The general meaning of the category of aspect is the inherent mode of realizationof the process. Aspect is closely connected with time semantics, showing, as A. M. Peshkovsky puts it, “the distribution of the action in time”, or the “temporal structure” of the action.
Like time, aspect can be expressed both by lexical and grammatical means. This is one more grammatical domain in which English differs dramatically from Russian: in Russian, aspect is rendered by lexical means only, through the subdivision of verbs into perfective and imperfective, äĺëŕňü – ńäĺëŕňü; âčäĺňü – óâčäĺňü; etc. In Russian the aspective classification of verbs is constant and very strict; it presents one of the most typical characteristics of the grammatical system of the verb and governs its tense system formally and semantically. In English, as shown in Unit 10, the aspective meaning is manifested in the lexical subdivision of verbs into limitive and unlimitive, e.g.: to go – to come, to sit – sit down, etc. But most verbs in English migrate easily from one subclass to the other and their aspective meaning is primarily rendered by grammatical means through special variable verbal forms.
The expression of aspective semantics in English verbal forms is interconnected with the expression of temporal semantics; that is why in practical grammar they are treated not as separate tense and aspect forms but as specific tense-aspect forms, cf.: the present continuous – I am working; the past continuous – I was working; the past perfect and the past indefinite – I had done my work before he came, etc. This fusion of temporal and aspectual semantics and the blend in their formal expression have generated a lot of controversies in dealing with the category of aspect and the tense-aspect forms of the verb. The analysis of aspect has proven to be one of the most complex areas of English linguistics: the four correlated forms, the indefinite, the continuous, the perfect, and the perfect continuous, have been treated by different scholars as tense forms, as aspect forms, as forms of mixed tense-aspect status, and as neither tense nor aspect forms, but as forms of a separate grammatical category.
One of the most controversial points in considering the category of aspect is exactly the same logical contradiction that we had to tackle when studying the category of time: the category cannot be expressed twice in one and the same grammatical form; the members of one paradigm should be mutually exclusive; but there is a double aspective verbal form known as the perfect continuous form. The contradiction can be solved in exactly the same way that was employed with the tense category: the category of aspect, just like the category of tense, is not a unique grammatical category in English, but a system of two categories.
The first category is realized through the paradigmatic opposition ofthe continuous (progressive) formsandthe non-continuous (indefinite, simple) forms of the verb; this category can be called the category of development. The marked member of the opposition, the continuous, is formed by means of the auxiliary verb to be and participle I of the notional verb, e.g.: I am working. The grammatical meaning of the continuous has been treated traditionally as denoting a process going on simultaneously with another process; this temporal interpretation of the continuous was developed by H. Sweet, O. Jespersen and others. I. P. Ivanova treated the continuous as rendering a blend of temporal and aspective semantics, as denoting an action in progress, simultaneous with another action or time point. The majority of linguists today support the point of view developed by A. I. Smirnitsky, B. A. Ilyish, L. S. Barkhudarov, and others, that the meaning of the continuous is purely aspective - “action in progress, developing action”. The weak, unfeatured member of the opposition, the indefinite, stresses the mere fact of the performance of the action The main argument against the idea that relative time meaning, simultaneity, is expressed by the continuous, is as follows: simultaneous actions can be shown with or without the help of continuous verbal forms, cf.: While I worked, they were speaking with each other. – While I worked, they spoke with each other. The second action, simultaneous with the first in both sentences, is described as durative, or developing in time in the first sentence and as a mere fact in the second sentence. The simutaneity is actually rendered by either the syntactic construction or the broader semantic context, since it is quite natural for the developing action to be connected with a certain time point. Besides, as we mentioned, the aspective meaning of the continuous can be used in combination with the perfect (the perfect continuous form), and the very idea of perfect excludes any possibility of simultaneity.
As with any category, the category of development can be reduced and in most cases the contextual reduction is dependent on the lexico-semantic aspective characteristics of the verbs. The neutralization of the category regularly takes place with unlimitive verbs, especially statal verbs like to be, to have, verbs of sense perception, relation, etc., e.g.: I have a problem; I love you. Their indefinite forms are used instead of the continuous for semantic reasons: statal verbs denote developing processes by their own meaning, Since such cases are systemically fixed in English grammar (as the “never-used-in-the-continuous” verbs), the use of the statal verbs in the continuous can be treated as “reverse transposition” (“de-neutralization” of the opposition): their meaning is transformed, they become actional for the nonce, and most of such cases are stylistically colored, cf.: You are being naughty!; I’m loving it! No continuous forms are used with purely limitive verbs whose own meaning excludes any possibility of development, except for contexts which specifically demand the expression of an action in progress, e.g.: The train was arriving when we reached the station. The use of the continuous with limitive verbs neutralizes the expression of their lexical aspect, turning them for the nonce, vice versa, into unlimitive verbs.
The neutralization of the category of development can take place for a purely formal reason: to avoid the use of two ing-forms together; for example, no continuous forms are used if there is a participial construction to follow, e.g.: He stood there staring at me.The classic example of stylistically colored transposition within the category of development is the use of the continuous instead of the indefinite to denote habitual, repeated actions in emphatic speech with strong negative connotations, e.g.: You are constantly grumbling!
The second aspective category is formed by theopposition ofthe perfect and the non-perfect forms of the verb; this category can be called “the category of retrospective coordination”. The strong member of the opposition, the perfect, is formed with the help of the auxiliary verb to have and participle II of the notional verb, e.g.: I have done this work.
The status of this category, as well as the status of the category of development, has given rise to much dispute in grammar. All the four approaches mentioned above can be traced in the interpretation of this category. The traditional treatment of the perfect as the tense form denoting the priority of one action in relation to another (“the perfect tense”) was developed by H. Sweet, G. Curme, and other linguists. M. Deutchbein, G. N. Vorontsova and other linguists consider the perfect to be a purely aspective form, laying the main emphasis on the fact that the perfect forms denote some result, some transmission of the pre-event to the post-event. I. P. Ivanova treats the perfect, as well as the continuous, as the verbal form expressing temporal and aspective functions in a blend, contrasted with the indefinite form of neutralized aspective properties. A. I. Smirnitsky was the first to put forward the idea that the perfect forms its own category, which is neither a tense category, nor an aspect category; he suggested the name “the category of time correlation”. The main argument which led to the interpretation of the perfect outside the aspect system of the verb was the combination of the meaning of the perfect with the meaning of development in the perfect continuous forms, which is logically impossible within the same category. Still, if we admit that there are two aspective categories in English, this combination becomes possible.
Thus, summarizing all the peculiarities of the perfect outlined within different approaches, we can characterize the opposition of the perfect and the non-perfect as a separate verbal category, semantically intermediate between aspective and temporal. The perfect forms denote a preceding action successively, or transmissively connected with a certain time limit or another action; the following situation is included in the sphere of influence of the preceding situation. So, the two semantic components constituting the hybrid semantics of the perfect are as follows: priority (relative time) and coordination, transmission, or result (aspective meaning). Hence the general name for the category is “the category of retrospective coordination”. In different contexts prominence may be given to either of these semantic components of the perfect; for example, in the sentence I haven’t seen you for ages prominence is given to priority, while in the sentence I haven’t seen you since we passed our last exam prominence is given to succession or coordination. When the perfect is used in combination with the continuous, the action is treated as prior, transmitted to the posterior situation and developing at the same time, e.g.: I have been thinking about you since we passed our last exam.
Within the system of verbal aspect in English, two categories are interconnected: any action is evaluated as developing or non-developing, and then, it is evaluated as retrospectively coordinated or not coordinated with another action or time limit, which results in the four aspectual verbal forms. The interaction of the two aspect categories can be presented in the form of a table showing the strong and the weak members’ characteristics of the two oppositions in combination with each other:
The category of development
The category of retrospective coordination
the perfect (the perfect indefinite)
the perfect continuous
As with any other grammatical category, the category of retrospective coordination can be reduced. Limitive verbs, which imply the idea of a certain result by themselves, are regularly used in the indefinite form instead of the perfect, e.g.: Sorry, I left my book at home. Colloquial neutralization of the category of retrospective coordination is also characteristic of verbs of physical and mental perception, cf.: Sorry, I forget your name. The neutralization of the category of retrospective coordination is particularly active in the American variant of English, where the use of the perfect is restricted compared with British English.
Unlimitive verbs used in the perfect form are turned into “limitive for the nonce”, e.g.: He has never loved anyone like this before.
Both aspective categories have a verbid representation, the continuous expressing the same categorial meaning of development and the perfect expressing the meaning of retrospective coordination, cf.: It was pleasant to be driving the car again; Having finished their coffee, they went out to the porch; She was believed to have been feeling unwell for some time. Additionally, both continuous and perfect forms of the infinitive acquire a special meaning of probability in combination with modal verbs, cf.: She must be waiting for you outside; The experiment must have been carried out by now. The perfect infinitive after the modal verbs ought and should is used to denote a failed action, together with a strong negative connotation of reprimand, e.g.: You should have waited for me! (but you didn’t).