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Comparative Slavic Verbal Aspect (and Related Issues)

Comparative Slavic Verbal Aspect (and Related Issues)


Members in 2018

  • Dr. Janneke Kalsbeek (ACLC), senior researcher
  • Dr. René M. Genis (ACLC), senior researcher
  • Dr. Adrie A. Barentsen (ACLC), senior researcher
  • Drs. Radovan Lučić (UvA)
  • Drs. Magda van Duijkeren-Hrabová (UvA)
  • Drs. Paula Kyselica (UvA)
  • Dr. Egbert Fortuin (ULeiden), senior researcher
  • Dr. Jaap Kamphuis (ULeiden), senior researcher


Verbal aspect is one of the most specific features of the Slavic languages. Almost all Slavic verbs are either perfective or imperfective and a considerable number are organised into "pure aspectual pairs" in which the two members present lexically identical events from a different perspective. On the whole, a speaker of a Slavic language has to make an aspectual choice in each and every sentential utterance, which sometimes results in quite subtle semantic/pragmatic effects. The aspectual dichotomy runs throughout the entire paradigm of verbal forms, temporal and non-temporal alike.

This dichotomy is the result of a quite unique development in which various phases may be established, the earliest of which in historical sources urges us to recognize a third value in this category: anaspectual.

Previous research

The study of verbal aspect has long been dominated by research on Russian and this has resulted in a very extensive literature. It was generally assumed that the concepts developed in this area also applied to the other Slavic languages; however, detailed comparison of aspect in Russian and Czech, performed in the 1990s by the Moscow linguist Elena Petruxina and the Amsterdam linguist Anna Stunová (dissertation in 1993), showed considerable aspectual differences between the two languages. In more recent work by Stephen Dickey, these languages are considered to be typical examples of a global East-West aspectual distinction, whereas some languages, like Polish and Serbian/Croatian, represent a transitional zone.

Research group aims

The programme intends on developing this type of research and aims at getting a better understanding of both the similarities and the variations in the functioning of aspect in the various Slavic languages through means of detailed synchronic and diachronic comparative study of the use of the aspectual forms in a number of typical cases (various types of repetition, temporal relations between events ('taxis'), pragmatic effects of aspect choice in directive utterances etc.). This research is guided by the hypothesis that similarities may be explained by the fact that the feature 'terminativity' plays a central role in all Slavic languages, whereas the differences might be connected with the way in which in a given language a complete terminative event is embedded in the context (cf. Barentsen's 'sequential connection' and Dickey's 'temporal definiteness').

The research group has drawn much of its data from the Amsterdam Slavic Parallel Aligned Corpus (ASPAC) and future work will continue to draw on this corpus.

Research highlights in 2018

1. Adrie Barentsen has been able to formulate the functioning of the pluperfect in Slavic languages, amongst others compared to the pluperfect in Dutch. An extension of this is his research into the Russian particle bylo which is a remnant of the old pluperfect and has acquired a particular function of signalling the non-succes of an event. He established that this has often been mistranslated in Dutch translations of Russian literature.

2. The research project into taxis and Slavic verbal aspect and conjunctions of (temporal) ‘since’ has been continued and resulted in a the establishment of an invariant meaning with four possible variants covering all sixteen logically possible tense-aspect constellations in main clause and secondary clause. The tense-aspect contellations have been identified and described for both Russian and Polish and the distribution plotted against the various conjunctions with the temporal meaning ‘since’. For Slovak quantitative preliminary research has shown that similar mechanisms are at play there.

Societal Impact

Improvements to didactic material for language teaching.

Improvements to corpus research methodology.