THE SEMANTICS OF LEXICAL ASPECT IN MODERN HEBREW

DAFNA YITZHAKI

Abstract

Proceedings of IATL 20

This paper looks at the ways in which the system of Lexical Aspect is relevant to the verbal system of Modern Hebrew. That is, whether the semantic properties which are believed to classify verbs in English into aspectual classes (Dowty 1979, Smith 1991, Rothstein 2004, among others) create a meaningful and predictable categorization of verbs in Hebrew. The paper focuses on two main issues: (I) the sensitivity of verbs in Hebrew to the momentary/interval distinction as evidenced in English by the imperfective morphology (the progressive). (II) The sensitivity of accomplishments in Hebrew to "telicity" tests. With regards to the first issue, we show that although there is not a "morphological progressive" in Hebrew, there are constructions which convey an "imperfective meaning". These constructions are beod-o 'while-he' and Inflected Infinitivals and they distinguish between momentary and interval predicates in Hebrew. As to the second issue, we claim that the fact that accomplishments in Hebrew are compatible with expressions denoting atelicity does not mean that they are atelic but is related to the properties of the perfective aspect in Hebrew. We show that when activities and accomplishments are used in our proposed "imperfective constructions", the difference in telicity is apparent. We conclude by claiming that verbs in Hebrew are semantically organized into the four traditional aspectual classes, which can be characterized in terms of the features [ momentary] and [ telic].



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