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1.2.3. Semantic classification of main verbs
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This section discusses some of the semantic classifications of main verbs proposed over the last fifty years. The discussion starts with Vendler's (1957) distinction between states, activities, achievements and accomplishments, which has been the starting point for most semantic classifications proposed later. A problem with Vendler's classifications is that it became clear very quickly that it is not a classification of main verbs but of events expressed by larger structures headed by these main verbs. For example, one of the features that Vendler uses in his classification (and which is taken over in one form or another in most classifications of later date) is whether the event denoted by the verb has some logically implied endpoint, and the examples in (52) show that this need not be an inherent property of the verb itself but may be (partly) determined by, e.g., the internal argument of the verb: a singular indefinite object headed by a count noun introduces an inherent endpoint of the event denoted by the verb eten'to eat' (the event ends when the roll in question has been fully consumed), whereas a plural indefinite object does not (the endpoint depends on the number of rolls that Jan will consume).

Example 52
a. Jan eet een broodje met kaas.
  Jan  eats  a roll  with cheese
  'Jan is eating a role with cheese.'
b. Jan eet broodjes met kaas.
  Jan eats  rolls  with cheese
  'Jan is eating rolls with cheese.'

Another problem with discussing the semantic classifications proposed since Vendler (1957) is that they often involve different dividing lines between the categories so that certain verbs may be categorized differently within the different proposals. Nevertheless, it is useful to discuss some specific proposals, given that the tradition that started with Vendler (1957) is still very much alive and continues to play an important role in present-day linguistics. Furthermore, we will see that a number of more recent proposals are formulated in such terms that make it possible to relate the semantic classification to the syntactic classification proposed in Section 1.2.2.

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[+]  I.  Aktionsart: Vendlerʼs aspectual event classification

Verbs are often classified according to the Aktionsart (which is sometimes also called inner aspect) they express. The term Aktionsart refers to the internal temporal organization of the event denoted by the verb and thus involves questions like (i) whether the event is construed as occurring at a single point in time (momentaneous aspect) or as evolving over time (durative aspect); (ii) whether the event is inherently bounded in time, and, if so, whether the event is bounded at the beginning (ingressive/inchoative aspect), at the end (terminative aspect) or both; (iii) whether the verb expresses a single event or a series of iterated events, etc; see Lehmann (1999) for further distinctions and more detailed discussion.

Example 53
a. Momentaneous aspect: exploderen'to explode', botsen'to collide'
b. Durative aspect: lachen'to laugh', wandelen'to walk/hike', zitten'to sit'
c. Inchoative aspect: ontbranden'to ignite', ontkiemen'to germinate'
d. Terminative aspect: doven'to extinguish', smelten'to melt', vullen'to fill'
e. Iterative aspect: bibberen'to shiver', stuiteren'to bounce repeatedly'

The Aktionsarts in (53) do not, however, necessarily define mutually exclusive verb classes. Bounded events expressed by the inchoative and terminative verbs in (53c&d), for example, also evolve over time and are therefore durative as well. It therefore does not come as a surprise that there have been attempts to develop a more sophisticated semantic classification based on the aspectual properties of verbs.

[+]  A.  Vendlerʼs Classification

Probably the best-known and most influential classification of main verbs is the one developed by Vendler (1957), who distinguishes the four aspectual classes in (54).

Example 54
a. Activities: bibberen'to shiver', denken (over)'to think (about)', dragen'to carry', duwen'to push', hopen'to hope', eten (intr.) 'to eat', lachen'to laugh', lezen (intr.) 'to read', luisteren'to listen', praten'to talk', rennen'to run', schrijven (intr.) 'to write', sterven'to die', wachten (op)'to wait (for)', wandelen'to walk', zitten'to zit'
b. Accomplishments: bouwen'to build', eten (tr.) 'to eat', koken (tr.) 'to cook', lezen (tr.) 'to read', opeten'to eat up', schrijven (tr.) 'to write', oversteken'to cross', verbergen'to hide', verorberen'to consume', zingen (tr.) 'to sing'
c. States: begrijpen'to understand', bezitten'to own', haten'to hate', hebben'to have', horen'to hear', geloven'to believe', houden van'to love', kennen'to know', leven'to live', verlangen'to desire', weten'to know'
d. Achievements: aankomen'to arrive', beginnen'to start', bereiken'to reach', botsen'to collide', herkennen'to recognize', ontploffen'to explode', ontvangen'to receive', overlijden'to die', zich realiseren'to realize', stoppen'to stop', opgroeien'to grow up', vinden'to find', winnen'to win', zeggen'to say'

Vendler argues that activities and accomplishments can be grouped together as processes and that states and achievements can be grouped together as non-processes, as depicted in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Vendlerʼs classification

The distinctions shown in Figure 3 are based on a number of semantic properties, which will be discussed in the following subsections.

[+]  1.  Processes versus non-processes ±continuous tense

Vendler claims that verbs fall into two supercategories, which he calls processes and non-processes. Process verbs denote events which involve a specific internal dynamism over time and are characterized by the fact that they can be used to provide an answer to interrogative, progressive aan het + infinitive constructions like Wat is Marie aan het doen?'What is Marie doing?'; see constructions like Wat is Marie aan het doen?'What is Mary doing?'; see also Booij (2010:ch.6).

Example 55
a. Marie is naar Peter aan het luisteren.
activity
  Marie  is to Peter  aan  het  listen
  'Marie is listening to Peter.'
b. Marie is haar boterham aan het opeten.
accomplishment
  Marie  is her sandwich  aan  het  prt.-eat
  'Marie is eating her sandwich.'
c. * Marie is van spinazie aan het houden.
state
  Marie  is of spinach  aan  het like
  Compare: '*Marie is liking spinach.'
d. * Marie is aan het aankomen.
achievement
  Marie  is aan  het  prt.-arrive
  'Marie is arriving.'
[+]  2.  Activities versus accomplishments ±bounded

Vendler divides the processes in activities and accomplishments on the basis of whether or not the event has a logically implied endpoint. Activities like luisteren'to listen' are open-ended; the event referred to in (55a) has no natural termination point and can, at least in principle, last for an infinitely long period of time. Accomplishments like opeten'to eat up', on the other hand, involve some inherent endpoint; the event referred to in (55b) is completed when the sandwich referred to by the object has been fully consumed.
      This difference can be made more conspicuous by means of considering the validity of the entailments in (56). When we observe at a specific point in time that (56a) is true, we may conclude that (56a') is also true, but the same thing does not hold for the (b)-examples. This shows that in the case of an accomplishment like opeten'to eat up' it is not sufficient for the subject of the clause to be involved in a specific activity, but that reaching the logically implied endpoint is a crucial aspect of the meaning.

Example 56
a. Marie is naar Peter aan het luisteren. ⇒
activity
  Marie  is to Peter  aan  het  listen
  'Marie is listening to Peter.'
a'. Marie heeft naar Peter geluisterd.
  Marie has  to Peter  listened
  'Marie has listened to Peter.'
b. Marie is haar boterham aan het opeten. ⇏
accomplishment
  Marie  is her sandwich  aan  het  prt.-eat
  'Marie is finishing her sandwich.'
b'. Marie heeft haar boterham opgegeten.
  Marie has  her sandwich  prt.-eaten
  'Marie has finished her sandwich.'

The same point can be illustrated by question-answer pairs like those in (57), which show that accomplishments can be used in interrogatives of the form Hoe lang kostte het ...te Vinfinitive?'How long did it take to V ...?', which question the span of time that was needed to reach the logically implied endpoint, whereas activities cannot. The primed examples provide the corresponding answers to the questions.

Example 57
a. * Hoe lang kostte het naar je leraar te luisteren?
activity
  how long  took  it  to your teacher  to listen
  Compare: '*How long did it take to listen to your teacher?'
a'. * Het kostte een uur naar mijn leraar te luisteren.
  it  cost  an hour  to my teacher  to listen
  Compare: '*It took an hour to listen to my teacher.'
b. Hoe lang kostte het je maaltijd op te eten?
accomplishment
  how long  took  it  your meal  prt.  to eat
  'How long did it take to finish your meal?'
b'. Het kostte 10 minuten mijn maaltijd op te eten.
  it  cost  10 minutes  my meal  prt.  to eat
  'It took 10 minutes to finish my meal.'

The question-answer pairs in (58) show that the opposite holds for interrogatives of the type Hoe lang auxfinite ...V?'For how long did ... V ...?', which simply question the span of time during which the activity took place; such pairs can be used with verbs denoting activities but not with verbs denoting accomplishments.

Example 58
a. Hoe lang heb je naar je leraar geluisterd?
activity
  how long  have  you  to your teacher  listened
  'For how long did you listen to your teacher?'
a'. Ik heb een uur (lang) naar mijn leraar geluisterd.
  have  an hour   long  to my teacher  listened
  'I have listened to my teacher for an hour.'
b. * Hoe lang heb je je maaltijd opgegeten?
accomplishment
  how long  have  you  your meal  prt.-eaten
b'. * Ik heb een uur (lang) mijn maaltijd opgegeten.
  have  an hour   long  my meal  prt.-eaten

Another, but essentially identical, test that is often used to distinguish activities and accomplishments is the addition of specific types of temporal adverbial phrases: adverbial phrases like gedurende een uur'during an hour' or een uur lang'for an hour', which refer to the span of time during which the event denoted by the verb takes place, are typically used with activities; adverbial phrases like binnen een uur'within an hour', which measure the span of time that is needed to reach a logically implied endpoint, are typically used with accomplishments.

Example 59
a. Jan luisterde gedurende/*binnen een uur naar zijn leraar.
activity
  Jan listened  during/within an hour  to his teacher
  'Jan listened to his teacher for an hour.'
b. Jan at zijn maaltijd binnen/*gedurende vijf minuten op.
accomplishment
  Jan ate  his meal  within/during  five minutes  prt.
  'Jan finished his meal in an hour.'

      The (in)validity of the inferences in (56) and the selection restrictions on adverbial phrases in (59) are related to the fact that activities can normally be divided into shorter subevents that can again be characterized as activities: if I have been listening to Peter for an hour, I also have been listening to Peter during the first five minutes of that hour, the second five minutes of that hour, etc. This does not hold for accomplishments due to the fact that they crucially refer to the implied endpoint of the event: if I have finished my meal within five minutes, I did not necessarily finish my meal within the first, second, third or fourth minute of that time interval; cf. Dowty (1979:ch.3).

[+]  3.  States versus achievements ±time extension

Vendler claims that states differ from achievements in that the former have a temporal extension, whereas the latter do not. This can be made clear by using the questions Hoe lang Vfinite Subject ... al ...?'For how long has Subject already Vpart ...'. The examples in (60) show that states are easily possible in such question-answer pairs, whereas achievements are not.

Example 60
a. Hoe lang weet Jan al wie de dader is?
state
  how long  knows  Jan  already  who  the perpetrator  is
  'For how long has Jan known who the perpetrator is?'
a'. Jan weet al een paar weken wie de dader is.
  Jan know  already  a couple of weeks  who  the perpetrator  is
  'Jan has known for a couple of weeks who the perpetrator is.'
b. *? Hoe lang herkent Peter de dader al?
achievement
  how long  recognizes  Peter the perpetrator  already
b'. *? Jan herkent de dader al een paar weken.
  Jan  recognizes  the perpetrator  already  a couple of weeks

Achievements occur instead in question-answer pairs that involve the actual moment at which the event took place, which is clear from the fact that they can readily be used in questions like Hoe laat Vfinite Subject ...?'At what time did Subject V ...?'.

Example 61
a. Hoe laat herkende Peter de dader?
achievement
  how late  recognized  Peter the perpetrator
  'At what time did Peter recognize the perpetrator?'
a'. Peter herkende de dader om drie uur.
  Peter recognized  the perpetrator  at three oʼclock
b. Hoe laat ontplofte de bom?
achievement
  how late  exploded the bomb
  'At what time did the bomb explode?'
b'. De bom ontplofte om middernacht.
  the bomb  exploded  at midnight

States, on the other hand, normally do not readily enter questions of this type, and, if they do, the answer to the question refers to some moment at which something has happened that resulted in the obtainment of the state denoted by the verb.

Example 62
a. *? Hoe laat houd je van Jan?
state
  how late  love  you  of Jan
  'At what time do you love Jan?'
b. Hoe laat weet je of je geslaagd bent?
state
  how late  know  you  whether  you  passed  are
  'At what time do you know whether you passed the exam/get the results of the exams?'
[+]  B.  What did Vendler classify?

Note that we have labeled the top node in Figure 3, repeated below for convenience, not as verbs, but as states of affairs. The reason is that, although Vendler seems to have set out to develop a classification of verbs, he actually came up with a classification of different types of states of affairs; see, e.g., Verkuyl (1972) and Dowty (1979).

Figure 3: Vendlerʼs classification

For example, it seems impossible to classify the verb schrijven'to write' without additional information about its syntactic environment. The judgments on the use of the adverbial phrases of time in example (63) show that schrijven functions as an activity if it is used as an intransitive verb, but as an accomplishment if it is used as a transitive verb.

Example 63
a. Jan schreef gedurende/*binnen een uur.
activity
  Jan  wrote  during/within  an hour
  'Jan was writing for an hour.'
b. Jan schreef het artikel binnen/*gedurende een uur.
accomplishment
  Jan wrote  the article  within/during  an hour
  'Jan wrote the article within an hour.'

It is not, however, simply a matter of the adicity of the verb. First, the examples in (64) show that properties of the object may also play a role: the interpretation depends on whether the object refers to an unspecified or a specified quantity of books; cf. Verkuyl (1972/1993), Dowty (1979) and Dik (1997). In the (a)-examples this is illustrated by means of the contrast evoked by a bare plural noun phrase and a plural noun phrase preceded by a cardinal numeral, and in the (b)-examples by means of the contrast evoked by noun phrases headed by, respectively, a non-count and a singular count noun.

Example 64
a. Jan schreef gedurende/*binnen twee jaar boeken.
activity
  Jan wrote  during/within  two year books
a'. Jan schreef binnen/*gedurende twee jaar drie boeken.
accomplishment
  Jan wrote  within/during  two year  three books
b. Jan at spaghetti.
activity
  Jan ate  spaghetti
b'. Jan at een bord spaghetti.
accomplishment
  Jan ate  a plate [of] spaghetti

A similar effect may arise in the case of verbs like ontploffen'to explode'. If the subject is a singular noun phrase, we are dealing with a momentaneous event, that is, with an achievement. If the subject is a definite plural, however, the adverbial test suggests that we can also be dealing with an activity, and if the subject is an indefinite plural the adverbial test suggests that we can only be dealing with an activity.

Example 65
a. De bom ontplofte om drie uur/*de hele dag.
achievement
  the bomb  exploded  at three oʼclock/the whole day
b. De bommen ontploften om drie uur/de hele dag.
achievement or activity
  the bombs  exploded  at three oʼclock/the whole day
c. Er ontploften de hele dag/??om drie uur bommen.
activity
  there  exploded  the whole day/at three oʼclock  bombs
  'There were bombs exploding the whole day.'

      Second, the addition of elements other than objects may also have an effect on the interpretation; the examples in (66) show, for instance, that adding a complementive like naar huis'to home' or a verbal particle like terug'back' turns an activity into an accomplishment.

Example 66
a. Jan wandelde twee uur lang/*binnen twee uur.
activity
  Jan walked  two hours long/within two hours
  'Jan walked for two hours.'
b. Jan wandelde binnen twee uur/*twee uur lang naar huis.
accomplishment
  Jan walked  within two hours/two hours long  to home
  'Jan walked home within two hours.'
b'. Jan wandelde in twee uur/*twee uur lang terug.
accomplishment
  Jan walked  in two hours/two hours long  back
  'Jan walked back within two hours.'

      Third, the examples in (67) illustrate that the categorial status of the complement of the verb may also affect the aspectual nature of the event: whereas the nominal complement in (67b) triggers an accomplishment reading, the PP-complement triggers an activity reading.

Example 67
a. Jan dronk de wijn.
accomplishment
  Jan drank the wine
b. Jan dronk van de wijn.
activity
  Jan drank of the wine

The examples in (68) show a somewhat similar alternation between states and activities. The (a)-examples show that if the verb denken'to think' takes a propositional complement like a clause, it cannot occur in the progressive aan het + infinitive + zijn construction, and we may therefore conclude that we are dealing with a state. The (b)-examples show that if the verb denken selects a PP-complement, it can occur in the progressive construction, and that we are thus dealing with an activity. The (c)-examples show that we get a similar meaning shift if we supplement the verb with the verbal particle na.

Example 68
a. Marie denkt dat Jan een deugniet is.
state
  Marie thinks  that  Jan  a rascal  is
  'Marie thinks that Jan is a rascal.'
a'. * Marie is aan het denken dat Jan een deugniet is.
  Marie is aan het  think  that Jan a rascal is
b. Marie denkt over het probleem.
activity
  Marie thinks  about the problem
  'Marie is thinking about the problem.'
b'. Marie is over het probleem aan het denken.
  Marie is  about the problem  aan het  think
c. Marie denkt na.
activity
  Marie thinks  prt.
  'Marie is pondering.'
c'. Marie is aan het nadenken.
  Marie is  aan het  prt.-think
[+]  C.  Alternative approaches to Vendlerʼs classification

The previous subsections have briefly discussed some distinctive semantic properties of verbs and events that Vendler (1957) used to motivate his classification in Figure 3. This discussion leads to the following characterizations of the four subclasses.

Example 69
a. Activities +continuous tense, -bounded: events that go on for some time in a homogeneous way in the sense that they do not proceed toward a logically necessary endpoint.
b. Accomplishments +continuous tense, +bounded: events that go on for some time in a non-homogeneous way in the sense that they proceed toward a logically necessary endpoint.
c. States -continuous tense, +time extension: stable situations that last for some period of time.
d. Achievements -continuous tense, -time extension: events that are perceived as occurring momentaneously.

One problem with this classification is that the features used are in fact more widely applicable than simply for making the distinctions given in (69). The feature ±bounded, for example, may be just as relevant for states and achievements as for activities and accomplishments. In fact, this feature may group states and activities as unbounded, and accomplishments and achievements as bounded states of affairs. The examples in (70) show that states behave like activities in that they can be used in perfective questions of the form Hoe lang auxfinite ...V?'For how long did ... V ...?', whereas accomplishments and achievements cannot.

Example 70
a. Hoe lang heeft hij naar zijn leraar geluisterd?
activity
  how long  has  he  to his teacher  listened
  'For how long did he listen to his teacher?'
b. * Hoe lang heeft hij zijn maaltijd opgegeten?
accomplishment
  how long  has  he  his meal  prt.-eaten
c. Hoe lang heeft hij van spinazie gehouden?
state
  how long  has  he  of spinach  liked
  'For how long did he like spinach?'
d. * Hoe lang is de bom ontploft?
achievement
  how long has  the bomb  exploded

If an interrogative phrase refers to a specific time, on the other hand, the acceptability judgments are reversed. This is shown in (71) by means of the adverbial phrase hoe laat'at what time'.

Example 71
a. * Hoe laat heeft hij naar zijn leraar geluisterd?
activity
  how late  has  he  to his teacher  listened
b. Hoe laat heeft hij zijn maaltijd opgegeten?
accomplishment
  how late  has  he  his meal  prt.-eaten
  'At what time did he eat his meal?'
c. * Hoe laat heeft hij van spinazie gehouden?
state
  how late  has  he  of spinach  liked
d. Hoe laat is de bom ontploft?
achievement
  how late  has  the bomb  exploded
  'At what time did the bomb explode?'

Distribution patterns like these suggest that the four verb classes can be defined by means of a binary feature system of the form in Table 4, in which the features ±bounded and ±continuous tense can be construed as given in Figure 3; cf. Verkuyl (1993).

Table 4: Binary feature system for defining Vendlerʼs verb classes I
  –bounded +bounded
–continuous tense states achievements
+continuous tense activities accomplishments

      Note that the feature ±bounded correlates with other semantic properties of the events. Accomplishments like opeten'to eat up' and achievements like ontploffen'to explode' in (72) both indicate that some participant in the event (here, respectively, the object and the subject) undergoes a change of state and that obtaining the new state marks the end of the event; the only difference is that the transformation requires some time in the former but is perceived as taking place instantaneously in the latter case.

Example 72
a. Jan at de boterham op.
accomplishment
  Jan  ate  the sandwich  prt.
  'Jan ate the sandwich.'
b. De bom ontploft.
achievement
  the bomb  explodes

Activities and states, on the other hand, typically do not involve a change of stage and refer to more or lesss homogenous states of affairs with the result that the end of these states of affairs is more or lesss arbitrarily determined. This shows that it is not a priori clear whether the feature ±bounded is the correct feature; it might just as well have been ±change of state, as shown in Table 5. It therefore does not come as a surprise that there are a variety of binary feature systems available; see Rosen (2003: Section 1.3) for a brief discussion of some other proposals.

Table 5: Binary feature system for defining Vendlerʼs verb classes II
  –change of state +change of state
–continuous tense states achievements
+continuous tense activities accomplishments

      Other alternatives to Vendler's classification readily come to mind. Figure 4, which is based on Smith (1991) and Dik (1997), takes the basic division to be that between states and events: states lack internal dynamism in that they do not require any input of energy as nothing changes while they hold (Lehmann 1999:44), while events do have some form of internal dynamism. Events can be divided further on the basis of their boundedness: activities are not inherently bounded, whereas accomplishments and achievements are. The latter two differ in that only the former evolve over time. This gives rise to the hierarchical or at least more layered classification in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Hierarchical feature system for defining Vendlerʼs verb classes

As this is not the place to discuss the pros and cons of the available feature systems, we will confine ourselves to summarizing some of the conspicuous properties of the verb classes as distinguished by Vendler (1957) by means of the table in (73); we refer the reader to Miller (1999) and Rosen (2003) for more discussion.

Example 73
Properties of Vendlerʼs event classes.
  state activity accomplishment achievement
dynamic + + +
bounded/change-of-state + +
punctual +
continuous tense + +

[+]  II.  Participant roles in events

This subsection discusses alternative approaches to Vendler's classification that do not primarily appeal to the internal temporal organization of the events, but instead to specific properties of the participants in the event. One example of this was already discussed in Subsection I, where it was observed that the aspectual feature ±bounded can readily be replaced by the feature ±change of state, which involves a property of one of the participants in the event. This shift in perspective may have been (unintentionally) initiated by Dowty (1979), who suggested (in line with the basic principle of Generative Semantics) that verbs can be semantically decomposed by means of a number of atomic semantic elements like do, become and cause, which combine with a stative n-place predicate πn in (74a) to form the more complex events in (74b-d), and, in fact, a number of more complex subclasses of these event types such as inchoative achievements like ontbranden'to ignite', which would be assigned the structure become [do1, [πn1, ..., αn)])].

Example 74
a. State: πn1, ..., αn)
b. Activity: do1, [πn1, ..., αn)])
c. Achievement: becomen1, ..., αn)]
d. Accomplishment: Φ cause (becomen1, ..., αn)])

The status of the three semantic atoms is quite complex. The element do seems to function as a simple two-place predicate taking an argument of the stative predicate πn as well as the stative predicate itself as arguments. The element become, on the other hand, functions as an operator expressing that the truth value of the stative predicate πn1, ..., αn) changes from false to true. The element cause, finally, is a connective that expresses that event Φ is a causal factor for the event expressed by the formula following it (here: the achievement becomen1, ..., αn)]); there is some event that causes some other event to come into existence.
      The semantic structure attributed to accomplishments in (74d) correctly accounts for our intuition about example (75a) that the referent of the noun phrase het documenten'the documents' undergoes a change of state as the result of some unspecified action performed by the referent of the subject of the sentence, which may be further clarified by adding an instrumental met-PP like met een papierversnipperaar'with a paper shredder'; Jan has destroyed the documents by putting them in a shredder. It should be noted, however, that it is not immediately clear whether the inference that Jan is involved in some action is part of the meaning of the verb or the result of some conversational implicature in the sense of Grice (1975). The answer to this question depends on whether an example such as (75b) likewise expresses that there is some event that involves the referent of the noun phrase de orkaan'the hurricane' that causes a change of state in the referent of the noun phrase de stad'the city'.

Example 75
a. Jan vernietigde de documenten (met een papierversnipperaar).
  Jan destroyed  the documents   with a paper shredder
b. De orkaan vernietigde de stad (*met ....).
  the  hurricane  destroyed  the city    with

The fact that it is not possible to add an instrumental met-PP to example (75b) suggests that the causal relation is more direct in this case and, consequently, that the inference we can draw from (75a) that it is some action of Jan that triggers the change of state is nothing more than a conversational implicature. Given this conclusion, it is tempting to simplify Dowty's semantic structures in (74) by construing all semantic atoms as n-place predicates, as in (76).

Example 76
a. State: πn1, ..., αn)
b. Activity: do1, [πn1, ..., αn)])
c. Achievement: become(β, [πn1, ..., αn)]], where β ∈ {α1, ..., αn}
d. Accomplishment: cause(γ, (become (β, [πn1, ..., αn)])), in which β ∈ {α1, ..., αn} and γ ∉ { α1, ..., αn}

The interpretations of states and activities remain the same, but those of achievements and accomplishments change: an achievement is now interpreted as a change of state, such that β becomes an argument of πn, and an accomplishment is now interpreted as a change of state, such that β becomes an argument of πn as the result of some external cause γ. This reinterpretation of Dowty's system in fact seems to come very close to the proposals of the kind proposed in Van Voorst (1988) and Tenny (1994), who claim that Vendler's classes can be defined as in (77) by assuming that the nominal arguments in the clause may function as originator (typically the external argument) or delimiter (typically an internal argument of the verb) of the event; note that states do not fall in this classification since they are characterized by the absence of event structure; see also Levin & Rappaport Hovav (1995), Van Hout (1996), Van der Putten (1997) and many others for proposals in a similar spirit, and Levin & Rappaport Hovav (2005) for a recent review of research in this line of investigation.

Example 77
Aspectual classification of event structure based on participant roles
Activity:
Achievement:
Accomplishment:

An advantage of taking participant roles as the basis of the aspectual classification of events is that this immediately accounts for the fact that the intransitive and transitive uses of verbs like schrijven'to write' and eten'to eat' differ in interpretation in the way they do: only the transitive primed examples have an internal argument that may function as delimiter.

Example 78
a. Jan schreef twee uur lang/*binnen twee uur.
activity
  Jan wrote  for two hours/within two hours
a'. Jan schreef de brief binnen twee uur/*twee uur lang.
accomplishment
  Jan wrote  the letter  within two hours/for two hours
b. Jan at vijf minuten lang/*binnen vijf minuten.
activity
  Jan ate  for five minutes/within five minutes
b'. Jan at zijn lunch binnen vijf minuten/*vijf minuten lang.
accomplishment
  Jan ate  his lunch  within five minutes/for five minutes

Furthermore, this approach may provide a better understanding of the fact established earlier that properties of the nominal arguments of the verb may effect the aspectual interpretation by postulating additional conditions that the nominal arguments must meet in order to be able to function as delimiters; cf. the discussion of the examples in (64), repeated here as (79), which show that verbs like schrijven'to write' or eten'to eat' are only interpreted as accomplishments if the objects refer to specified quantities. This suggests that bare plurals and noun phrases headed by a mass noun cannot function as delimiters.

Example 79
a. Jan schreef gedurende/*binnen twee jaar boeken.
activity
  Jan wrote  during/within  two year books
a'. Jan schreef binnen/*gedurende twee jaar drie boeken.
accomplishment
  Jan wrote  within/during  two year  three books
b. Jan at spaghetti.
activity
  Jan ate  spaghetti
b'. Jan at een bord spaghetti.
accomplishment
  Jan ate  a plate [of] spaghetti

In fact, we can now also account for the fact illustrated in (65), repeated here as (80), that the subject may affect that the aspectual interpretation of the sentence by placing a similar restriction on the originator.

Example 80
a. De bom ontplofte om drie uur/*de hele dag.
achievement
  the bomb  exploded  at three oʼclock/the whole day
b. De bommen ontploften om drie uur/de hele dag.
achievement or activity
  the bombs  exploded  at three oʼclock/the whole day
c. Er ontploften de hele dag/??om drie uur bommen.
activity
  there  exploded  the whole day/at three oʼclock  bombs
  'There were bombs exploding the whole day.'

This is formalized by Verkuyl (1972/2005) in his claim that the aspectual interpretation is compositional in the sense that it depends both on a feature of the verb and a feature of its nominal arguments (subject and object). According to Verkuyl the relevant feature of the verb is ±dynamic, which distinguishes between states and events, and the relevant feature of the nominal arguments is ±sqa, which distinguishes between noun phrases that refer to a specified quantity or a non-specified quantity; as soon as the subject or the object is assigned the feature -sqa the event becomes unbounded.

Figure 5: Compositional aspect (after Verkuyl 2005)

      Another advantage of taking participant roles as the basis of the aspectual event classification is that we can also readily account for the fact that the so-called causative alternation in (81) has the effect of changing an achievement into an accomplishment: the causative construction in (81b) has an additional external argument that may act as originator.

Example 81
a. Het raam breekt.
achievement
  the window  breaks
b. Jan breekt het raam.
accomplishment
  Jan breaks the window

We can now also account for the earlier observation that the addition of complementives or verbal particles may affect the aspectual interpretation, by assuming that these add a meaning aspect to the construction which enables the object to function as a delimiter. Tenny (1994), for example, claims that such elements add a terminus (point of termination), as a result of which the object of an activity may become a delimiter; see the examples in (82).

Example 82
a. Janoriginator hielp de dame.
activity
  Jan  helped  the lady
a'. Janoriginator hielp de damedelimiter uit de autoterminus.
accomplishment
  Jan  helped  the dame  out.of the car
b. Janoriginator duwde de kar.
activity
  Jan  pushed  the cart
b'. Janoriginator duwde de kardelimiter wegterminus.
accomplishment
  Jan  pushed  the cart away

Something similar is shown by the slightly more complex cases in (66), repeated here as (83), in which the addition of a complementive/verbal particle adds a terminus and thus turns an intransitive activity into an (unaccusative) achievement.

Example 83
a. Jan wandelde twee uur lang/*binnen twee uur.
activity
  Jan walked  two hours long/within two hours
  'Jan walked for two hours.'
b. Jan wandelde binnen twee uur/*twee uur lang naar huis.
achievement
  Jan walked  within two hours/two hours long  to home
  'Jan walked home within two hours.'
b'. Jan wandelde in twee uur/*twee uur lang terug.
achievement
  Jan walked  in two hours/two hours long  back
  'Jan walked back within two hours.'

Note in passing that the (b)-examples were considered accomplishments under Vendler's approach because they are temporally bounded, but as achievements under the classification in (77) because Jan does not function as an originator but as a delimiter. This shows that the redefinition of Vendler's original categories in terms of participant roles is not innocuous, but may give rise to different dividing lines between event types.

[+]  III.  Extensions of Vendlerʼs four-way distinction

The participant perspective on the aspectual classification of events discussed in Subsection II implies that temporal notions no longer enter this classification, subsection A will argue that this is a desirable result by showing that the feature ±time extension applies across all event types, and can thus be used to extend the classification, subsection B will discuss yet another feature, ±control, which has been argued to apply across all types of states of affairs and can likewise be used to extend the classification.

[+]  A.  ±time extension

Subsection II has shown that Vendler's classification can be expressed by appealing to the roles that the nominal arguments play in the event and discussed a number of advantages of this shift of perspective. Another potential advantage is that activities, achievements and accomplishments are no longer defined by the temporal feature ±time extension. This enables us to solve the problem for Vendler's original proposal that there is a class of achievements that have temporal extension: verbs like afkoelen'cool', smelten'to melt' and zinken'to sink' are not momentaneous but involve a gradual change of state; cf. Dowty (1979: Section 2.3.5). Furthermore, we can now also define so-called semelfactive verbs like kloppen'to knock', krabben'to scratch' and kuchen'to cough' as instantaneous activities. Finally, we can also understand that accomplishments like een boek schrijven'to write a book' and een raam breken'to break a window' differ in their temporal extension. In short, the aspectual feature ±time extension can be used to divide all three main event types into two subclasses.

Example 84
Extended event classification I
  [-time extension] [+time extension]
activities kloppen'to knock'
kuchen'to cough'
knipogen'to wink'
rukken'to jerk'
dragen'to carry'
lachen'to laugh'
luisteren'to listen'
wachten (op) 'to wait (for)'
achievements aankomen'to arrive'
herkennen'to recognize'
ontploffen'to explode'
overlijden'to die'
afkoelen'to cool'
smelten'to melt'
verdorren'to wither'
zinken'to sink'
accomplishments doorslikken'to swallow'
omstoten'to knock over'
verraden'to betray'
wegslaan 'to hit away'
bouwen'to build'
opeten'to eat up'
oversteken'to cross'
verbergen'to hide'

Note that our discussion above has abstracted away from the fact that properties of the nominal arguments of the verb may affect the temporal interpretation: crossing a square, for example, will have a temporal extension while crossing a line is instead instantaneous. The three classes of non-momentaneous verbs in Table (84) can easily be recognized, as they can always be the complement of the inchoative verb beginnen'to begin'.

Example 85
a. Jan begon te lachen.
activity
  Jan started  to laugh
b. Het ijs begon te smelten.
achievement
  the ice  started  to melt
c. Jan begon het huis te bouwen.
accomplishment
  Jan started  the house  to build
  'Jan started to build the house.'

The momentaneous verbs, on the other hand, normally do not allow this, except when they can be repeated and thus receive an iterative reading when combined with a durative adverbial phrase; cf. the examples in (86).

Example 86
a. Jan kuchte drie keer.
  Jan coughed  three times
a'. Jan kuchte vijf minuten lang.
  Jan coughed  for five minutes
b. Jan sloeg de hond drie keer.
  Jan hit  the dog  three times
b'. Jan sloeg de hond vijf minuten lang.
  Jan hit  the dog  for five minutes

Since momentaneous activities differ from momentaneous achievements and accomplishments in that they can typically be repeated, it is the former but not the latter that are typically used as the complement of beginnen.

Example 87
a. Jan begon te kuchen.
  Jan started  to cough
b. * Jan begon aan te komen.
  Jan started  prt.  to arrive
c. * Jan begon de lamp om te stoten.
  Jan started  the lamp  prt.  to knock.over
[+]  B.  ±control

Another way of extending Vendler's classification is by adding Dik's (1997) feature ±control. This feature denotes a property of the subject of the clause and expresses whether the referent of the subject is able to bring about or to terminate the event. The examples in (88) show that this feature can be superimposed on all four subclasses; the states of affairs in the primeless examples are all controlled, whereas those in the primed examples are not.

Example 88
a. Jan gelooft het.
  Jan believes  it
a'. Jan weet het.
state
  Jan knows it
b. Jan wandelt in het park.
  Jan walks  in the park
b'. Jan rilt van de kou.
activity
  the shivers  from the cold
c. Jan vertrok op tijd.
  Jan left  in time
c'. Jan overleed.
achievement
  Jan died
d. Jan vernielde de auto.
  Jan vandalized  the car
d'. Jan verzwikte zijn enkel.
accomplishment
  Jan twisted  his ankle

Dik provides a number of tests that can be used to determine whether the subject is able to control the event. The first involves the use of the imperative: whereas controlled events allow the imperative, non-controlled events do not.

Example 89
a. Geloof het maar!
  believe it  prt.
a'. * Weet het maar!
state
  Jan knows it
b. Wandel in het park!
  Jan walks  in the park
b'. * Ril van de kou!
activity
  Shiver from the cold
c. Vertrek op tijd!
  leave  in time
c'. * overlijd!
achievement
  die
d. Verniel de auto!
  vandalize the car
d'. * Verzwik je enkel!
accomplishment
  twist you ankle

      This finding is interesting because Vendler (1957) and Dowty (1979) have claimed that states cannot occur in the imperative form on their prototypical use: an example such as Ken uw rechten!'Know your rights!' was explained by claiming that this example did not involve an order/advice to know something, but to do something that would lead to the state of knowing something. Similarly, a command like Zit!'Sit!' would be interpreted as an instruction to perform some activity that would lead to assuming the desired posture. However, if geloven'to believe' indeed denotes a state, this cannot be maintained. Other typical states that can occur in the imperative are copular constructions, provided that the predicative element is a stage-level predicate, that is, a predicate that denotes a transitory property; individual-level predicates, that is, predicates that denote more permanent properties, normally give an infelicitous result in the imperative construction.

Example 90
a. Wees verstandig/geduldig!
stage-level predicate
  be  sensible/patient
b. * Wees intelligent/klein!
individual-level predicate
  be intelligent/little

      Another context in which the difference between controlled and non-controlled events comes out clearly is in infinitival constructions such as (91), in which the implied subject PRO of the infinitival clause is interpreted as coreferential with the subject of the main verb beloven'to promise'.

Example 91
a. Jan belooft [PRO het te geloven/*weten].
  Jan promises  it  to believe/know
  'Jan promises to believe it.'
b. Jan belooft [PRO te wandelen in het park/*te rillen van de kou].
  Jan promises  to walk in the park/to shiver from the cold
  'Jan promises to walk in the park.'
c. Jan belooft [PRO op tijd te vertrekken/*te overlijden].
  Jan promises  in time  to leave/to die
  'Jan promises to leave in time.'
d. Jan beloofde [PRO de auto te vernielen/*zijn enkel te verzwikken].
  Jan promised  the car  to vandalize/his ankle  to twist
  'Jan promised to vandalize the car.'

Note that this again goes against earlier claims (e.g. Dowty 1979) that states cannot occur in this environment. The examples in (92) show that the difference between stage- and individual-level predicates that we observed in the copular constructions in (90) is also relevant in this context.

Example 92
a. Jan beloofde [PRO verstandig/geduldig te zijn]!
stage-level predicate
  Jan promised  sensible/patient/nice  to be
b. * Jan beloofde [PRO intelligent/klein te zijn].
individual-level predicate
  Jan promised  intelligent/little  to be

Although some verbs may require a +control or -control subject, other verbs may be more permissive in this respect; a verb like rollen'to roll' in (93), for example, is compatible both with a +control and a -control subject. That the referent of Jan in (93a) but the referent of de steen'the stone' in (93b) does not, is clear from the fact that the adverbial phrases opzettelijk/vrijwillig'on purpose/voluntarily' can be used with the former only. The examples also show that +control subjects are typically animate (with the possible exception of certain machines).

Example 93
a. Jan rolde opzettelijk/vrijwillig van de heuvel.
  Jan rolled  on purpose/voluntarily  from the hill
b. De steen rolde (*opzettelijk/*vrijwillig) van de heuvel.
  the stone  rolled     on purpose/voluntarily  from the hill

Note in passing that notions like controllability or volitionality are often seen as defining properties of the thematic role of agent; cf. the discussion in Levin & Rappaport Hovav (2005: Section 2.3.1). The fact that the subjects of states and achievements, which are normally not assigned the role of agent, can also have this property and the fact that the interpretation of the event may depend on the animacy of the subject casts some doubt on proposals of this sort.

[+]  IV.  Other semantic classifications

The previous subsections reviewed one line of research concerned with verb/event classification that started with Vendler (1957), but there are other classifications based on specific inherent conceptual properties of verbs. Verbs have been classified as, for instance, verbs of putting, removing, sending and carrying, change of possession, concealment, creation and transformation, perception, social interaction, communication, sound and light emission, bodily functions, grooming and bodily care, and so on; see Levin (1993: Part II) for a long list of such classes. Although lists like these may seem somewhat arbitrary, making such distinctions can be useful, as these classes may exhibit several defining semantic and syntactic properties; Levin's classification, for instance, is based on the ways in which the participants involved in the state of affairs can be syntactically expressed in English. Although we will refer to at least some of these classes in our discussion of verb frame alternations in Chapter 3, we do not think it would be very helpful or insightful to list them here: we will introduce the relevant classes where needed and refer the reader to Levin's reference book for details.

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