How to distinguish between phase and aspect?
- From one-language point of view
To take an example from Mandarin Chinese, I don't see a difference between a phrase with (cf. the quote from (Li & Thompson 1981, p. 65) in section below) an "inchoative aspect indicator"
起来 qǐlái such as in
玛丽 工作 起来 - Mǎlì gōngzuò qǐlái - Mary to.work INCH - 'Mary gets to work' and a phrase with (cf. the quote from (Talmy 2000, Vol. 2, p. 156) in section below), a "starting phase" verb, such as
开始 kāishǐ 'to start' in
玛丽 开始 工作 - Mǎlì kāishǐ gōngzuò - Mary to.start to.work - 'Mary starts work'. [The translation of the examples above are from Google translate, for sake of objectivity].
The distinction between phase and aspect as illustrated in these two phrases is even less clear when I analyze them from the lens of the two following basic definition of aspect:
_Croft (2012: 4):
Aspectual structure can be broadly described as how events unfold over time.
_Talmy (2000, Vol. 2: 157):
Aspect is the pattern of distribution through time of an action or state.
To me, both
玛丽 工作 起来 - Mǎlì gōngzuò qǐlái and
玛丽 开始 工作 - Mǎlì kāishǐ gōngzuò describe how the event
工作 gōngzuò 'to work' unfold over time (they both specify that it started to unfold).
- From two-languages comparison point of view
To approach the problem from a comparative point of view, in Hungarian, particles like
-le are directly responsible for the telic reading of a verb in a phrase (Kardos 2016):
The examples above demonstrate that predicates like hosszabbít ‘lengthen’ and fest ‘paint’ significantly differ from their English counterparts in terms of their aspectual properties in that the former can receive a telic interpretation in the presence of an object that has quantized reference just in case a verbal particle like meg or le, or a resultative expression like fehérre ‘lit. into white’ appears with them. (p. 3)
(...) Hungarian (...) has specific markers to determine telicity for various verbal predicates. (p. 13)
The previous sections have demonstrated that telicity in Hungarian is often strictly dependent on the presence of a verbal particle or a resultative expression. (p. 14)
The author's definition of telicity comes from Beavers (2008), with the basic idea synthesized as follows (Kardos 2016: 11) :
Beavers motivates this by stressing that telicity is only about reaching a culmination of goal point.
Comparatively, according to scholars in Chinese linguistics,
完 wán 'finish' is a phase indicator which indicates the completion of an action.
完 wán is a verb, meaning 'to finish' which, when used as a phase indicator, is attached on the right of an action verb (e.g.
看 完 kàn wán - watch finish - 'has finished watching')
-meg is an aspect indicator (for completion), while
完 wán is a phase indicator (for completion)?
Below I give further description of the two notions of phase and aspect as they have been provided in both general linguistics and the descriptive linguistics of Mandarin Chinese respectively, with my inconclusive interpretation along the lines (the main point being bolded).
- General linguistics
Talmy (2000, Vol. 2, p. 156) posits a distinction between phase and aspect:
Distinguished from aspect because of its different behavior, the category of 'phase' refers to changes in the status of an event's existence.
And identifies three types of phase:
The main member notions for any type of event are 'starting', 'continuing', and 'stopping'.
I find it difficult to distinguish the "inchoative aspect" from the "starting phase"; the "continuative aspect" from the "continuing phase"; and the "telic aspect" from the "stopping phase".
In my understanding, Talmy precises here that aspect and phase are to be distinguished, not with semantic criteria (as I tried to do in the intro of my post), but with morphosyntactic criteria (cf. "different behavior").
From this angle, I wonder whether phase is basically the same as aspect, but expressed in other linguistic forms than inflections.
Yet, the following quote from Talmy (2000, Vol. 2, p. 156) makes the distinction between phase and aspect even more challenging, because, according to it, both grammatical forms (including inflections) and lexical forms can potentially express both phase and aspect:
a) Phase notions can be incorporated in verb roots or colocations, as in strike up 'initiate the playing of [a tune]' – and, by one interpretation, also in reach (e.g. reach the border) 'finish going toward', shut up 'stop talking' and halt 'stop moving'. Phase notions can also appear as the sole meaning of a verb without the incorporation of further semantic referents, as in English start, stop, finish. Strikingly, the particular phase concept of 'stopping' can appear only in verbs – whether alone or with other semantic material – not as an auxiliary, satellite, or inflection.
b) Phase notions other than 'stopping' can be expressed by satellites. For example, 'finishing' is expressed by German fertig-, as in fertig-bauen/-essen 'finish building/eating' (or, more literally, 'build/eat to completion'). The concept of 'inaugurating' is expressed by German an-, as in an-spielen 'open play (e.g., at cards)' or an-schneiden 'make the initial cut in'. And 'starting' in the specific sense of 'bursting out' is expressed by Yiddish tse (+ zikh) as in tse-lakh zikh 'burst out laughing'.
c) Depending on the interpretation, phase either is or is not expressed in inflections. Thus, a preterite inflection seems to indicate stopping or finishing in conjunction with an unbounded or bounded event, as in She slept/She dressed. But it may be better interpreted as being basically a tense/aspect indicator, 'wholly occurring before now', that merely implies cessation. There is also the "inchoative" inflectional indication of 'entry into a state' – that is, 'becoming' – but it is not clear whether this should be classed together with 'starting'.
- Descriptive linguistics
In two very-well recognized Mandarin Chinese linguistics monographs, phase and aspect have been also separately used. Below, the accounts of Chao (1968) and Li & Thompson (1981) on phase and aspect in Mandarin Chinese.
- Chao (1968)
In Chao (1968, p. 461), Chapter 6 "Compounds", the author has a subsection called "6.6.3 Phase complements and aspect suffixes", where he identifies different "phase complements". I list the main of them below:
着 zhao 'touched, got at, successful after an attempt'; 到 dao 'arrive at, each'; 见 jian 'perceive';
In Chapter 4 "Morphological types", subsection "4.4.5 Verbal suffixes", Chao (1968, p. 265) gives a list of "aspect suffixes of verbs". I list 6 of the 7 below:
了 le the perfective aspect; 着 zhe the progressive suffix; 起来 qilai the inchoative aspect; 过 guo the indefinite past aspect; reduplication as a tentative aspect; 下去 xiaqu the successive aspect
- Li & Thompson (1981)
Li & Thompson (1981, p. 65), Chapter 3 "Word structure", subsection "A.2 Phase RVCs" give the following list of phase verbs:
完 wán 'finish', which indicates the completion of an action; 着 zháo 'be on target'; 住 zhù 'hold on'; 到 dào 'reach, succeed'; 好 hǎo 'completing the task signaled by the first verb'
In their Chapter 6 "Aspect", Li & Thompson (1981, p. 185) list the following types of aspect in Chinese :
Perfective: 了 le and perfectivizing expressions; Imperfective (durative): 在 zài, 着 zhe; Experiential: 过 guo; Delimitative: reduplication of verb
I have not been able to find in these two monographs a justification/explication from the respective authors about why and how aspect and phase are distinguished.
If I follow my interpretation,
起来 qǐlái might be more an aspect indicator, because it behaves like an inflection (a suffix), while
开始 kāishǐ is a phase marker, because it behaves like (it is) a verb.
But then why would
起来 qǐlái be an aspect indicator, while
完 wán is a phase indicator, since both have an aspect-like meaning (start and completion of an action, respectively) and both behave similarly (attached just after the action verb)?
Chao, Y. R. (1968). A grammar of spoken Chinese. Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Croft, W. (2012) Verbs: Aspect and causal structure. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kardos, É. (2016). Telicity marking in Hungarian. Glossa: a journal of general linguistics, 1(1).
Li, C. N., & Thompson, S. A. (1981). Mandarin Chinese: A functional reference grammar. Univ of California Press.
Talmy, L. (2000). Toward a cognitive semantics. Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass.