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1.5.3. Aspect
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Aspect concerns the internal temporal organization of events denoted by the lexical projection of main verbs. This section focuses on the grammatical means by which specific aspectual properties can be expressed, and will not include a discussion of Aktionsart, that is, the semantic properties of main verbs and their projection that restrict the internal temporal structure of events; this is discussed in Section 1.2.3. The grammatical means to express aspectual properties are rather limited in Dutch and generally involve the use of non-main verbs, but there are also a number of more special constructions that deserve attention. It is important to keep in mind that this section aims at illustrating a number of grammatical means that can be used to express aspect, and does not intend to provide an exhaustive description of the aspectual contributions that can be made by individual non-main verbs; for this we refer the reader to Chapter 6. Note that we will not discuss the aspectual verbs gaan, komen and blijven either given that they were already discussed in Section 1.5.2, sub III.

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[+]  I.  Progressive/continuous aspect

Dutch differs from English in that it can use the present tense to refer to durative events that take place at speech time: whereas an English present-tense example such as (322b) cannot refer to a specific walking-on-the-moor event occurring at speech time n, Dutch present-tense examples such as (322a) are quite normal in such a context; see also the discussion of the generalizations in (305) in Section 1.5.2, sub II.

Example 322
a. Jan wandelt op de hei.
  Jan walks  on the moor
  'Jan is walking on the moor.'
b. # John walks on the moor.

Section 1.5.4 will show that the Dutch simple present/past has a wide range of possible interpretations concerning the location of eventuality k expressed by the lexical projection of the main verb with respect to speech time n/virtual speech-time-in-the-past n': the former may precede, follow or overlap with the latter. Therefore, it will not come as a big surprise that Dutch also has special means for expressing progressive aspect, that is, for expressing that a certain eventuality k is ongoing at n/n'.
      A first option is the use of a set of semi-aspectual verbs, as in (323). The glosses show that these aspectual verbs are normally verbs that can also be used to denote specific postures or specific ways of moving. This meaning aspect may still be present, as in the examples in (323a), but it may also be suppressed; a speaker who utters (323b) typically has no knowledge of Jan's posture or activity during the relevant present-tense interval.

Example 323
a. Jan zit/ligt/staat (?morgen) te lezen.
  Jan  sits/lies/stands   tomorrow  to read
  'Jan is reading.'
b. Jan zit/loopt zich (?morgen) te vervelen.
  Jan  sit/walks  refl   tomorrow  to bore
  'Jan is being bored.'

The markedness of the use of the time adverb morgen'tomorrow' shows that the examples in (323) are preferably used to refer to some eventuality during speech time n. This seems to be confirmed by a Google search (4/27/2012) on the string [ zit morgen (weer) te] which resulted in no more than 16 attestations. This result is especially telling in view of the fact that a similar search on the string [ zit te lezen] already resulted in nearly 500 cases.
      A more special progressive construction is the aan het + Vinfinitive + zijn construction exemplified in (324). The markedness of the use of the time adverb morgen'tomorrow' shows that examples such as (323) are preferably used to refer to some eventuality during speech time n. This seems to be confirmed by a Google search (4/27/2012) on the string [ is morgen (weer) aan het] resulted in fewer than 50 results, many of which do not involve the relevant construction. This result is especially telling in view of the fact that a similar search on the string [ is aan het dansen] resulted in nearly 250 cases.

Example 324
Jan is (?morgen) aan het dansen.
  Jan is  tomorrow  aan het  dance
'Jan is dancing.'

The aan het + Vinfinitive + zijn construction is problematic in the sense that it is not clear what the precise syntactic status of the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence is: there are reasons for assuming that it is a complementive PP headed by the preposition aan, but there are also reasons for assuming that it is just a non-finite form of the verb. The most important evidence in favor of claiming that we are dealing with a complementive aan-PP is related to word order: example (325b) shows that the sequence aan het wandelen behaves like a complementive in that it must precede the verb(s) in clause-final position; this restriction would be surprising if aan het wandelen were simply an inflected main verb given that main verbs normally can follow the verb that they are selected by; cf. dat Jan heeft gewandeld op de hei'that Jan has walked on the moor' and dat Jan wil wandelen op de hei'that Jan wants to walk on the moor.'

Example 325
a. Jan is aan het wandelen op de hei.
  Jan is aan het walk  on the moor
  'Jan is walking on the moor.'
b. dat Jan <aan het wandelen> is <*aan het wandelen> op de hei.
  that  Jan   aan het walk  is  on the moor
  'that Jan is walking on the moor.'

The assumption that we are dealing with a complementive PP also accounts for the fact illustrated in (326) that the verb zijn appears as a past participle in the perfect-tense construction. If the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence were simply an inflected verb, we might wrongly expect the infinitive zijn/wezen'be' given that such complex perfect-tense constructions normally exhibit the called infinitivus-pro-participio effect.

Example 326
a. Jan is aan het wandelen geweest op de hei.
  Jan is aan het walk  been  on the moor
  'Jan has been walking on the moor.'

That the aan-PP must precede the verbs in clause-final position and the verb zijn'to be' appears as a participle in perfect-tense constructions thus suggests that we are dealing with a copular-like construction with a complementive aan-PP. This seems to be supported by the fact that the verb zijn'to be' can be replaced by the modal verbs lijken'to appear', schijnen'to seem' and blijken'to turn out', which are traditionally also analyzed as copular verbs; cf. (327a). The same thing holds for copular verbs like blijven'to remain' and raken'to get' in (327b&c). For completeness' sake, the primed examples illustrate the unsuspected copular use of these verbs.

Example 327
a. Ze leken aan het kletsen.
  they  appeared  aan het  chat
  'They appeared to be chatting.'
a'. Hij leek wat verward.
  he  was  a.bit confused
  'He was a bit confused.'
b. Ze bleven aan het kletsen.
  they  continued  aan het  chat
  'They continued chatting.'
b'. Hij bleef wat verward.
  he  remain  a.bit confused
  'He stayed a bit confused.'
c. Ze raakten aan het kletsen.
  they  got  aan het  chat
  'They started to chat.'
c'. Hij raakte wat verward.
  he  got  a.bit  confused
  'He got a bit confused.'

More support is provided by the fact that undative verbs like hebben'to have', krijgen'to get' and houden'to keep' may occur in this construction given that Section A6.2.1, sub IB shows that these verbs can be used as semi-copular verbs; the examples in (328) are adapted from Booij (2010:ch.6).

Example 328
a. Ik heb/kreeg de motor weer aan het draaien.
  have/got  the engine  again  aan het  run
  'I have/got the engine running again.'
b. Ik hield de motor met moeite aan het draaien.
  kept  the engine  with difficulty  aan het  run
  'I kept the engine running with difficulty.'

A final piece of evidence for assuming that the sequence aan het + Vinfinitive functions as a complementive is that it can also occur in resultative-like constructions such as (329), which are again adapted from Booij (2010). Such resultative constructions are often of a more or lesss idiomatic nature.

Example 329
a. Jan bracht Marie aan het twijfelen.
  Jan brought  Marie aan het  doubt
  'Jan made Marie doubt.'
b. Els maakte Peter aan het lachen.
  Els made  Peter aan het  laugh
  'Els made Peter laugh.'
c. Haar opmerking zette mij aan het denken.
  her remark  put  me  aan het  think
  'Her remark made me think.'

      If the aan het + Vinfinitive phrase is indeed a complementive PP, the phrase het + Vinfinitive is most likely an inf-nominalization, which seems to be the direction that Booij (2010:163) is heading. That this is indeed conceivable is clear from the fact illustrated in (330) that the sequence het + Vinfinitive sometimes alternates with an undisputable noun phrase with the article de'the'. So, besides the primeless examples in (327), we find examples such as (330) with more or lesss the same meaning. Note in passing that a Google search (8/24/2011) on the string [ aan het kletsen /de klets V] suggests that the copular verb zijn prefers the infinitive kletsen, raken prefers the noun klets, and that blijven has no clear preference between the options; an investigation of more minimal pairs is needed, however, to determine whether this is indeed a general tendency.

Example 330
a. Ze waren aan de klets.
  they  were  aan de  chat
b. Ze bleven aan de klets.
  they  were  aan de  chat
c. Ze raakten aan de klets.
  they  got  aan de  chat

It can be noted in passing that the suggested analyses may also be supported by the fact that certain German dialects allow constructions like Ich bin am Arbeiten, in which am can be seen as the contraction form of the preposition an and the dative, neuter article dem; see Bhatt & Schmidt (1993). However, if we are indeed dealing with inf-nominalization in the progressive aan het + Vinfinitive + zijn construction, we should conclude that noun phrases following the preposition aan exhibit more restricted behavior than run-of-the-mill nominalizations; whereas (331a) shows that such nominalizations can normally be modified by an adverbially or attributively used adjective, example (331b) shows that it is not possible to modify the infinitive in the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence in the same way–modification is possible but only if the modifier is an adverbial phrase preceding the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence, as in (331b').

Example 331
a. het geanimeerd(e) kletsen (van de kinderen)
  the  animated  chatting   of the children
b. * De kinderen waren aan het geanimeerd(e) kletsen.
  the children  were  aan  het  animated  chat
b'. De kinderen waren geanimeerd aan het kletsen.
  the children  were animated  aan  het  chat
  'They were having a vivid conversation.'

Something similar to the restrictions on modifiers holds for the internal argument(s) of the input verb. Whereas nominalizations like het boeken lezen/het lezen van de boeken'the reading of (the) books' are perfectly acceptable, example (332a) is not; expression of the direct object boeken'books' is possible provided that it is external to the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence, as in (332a'). Essentially the same thing holds for complementives like helderblauw'pale blue'; whereas nominalizations like het lichtblauw verven van het hek are fully acceptable, the (b)-examples in (332) show that the complementive must be external to the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence.

Example 332
a. * Ze zijn aan het <boeken> lezen <van de boeken>.
  they  are  aan  het    books  read     of the books
a'. Ze zijn (de) boeken aan het lezen.
  they  are  the books  aan het read
  'Theyʼre reading (the) books.'
b. * Ze zijn het hek aan het lichtblauw verven.
  they  are  the gate  aan het  pale.blue  paint
b'. Ze zijn het hek lichtblauw aan het verven.
  they  are  the gate  pale.blue  aan het  paint
  'Theyʼre painting the gate blue.'

The examples in (331) and (332) strongly suggest that infinitives in the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence must be bare in the sense that it cannot be accompanied by any other material, but there seem to be exceptions to this general rule: if the verb forms a fixed collocation with a bare noun, as in paard rijden'to ride horseback', or a predicative adjective, as in dronken voeren'to ply someone with liquor', the non-verbal part of the collocation noun can be either external or internal to the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence; see Smits (1987), Booij (2010), and references cited there. The same thing holds for verbal particles, which are argued in Section 2.2.1 to function as complementives as well.

Example 333
a. Ze zijn <paard> aan het <paard> rijden.
  they  are    horse  aan het  ride
  'Theyʼre riding horseback.'
b. Ze waren Peter <dronken> aan het <dronken> voeren.
  they  were  Peter    drunk  aan het  feed
  'They were plying Peter with liquor.'
c. Ze waren de whisky <op> aan het <op> drinken.
  they  were  the whisky   up  aan het  drink
  'They were finishing the whisky.'

It will be clear that the unacceptability of the primeless examples in (332) is problematic for the assumption that infinitives in aan het + Vinfinitive sequences are inf-nominalizations, and thus also for the hypothesis that we are dealing with complementive aan-PPs. In fact, the acceptability of the primed examples is even more problematic for this hypothesis, as this would imply that the presumed inf-nominalizations are able to license the inherited complements of their input verbs by assigning them a thematic role and/or case in the position external to the aan-PP; this would clearly be unprecedented.
      This problem does not occur if we assume that the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence is simply a regular main verb, that is, that the aan het part functions as some kind of inflection comparable to the prefix ge- in past participles; cf. Smits (1987). Although this is an unconventional move, it may not be too far-fetched given that we proposed a similar analysis for the element te preceding infinitives in Section 1.3, sub IIIA1. The main reason given there in favor of the claim that te is a prefix and not an independent word is that it behaves like the prefix ge- in that it is always left-adjacent to the verbal element/stem; this is illustrated again in (334).

Example 334
a. Hij heeft <paard> ge- <*paard> -reden.
  he  has  horse  ge   ridden
  'He has ridden on horseback.'
a'. Hij probeert <paard> te <*paard> rijden.
  he  tries    horse  to  ride
  'He tries to ride on horseback.'
b. Hij heeft Peter <dronken> ge- <*dronken> -voerd.
  he  has  Peter    drunk  ge  fed
  'He has plied Peter with liquor.'
b'. Hij probeert Marie <dronken> te <*dronken> voeren.
  he  tries  Marie    drunk  to  feed
  'He tries to ply Marie with liquor.'
c. Marie heeft de whisky <op> ge- <*op> -dronken.
  Marie has  the whisky    up ge  drunk
  'Marie has finished the whisky.'
c'. Marie probeert de whisky <op> te <*op> drinken.
  Marie  tries  the whisky    up  to  drink
  'Marie tries to finish the whisky.'

When we compare the examples in (334) to those in (333), we immediately see that this argument does not carry over to the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence; there are cases in which the verbal part of the sequence can be split from the aan het part. Claiming that the aan het part is some sort of inflection therefore requires extensive motivation (which Smits in fact tries to provide). If we add this to the problem illustrated in (325b) above that the aan het-phrase must precede the finite verb in clause-final position, we see that the analysis according to which the aan het + Vinfinitive sequence is an inflected form of the verb is not with its problems either. We therefore conclude that the internal organization of the progressive aan het +Vinfinitive + zijn construction is still far from clear and therefore in need of further investigation.

[+]  II.  Inchoative and terminative aspect

Inchoative aspect can be expressed by the verb beginnen'to begin/start', as in (335a). The fact that the object of the verb lezen must precede the verb beginnen in clause-final position may suggest that the latter verb is not a main verb with a clausal complement but a non-main verb that forms a verbal complex with the main verb lezen. It is, however, far from clear whether this is sufficient for claiming that beginnen is a non-main verb, as other main verbs exhibit similar behavior; see Chapter 4 for relevant discussion.

Example 335
a. dat Jan het boek begint te lezen.
  that  Jan  the book  begins  to read
  'that Jan is beginning to read the book.'
b. * dat Jan begint het boek te lezen.

Example (336a) shows that terminative aspect cannot be expressed by means of a verbal complex. Instead the constructions in (336b&c) are used: the verb stoppen'to stop' selects a met-PP with an inf-nominalization denoting the terminated action. That we are dealing with a true nominalization is clear from the fact that the object of the input verb can be realized as a postnominal van-PP or, if the object is indefinite, as a prenominal noun phrase; cf. N2.2.3.2.

Example 336
a. * dat Jan het boek stopt te lezen.
  that  Jan  the book  stops  to read
b. dat Jan stopt met het lezen van het boek.
  that stops  with  the reading of the book
  'that Jan stops reading the book.'
c. dat Jan stopt met boeken lezen.
  that stops  with  books  reading
  'that Jan stops reading books.'
References:
  • Bhatt, Christa & Schmidt, Claudia M1993Die <i>am</i> + Infinitiv-Konstruktion im Kölnischen und im umgangssprachlichen Standarddeutschen als Aspekt-PhrasenAbraham, Werner & Bayer, Josef (eds.)DialektsyntaxOpladenWestdeutscher verlag71-99
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Booij, Geert2010Construction morphologyOxford/New YorkOxford University Press
  • Smits, Rik1987Over de <i>aan het</i> constructie, lexicale morfologie en casustheorieCorver, Norbert & Koster, Jan (eds.)GrammaticaliteitenUniversity of Tilburg281-324
  • Smits, Rik1987Over de <i>aan het</i> constructie, lexicale morfologie en casustheorieCorver, Norbert & Koster, Jan (eds.)GrammaticaliteitenUniversity of Tilburg281-324
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