A brief comment on telicity and boundedness

I find it difficult to accept the analysis of the Ancient Greek perfect as proposed by Gero and Stechow (2003; LINK: 2002 prepub version), aside from the fact that I think they rely too heavily on the traditional categories of the English perfect, the larger issue is that they successfully survey thousands of years of data without any reference to telicity. I’m at a complete loss how one could do that, especially with a grammatical morpheme like the Greek perfect.

Their only mention of telicity at all is made in defining perfective aspect, where they claim that perfective aspect denotes the completion of an event. And even this does not hold. In as much as the perfective aspect refers to an event as a single entity without reference to duration, or iteration, the perfective aspect is bounded, but it is not inherently telic. Consider the sentences below in terms of how the first entails (or doesn’t) the second.

(1) John was walking in the park this morning –> John walked in the park this morning.
(2) John was walking to the park this morning –/–> John walked to the park this morning.

In sentence pair (a) The imperfective predicate in entails the perfective predicate. This is possible because while the perfective predicate is bound, it is not telic. Conversely, in sentence pair (b) the imperfective predicate does not entail the perfective predicate. There is no way of knowing from the imperfective predicate whether or not John successfully arrived at the park. An endpoint in an imperfective clause is only a potential endpoint with no entailment of its achievement.

All that to say, boundedness needs to be kept distinction from telicity. Boundedness is a feature of the perfective aspect. Telicity is not.*

*To be fair, there are a number of other aspectologists** that fail to make this distinction.
**Incidentally, the correct collective noun for referring to a group of aspectuologists is: “an iteration of aspectologists.”***
***Yes, I just made that up.

10 thoughts on “A brief comment on telicity and boundedness

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  1. The sentence in question is: “PERFECTIVE seems to be the same notional category as in the Slavic languages, i.e. it expresses completion/telicity of the event type denoted by the VP.” I interpret the slash as “or” not “also known as.”

      1. My own view or what I think is Gerö & von Stechow’s view? They deal with the imperfective paradox in a fairly common way with their PROG() operator in (15a), which selects the non-final parts of the VP and thereby avoid the telic entailment. So I don’t think they’ve made an elementary error as far as that is concerned.

        it is clear, however, that “telicity” is not their preferred terminology (as you noted, only appearing once, and in a not very helpful context), but the notion is present in their theoretical system through their Vendler-based aspectual class “achievement/accomplishment.” And on page 16, they relate this class to their RESULT-operator: “RESULT is a stativiser which gives us the resultant state of an accomplishment or achievement.” They further claim that the RESULT operator gives one of the sense of the Homeric perfect, and then acknowledge “the Greek Perfect during the classical period often yields a resultative reading” (p.20). After page 20, they look at the exceptions to the resultative reading. So their analysis does take telicity into account, but not with that magic word.

        As far as I can tell, their system differs from Borik’s more in terminology than in substance. Like Borik, G&vS distinguish between aspectual class (G&vs) = semantic aspect/telicity (Borik) and semantic aspect (G&vS) = morphological aspect/perfectivity (Borik). They both agree in relating the latter level of aspect of the Reichenbach/Klein reference time system. It is rather unfortunate, however, that “semantic aspect” means very different things for them. Ditto for “morphological aspect.”

        1. Rephrasing the question: why do you think the slash should mean “or”?

          (the only point in referencing Borik for was the difference between boundedness and telicity. For the record, I find both Borik and Gero-Strechow problematic [Borik less so]. In fact, anyone who uses Reichenbach is generally more trouble than they’re worth. That was truly the worst thing to happen to the tense and aspect literature).

        2. Because the perfective is generally disjunctive between qualitative-state (Q) bounding and temporal (T) bounding, to use Croft’s terms (sorry I don’t know your preferred terminology, but I think you’ve read Croft). Q-bounding leads to telicity and formulations of the perfective in terms of limits, while T-bounding leads to completeness and formulations of the perfective in terms of totality. That’s why both atelic semelfactives (T-bound) and telic achievements (Q-bound) are at home in the aorist, and why the aorist of states and activities can get either ingressive (Q-bound) or complexive (T-bound) readings. (My pet theory for the name aorist/”indefinite” is that the term was chosen due to this disjunction.)

          I suppose there are linguists who don’t recognize the perfective disjunction and try to force-fit the perfective into one of the disjunctions. For all I know G & vS could be one of them, but since the slash is a common device for indicating disjunction, it seemed that that’s they meant. Unfortunately, the discussion of the point in G&vS is too summary to really understand their system.

          As for Reichenbach/Klein, yeah, well, that’s another can of worms.

        3. Well, I follow the argument, though I can’t say I’m convinced all of that is behind G&S’s slash. Disjunctive is definitely a marked interpretation. Slashes naturally gravitate toward “a.k.a.” readers (e.g. aorist/”indefinite”). Without explicit statement from them (especially when the alternatives look so similar), I’m inclined to go with that, particularly in the context of Russian, where perfective aspect is inherently tied to prepositional/preverb affixation.

        4. You could be right, but it’s awfully hard to say and it doesn’t seem to have bearing (as far as I can tell) on their analysis of the perfect.

    1. Thanks for that. Orriens wrote the chapter on the Perfect in the Discourse Cohesion book edited by Stéphanie Bakker and Gerry Wakker. He rightly notes that the big issue with the Greek perfect has to do with atelic predications.

    2. I don’t know him, but I have appreciated his published work thus far (the article on cohesion, Stephen mentioned). I knew he was writing his PhD on the perfect and I’ve been looking forward to it.

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