Rethinking telicity and aspect in Qári

Recently, I’ve been reading the second edition of Semantics by Kate Kearns. I recall skimming through the first edition while still at university, but I’ll confess that not much stuck back in 2008. Chapters 8 and 9, on Aktionsarten and tense and aspect respctively, have made me reconsider what I’ve been doing with aspect and telicity marking in Qári.

I’ve been uneasy about this for a while, and this unease has grown as I’ve created more and more sample sentences for my Lexember entries (a post summarising Lexember 2020 is forthcoming!) – up until now, I’ve been using the telic markers –ye and – with verbs to indicate that the telos or endpoint has been reached (almost like a perfective marker, to be honest).  Essentially, I have been morphologically marking what is semantically the least marked property. This is dumb.

So, taking some inspiration from “inverse number marking”, I’ve come up with a system which I feel is at once more realistic and more elegant. Commentary, as always, is highly welcome.

Aspectual distinctions on Qári verbs are signalled by the single morpheme –ye (which has the allomorph – where the verb’s only or most patient-like argument is inanimate). The precise signification of the aspect suffix depends on each verb’s lexical aspect.

All verbs in Qári are inherently either telic or atelic. Atelic verbs denote states such as pinxá ‘to understand’, malatka ‘to remember’, tláré ‘to stand’ etc; and processes which lack a natural endpoint such as qitná ‘to talk’, relat ‘to row’, jalat ‘to sing’ etc.

Telic verbs are those which have a natural endpoint, or telos, such as verbs like áyata ‘to find’, óná ‘to shoot something’, itlá ‘to drink’. Such verbs cover both accomplishments and achievements, in Vendler’s (1957) classification. The main difference between the two is that an accomplishment has duration: it is essentially a process which has a natural endpoint; while an accomplishment is idealised to a single moment in time: a canonical achievement is the onset of a state, quoting Kearns (2011).

When unmarked, atelic verbs simply denote that the proposition denoted by the verb is taking place concurrently with the deictic centre of the utterance:

At felar jalat.
def scribe sing
The scribe is singing.

Akyó m’utsá at xupir.
PN app=know def slave_girl
Akyó knows the slave girl.

Kitsán tláré x’ayeqa kalóhit.
warrior stand loc=eye temple
A warrior is standing in front of the temple.

When the aspect marker is applied to an atelic verb, it marks entry into the state or the beginning of the process denoted by the verb: essentially it converts the proposition into an achievement:

At felar jalatliye.
def scribe sing:asp
The scribe began to sing.

Akyó m’utsáye at xupir.
PN app=know:asp def slave_girl
Akyó got to know the slave girl.

Kitsán tláye ta résit.
warrior stand:asp abl bed
The warrior stood up from his bed.

Unmarked telic verbs have the implication that the telos, the natural endpoint, has been attained; that the action was successfully completed:

Só áyata pakuyátiye laqada.
3sg find lost:def sandal
He has found the lost sandal.

At géril óná at engkat.
def hunter shoot def machairodont
The hunter shot the machairodont.

Já itlá at yejitxe.
1sg drink def beer
I drank the beer.

However, the addition of the aspect marker signifies that the telos has not (yet) been attained:

Só áyatayó pakuyátiye laqada.
3sg find:asp lost:def sandal
He is looking for the lost sandal.

At géril ónáye at engkat.
def hunter shoot:asp def machairodont
The hunter shot at the machairodont.

Já itláyó at yejitxe.
1sg drink:asp def beer
I am drinking the beer.

A large subset of transitive verbs (including most verbs indicating manner of motion) behave as atelic verbs when an object is not overtly stated, but as telic verbs when there is an overt object: such verbs are normally referred to as amphitelic. For example:


-object+object
-aspect markerjá uqajá
I am walking
já uqajá at tuhitá
I walked to the fields
+aspect markerjá uqajáye
I start to walk
já uqajáyó at tuhitá
I am walking to the fields

A perhaps unexpected result of Qári’s aspectual system is that a number of concepts that in other languages would be handled by distinct lexemes are instead handled by aspect changes. We have already seen “to look for” and “to find” both being indicated by the verb áyata above, for example. In the following table a few notable alternations of this type are listed:

Verb-aspect marker+aspect marker
áyatato findto look for
letkito know (by study)to learn
pinxáto understandto consider, to think about
yenggito arrive at, to becometo strive towards

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