A Context-Free/Context-Sensitive Approach
Benjamin M. Rosenthal
The Japanese auxiliary construction -te i- (-te iru) has long attracted attention from linguists due to its unusual array of aspectual interpretations. It corresponds in some instances to the English “progressive” construction (e.g. be eating), in some instances to the English “perfect” construction (e.g. have eaten), and in some instances to neither (e.g. know, be open).
A number of attempts have been made to find a unitary meaning that would tie the various interpretations of -te i- together, but none have hit the mark. Utilizing data from actual conversation (the original natural habitat of language), this monograph provides an analysis of -te i- that is at once context- free and context-sensitive, articulating a meaning that is shared by all instances of -te i- but also respects how any instance is situated in a context. It is proposed that -te i- invokes non-punctuality, a quality of not being confined to a single point in time. The notion of non-punctuality is used as a frame of reference to analyze the related auxiliary construction -te ari- (-te aru), explain the use of -te inai (a negative non-past form of -te i-) in polar opposition to the past affix -ta, deconstruct the preoccupation in much of the literature on -te i- with the “progressive” and “resultative” interpretations, and shed light on a hitherto unrecognized interpretation of -te i- as the holding of a “discourse stance”. This monograph will stimulate anyone interested in Japanese linguistics, aspect, or usage-based linguistics.
ISBN 9783895869433. LINCOM Studies in Japanese Linguistics 02. 158pp. 2008.