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Cognitive Linguistics

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Grammatical profiles and the interaction of the lexicon with aspect, tense, and mood in Russian

1University of Tromsø

Address for correspondence: Laura Janda, HSL-fakultetet, Universitetet i Tromsø, 9037 Tromsø, Norway. Web:

Address for correspondence: Olga Lyashevskaya, Faculty of Philology, Higher School of Economics, 101000 Moscow.

Citation Information: Cognitive Linguistics. Volume 22, Issue 4, Pages 719–763, ISSN (Online) 1613-3641, ISSN (Print) 0936-5907, DOI: 10.1515/cogl.2011.027, October 2011

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We propose the “grammatical profile” as a means of probing the aspectual behavior of verbs. A grammatical profile is the relative frequency distribution of the inflected forms of a word in a corpus. The grammatical profiles of Russian verbs provide data on two crucial issues: a) the overall relationship between perfective and imperfective verbs and b) the identification of verbs that characterize various intersections of aspect, tense and mood (TAM) with lexical classes. There is a long-standing debate over whether Russian aspectual “pairs” are formed only via suffixation (the Isacenko hypothesis) or whether they are formed via both suffixation and prefixation (the traditional view). We test the Isacenko hypothesis using data on the corpus frequency of inflected forms of verbs. We find that the behavior of perfective and imperfective verbs is the same regardless of whether the aspectual relationship is marked by prefixes or suffixes; our finding thus supports the traditional view.

Introspective descriptions of Russian aspect have often connected the use of particular inflectional forms with certain uses of aspect; for example, the use of imperative forms with the imperfective aspect to produce expressions that are very polite. Grammatical profiles make it possible to identify verbs that behave as outliers, presenting unusually large proportions of usage in parts of the paradigm. This analysis both gives substance to and extends previous introspective descriptions by identifying the verbs most involved in certain TAM-category interactions. On a methodological level, this study contributes to current discussions on the use of inflected forms vs. lemmas in corpus studies. Newman (Aiming low in linguistics: Low-level generalizations in corpus-based research: National Chiao Tung University, 2008) finds valuable information at the level of the inflectional form, and Gries (forthcoming) argues that inflectional forms do not necessarily provide a better basis for analysis than lemmas. We agree with them that the appropriate level of granularity is determined by both the language and the linguistic phenomenon under analysis.

Keywords:: Aspect; tense; mood; corpus linguistics; quantitative analysis; Russian

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