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Poznan Studies in Contemporary Linguistics

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Dowty’s aspectual tests: standing the test of time but failing the test of aspect

1 Pavol Jozef Šafárik University, Košice, Slovak Republic

2 University of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

Citation Information: Poznań Studies in Contemporary Linguistics PSiCL. Volume 48, Pages 495–518, ISSN (Online) 1897-7499, ISSN (Print) 0137-2459, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/psicl-2012-0023, January 2012

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To test situation aspect (lexical aspect, aktionsart), especially telicity, and/or to classify situations into Vendlerian classes (states, activities, accomplishments, and achievements), aspectual literature has been standardly relying on Dowty’s (1979) diagnostic tests. These are of three kinds – lexical co-occurrence, grammatical co-occurrence and logical entailment tests. This paper points out problems associated with implementing the tests. It argues that Dowty’s tests can give false results, mainly due to two factors. First, some of the tests are based on volition rather than aspectual features. Second, upon reviewing the various workings of the phenomenon of aspect shift and coercion, I show how it can affect the results of Dowty’s tests. Coupled with the fact that some of the tests are not applicable to some Vendlerian classes and with the problem of varying judgments among native speakers, Dowty’s tests for Vendler classes are far from being watertight. Awareness of these problems is imperative when testing situation aspect.

Keywords: Aktionsart; telicity; aspect shift; coercion

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