This book provides a novel outlook on the semantics of lexical aspect in English. It examines what is known as a Vendlerian classification of verbs: a division of lexical verbs in English into four distinguishable classes – States, Activities, Achievements and Accomplishments – proposed by Zeno Vendler (Vendler 1957). The four classes of verbs above differ from each other with respect to their behavior with a variety of grammatical tests, such as compatibility with temporal modifiers for X time / in X time
, or occurrence with progressive tense (an exhaustive list of such diagnostic tests is provided in Word Meaning and Montague Grammar
by David Dowty).
Rothstein draws on the neo-Davidsonian theory of events in her analysis of the Vendlerian classes, arguing that the four Vendler classes of verbs denote four different types of events, distinguishable on the basis of two crucial parameters: telicity and having stages in the inner structure of an event. States are atelic (meaning, they do not have a predetermined endpoint; only an arbitrary one) and hold at instants (thus, having no discernable stages in their denotations). Activities are also atelic, but unlike states hold at minimal temporal intervals, rather than instants. For instance, an activity of walking is true only down to a minimal activity event of walking, but the parts of this minimal event are not themselves in the denotation of walk. Activities, thus, are represented as series of iterated stages, or minimal activity events (MAE). Achievements, on the other hand, are near-instantaneous events of change from the state of not P to the state of P. Thus, an achievement break
denotes a change from an object X being unbroken, to X veing broken. Achievements are telic, but do not contain multiple stages in their event structure.
Accomplishment verbs, which stand in the focus of Rothstein''s analysis, are complex events, which consist of a sum of an activity subevent and a temporally extended incremental subevent of change, tied together via an incremental relation. An incremental relation maps stages of the incremental event of change (i.e. BECOME event) onto the activity subevent. In such a way, the BECOME subevent of change regulates the development of an entire accomplishment event. For instance, the accomplishment read the book
develops in a certain predetermined order, which is known to the language user from both the relevant context and his real world knowledge. Accomplishments are telic and have discernible stages in their event structure (i.e., an event of reading the book can have subevents of reading chapters, as in read the book chapter-by-chapter
Rothstein''s theory of lexical aspect accounts for the fact that some lexical verbs can have alternative classification in terms of their Vendler class by allowing type-shifts of lexical verbs from one lexical aspectual class into another. In fact, Rothstein discusses in detail two types of such shifts: an activity-accomplishment shift in the resultative constructions in English (e.g., John hammered the metal flat
vs. John hammered the metal
) and an achievement-accomplishment shift in the case of the so-called progressive achievements, such as John was arriving at the station
. Rothstein makes an important observation, though, that the natural lexical accomplishments, such as read
, differ from the derived ones, such as hammer the metal flat
, in terms of the lexical accessibility of stages of their incremental structure. While the former have an intuitively available incremental chain of change, the latter require more contextual support to become felicitous (such as adding the flat
adjectival phrase to the hammer the metal
Rothstein''s study of the semantics of lexical aspect makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the semantics of lexical verbs in English. Moreover, its theoretical base can be extended to languages other than English (see, for example, the implementation of Rothstein''s theory in Russian in Tatevosov & Ivanov 2006; Braginsky & Rothstein 2008). Structuring Events
provides an elegant and powerful theoretical platform that shall prove instrumental in advancing the linguistic research in the field of lexical aspect.