 2014, etc.)


Alexiadou, Artemis, Monika Rathert, and Arnim von Stechow. 2003. Perfect Explorations. Interface Explorations 2. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Altshuler, Daniel. 2012. Aspectual meaning meets discourse coherence: A look at the Russian imper- fective. Journal of Semantics 29.1:39–108.

Alvestad, Silje Susanne. 2014. Fake imperfective imperatives in Slavic. In Corpus-based Studies in Contrastive Linguistics, ed. Signe Oksefjell Ebeling, Atle Grønn, Kjetil Rå Hauge, and Diana Santos, Oslo Studies in Language 6(1), 29–42.

Arregui, Ana, María Luisa Rivero, and Andrés Salanova. 2014. Cross-linguistic variation in imperfec- tivity. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32.2:307–362.

Bach, Emmon. 1981. On time, tense and aspect: An essay in English metaphysics. In Radical Prag- matics, ed. Peter Cole, 63–81. New York: Academic Press.

Bach, Emmon. 1986. The algebra of events. Linguistics and Philosophy 9:5–16.
Borik, Olga. 2002. Aspect and Reference Time. LOT Dissertation Series 64. Utrecht: LOT.

Borik, Olga. 2006. Aspect and Reference Time. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Caudal, Patrick, and David Nicolas. 2005. Types of degrees and types of event structures. In Event Arguments: Foundations and Applications, ed. Claudia Maienborn and Angelika Wöllstein, 277–300. Tu ̈bingen: Niemeyer.

Demirdache, Hamida, and Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria. 2000. The primitives of temporal relations. In Step by Step: Essays on Minimalist Syntax in Honor of Howard Lasnik, ed. Roger Martin, David Michaels, and Juan Uriagereka, 157–186. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Demirdache, Hamida, and Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria. 2014. Aspect and temporal anaphora. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 32.2:855–895.

Dickey, Stephen M. 2000. Parameters of Slavic Aspect: A Cognitive Approach. Stanford: CSLI Press.

Dickey, Stephen M. 2015. Parameters of Slavic aspect reconsidered: The east-west aspect division from a diachronic perspective. In Studies in Accentology and Slavic Linguistics in Honor of Ronald F. Feldstein, ed. Miriam Shrager, Edna Andrews, George Fowler, and Steven Franks, 29–45. Bloomington: Slavica.

Dickey, Stephen M., and Susan C. Kresnin. 2009. Verbal aspect and negation in Russian and Czech. Russian Linguistics 33:121–176.

Fehrmann, Dorothee, Uwe Junghanns, and Denisa Lenertova ́. 2010. Two reflexive markers in Slavic. Russian Linguistics 34:203–238.

Filip, Hana. 1999. Aspect, Eventuality Types and Nominal Reference. New York: Garland Publishing.

Filip, Hana. 2003. Prefixes and the delimitation of events. Journal of Slavic Linguistics 11.1:55–101.

Filip, Hana. 2011. Aspectual class and aktionsart. In Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning (Vol. 2), ed. Klaus von Heusinger, Claudia Maienborn, and Paul Portner, 1186–1217. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Gehrke, Berit. 2002. Systemhafte Unterschiede im Aspektgebrauch zwischen dem Russischen und dem Tschechischen. Unpublished MA thesis, Humboldt University Berlin.

Gehrke, Berit. 2008. Ps in Motion: On the Syntax and Semantics of P Elements and Motion Events. LOT Dissertation Series 184. Utrecht: LOT.

Grønn, Atle. 2004. The Semantics and Pragmatics of the Russian Factual Imperfective. Doctoral Dissertation, Oslo University.

Grønn, Atle. 2015. On (in)definite tense and aspect in Russian. In Formal Description of Slavic Languages: Proceedings of FDSL 10, Leipzig 2013, eds. Gerhild Zybatow, Petr Biskup, Marcel Guhl, Claudia Hurtig, Olav Mueller-Reichau, and Maria Yastrebowa, Linguistik International, 175–196. Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang.

Hay, Jennifer, Chris Kennedy, and Beth Levin. 1999. Scalar structure underlies telicity in ‘degree achievements’. In Proceedings of SALT 9, ed. Tanya Matthews and Dan Strolovitch, 127–144. Ithaca: CLC Publications.

Kamp, Hans, and Uwe Reyle. 1993. From Discourse to Logic: Introduction to Modeltheoretic Se- mantics of Natural Language, Formal Logic and Discourse Representation Theory. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Kennedy, Chris. 2012. The composition of incremental change. In Telicity, Change, State: A Cross- Categorial View of Event Structure, ed. Violeta Demonte and Louise McNally, 103–121. Ox- ford: Oxford University Press.

Kennedy, Christopher, and Beth Levin. 2008. Measure of change: The adjectival core of degree achievements. In Adjectives and Adverbs: Syntax, Semantics and Discourse, ed. Louise Mc- Nally and Christopher Kennedy, 156–182. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Klein, Wolfgang. 1995. A time-relational analysis of Russian aspect. Language 71:669–695. Kresnin, Susan. 2000. Aspect, singularization, and pluralization in Czech and Russian. SEEJ 44.3:292–412.

Krifka, Manfred. 1989. Nominal reference, temporal constitution and quantification in event semantics. In Semantics and Contextual Expression, ed. Renate Bartsch, Johan van Benthem, and Peter van Emde Boas, 75–115. Dordrecht: Foris.

Krifka, Manfred. 1992. Thematic relations as links between nominal reference and temporal constitution. In Lexical Matters, ed. Ivan Sag and Anna Szabolcsi, 29–53. Stanford: CSI Publications.

Krifka, Manfred. 1998. The origins of telicity. In Events and Grammar, ed. Susan Rothstein, 197–235. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Mehlig, Hans Robert. 1996. Some analogies between the morphology of nouns and the morphology of aspect in Russian. Folia Linguistica 30.1-2:87–109.

Paslawka, Alla, and Arnim von Stechow. 2003. Perfect readings in Russian. In Perfect Explorations, ed. Artemis Alexiadou, Monika Rathert, and Arnim von Stechow, Interface Explorations 2, 307–362. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Piñón, Christopher J. 2008. Aspectual composition with degrees. In Adjectives and Adverbs: Syntax, Semantics and Discourse, ed. Louise McNally and Christopher Kennedy, 183–219. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Portner, Paul. 1998. The progressive in modal semantics. Language 74:760–787.

Portner, Paul. 2011. Perfect and progressive. In Semantics: An International Handbook of Natural Language Meaning (Vol. 2), ed. Klaus von Heusinger, Claudia Maienborn, and Paul Portner,1217–1261. Berlin: de Gruyter.

Ramchand, Gillian. 1997. Aspect and Predication: The Semantics of Argument Structure. Oxford:Oxford University Press.

Reichenbach, Hans. 1947. Elements of Symbolic Logic. London: MacMillan.

Romanova, Eugenia. 2007. Constructing Perfectivity in Russian. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Tromsø.

Rothstein, Susan. 2004. Structuring Events: A Study in the Semantics of Lexical Aspect. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.

Schoorlemmer, Maaike. 1995. Participial Passive and Aspect in Russian. Doctoral Dissertation, Utrecht University.

Smith, Carlota S. 1991/97. The Parameter of Aspect. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Stunová Anna. 1993. A Contrastive Analysis of Russian and Czech Aspect: Invariance vs. Discourse. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Amsterdam.

de Swart, Henriëtte. 1998. Aspect shift and coercion. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory, 16.2:347–85.

de Swart, Henriëtte. 2012. Verbal aspect. In The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect, ed. Robert Binnick, Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics, 752–780. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Tatevosov, Sergei. 2015. Severing imperfectivity from the verb. In Formal Description of Slavic Languages: Proceedings of FDSL 10, Leipzig 2013, ed. Gerhild Zybatow, Petr Biskup, Marcel Guhl, Claudia Hurtig, Olav Mueller-Reichau, and Maria Yastrebowa, Linguistik International, 465–494. Frankfurt/M.: Peter Lang.

Vendler, Zeno. 1957. Verbs and times. Philosophical Review 56:143–160.

Verkuyl, Henk. 1972. On the Compositional Nature of the Aspects. Dordrecht: Foundations of Language Supplement Series 15.

Verkuyl, Henk. 1993. A Theory of Aspectuality: The Interaction between Temporal and Atemporal Structure. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Verkuyl, Henk. 2005. Aspectual composition: Surveying the ingredients. In Perspectives on Aspect, ed. Angeliek van Hout, Henrie ̈tte de Swart, and Henk Verkuyl, 19–39. Dordrecht: Springer.

Zwarts, Joost. 2005. Prepositional aspect and the algebra of paths. Linguistics and Philosophy 28.6:739–779.