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Volume 49, Issue 6 (Jan 2011)


Stative by construction

Laura A. Michaelis
  • Corresponding author
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • Email:
Published Online: 2011-11-03 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2011.038


Fundamental to narrative is the ability to indicate what events overlapped what other events. Crucial to this ability is stativization: only stative situations can include (as opposed to being included within) reference time. But how exactly are stative type-shifts effected, and what does it mean for an event to be “turned into” a state? There are two purported paths to stativity: use of a compositional type-shifting device, as exemplified by (i), and coercion, the creation of resolvable semantic conflict between a combinatoric pattern and an openclass word, as exemplified by (ii):

  • (i)

    The House is voting on the legislation.

  • (ii)

    We talk on the phone every Sunday

What is the trigger for stative coercion in (ii)? According to de Swart (Natural language and linguistic theory 16: 347–385, 1998, Coercion in a cross-linguistic theory of aspect, CSLI Publications, 2003) and others, it would be the iterative adverbial every Saturday. But iteration is insufficient to secure stativity, as, e.g., activity verbs, which also consist of repeated actions, denote events rather than states. The stativity of progressive sentences is likewise mysterious under the standard analysis: while the progressive is typically said to highlight the pre-culmination portion of an event representation (Parsons, Events in the semantics of English, MIT Press, 1990; Langacker, Foundations of cognitive grammar, Stanford University Press, 1987; Smith, The parameter of aspect, Kluwer, 1997), that portion is presumably an activity rather than a state. To resolve these paradoxes, I propose a selection-based model of two kinds of stative type-shifts: those effected by derivational means (e.g., the progressive construction) and those effected by inflectional means (e.g., the English present tense). I then provide a formal representation of the relevant constructions using conventions of Sign Based Construction Grammar (SBCG) (Sag, Language 6: 486–545, 2010, Michaelis forthcoming). According to this model, stativizing constructions both denote states and select states in the Aktionsart representations of verbs with which they combine. This model relies on the existence of rests, periods of stasis entailed by the Aktionsart representations of dynamic verbs. I argue that by viewing stative typeshifts as the products of construction-verb combination, we can explain: (i) the relationship between a verb's input and output representations, (ii) how tense inflections affect the Aktionsart representations of verbs with which they combine and (iii) the functions of the so-called relative past tense. In addition, I argue, that if we view stative type shifts as functions of constructions, rather than, say, the products of semantic rules, we can better understand differences in the combinatoric potential of a given tense inflection both across languages and over historic time.

About the article

Correspondence address: Department of Linguistics, University of Colorado, 295 UCB, Boulder, CO 80309, USA.

Received: 2010-04-02

Revised: 2011-04-27

Published Online: 2011-11-03

Published in Print: 2011-11-01

Citation Information: Linguistics, ISSN (Online) 1613-396X, ISSN (Print) 0024-3949, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/ling.2011.038.

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