On a Putative Case of Native Slavic Biaspectuality: Czech jít, Slovene iti and BCMS ići


  • Stephen Dickey Kansas State University, United States




This article examines one case of putative biaspectuality in native Slavic verbs, that of the determinate motion verb go. Some scholars have considered the possibility that Czech jít, Slovene iti, and BCMS ići are biaspectual, based primarily on the past-tense usage of these verbs in reference to single trajectories, e.g., Czech Potom je vzal a šel domů. However, the aspectual status of these verbs and their patterns of usage are rarely examined in detail. This article argues that determinate go-verbs in Czech, Slovene, and BCMS are imperfective, employing a cognitive linguistic approach and referring to facts and data that have not previously been discussed and/or not been considered together. The analysis begins with a consideration of ‘go’ with a goal phrase in these languages (e.g., Czech Šel domů). They cannot combine with time-to-completion phrases (e.g., Czech za hodinu) and informants say that such predicates do not assert arrival at the destination, but only imply it. These facts are consistent with the hypothesis that these go verbs do not represent telic accomplishments. The analysis continues with circumstantial evidence in the fact that other imperfective determinate and manner-of-motion verbs occur in sequences of events in these languages, as well as the fact that imperfective verbs in general occur in sequences of events in these languages. Then data from other aspect languages are adduced. First, it is pointed out that in Upper Sorbian the synthetic preterit of hić ‘go’ consists of endings of the old imperfect and not those of the aorist, which strongly suggests that when the old aorist and imperfect were reanalyzed as synthetic preterit inflections of perfective and imperfective verbs (respectively), hić was considered to be imperfective. Second, Ancient Greek attests tendencies to use verbs of sending and going in the imperfect where “one would expect the aorist,” including the imperfect ἤϊα from εἶμι ‘go’. The last piece of evidence presented is the inability of ‘go’ in Czech, Slovene and BCMS to translate Russian пойти in contexts of an immediately interrupted departure (e.g., Он пошел, но остановился в дверях). This fact is a strong piece of evidence that ‘go’ in these languages does not profile simply the inception of motion on a par with ingressive perfective motion verbs in Russian, but always profiles extension of the situation in time, which is typical of Slavic imperfective verbs. The analysis presented increases our knowledge of Slavic verbal aspect and explains the apparently puzzling usage of go-verbs in the western Slavic languages from a cognitive linguistic perspective, without resorting to concepts such as biaspectuality or unmarkedness in an ad hoc way.


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