The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 3/16 - Benjamin Storme

Speaker: Benjamin Storme (MIT)
Title: Aspectual asymmetries across tenses
Time: Monday, 3/16, 12-1:30
Place: 32-D831

It has been observed that languages typically have a richer aspectual morphology (in particular, to express the perfective/progressive distinction shown in (1) in English) in the past than in the present (for instance, Comrie 1976).

(1) a. At 8 pm, I was jumping. (progressive)
b. At 8 pm, I jumped. (perfective)

In this talk, I discuss two approaches to this asymmetry, (i) a semantic approach, where the absence of a perfective/progressive distinction in the present tense corresponds to a semantic incompatibility between present tense and perfective aspect, and (ii) a syncretism approach, where the perfective/progressive distinction exists in the present tense, but only covertly. I argue in favor of the second option based on French data. I then propose an explanation of (i) why syncretism happens preferentially in the present tense and (ii) why the progressive is used as the underspecified form in case of syncretism.