Aspect, tense, and the lexicon: Expression of time in Yiddish (1999)

Elaine Gold


This thesis investigates the nature of Yiddish aspect and tense and proposes a structural account of these expressions of time within a Government and Binding framework. The thesis has two main parts: the first part deals with theoretical issues of the nature of Yiddish aspect and the second with structural representations of aspectual and tense constructions. The first three chapters focus on what has been the central question of Yiddish aspect: whether there is a Slavic-style grammatical perfective /imperfective opposition in Yiddish. Arguments are presented against the use of perfective/imperfective terminology for the description of Yiddish aspect in general, or for individual aspectual constructions in particular. It is further argued that Yiddish aspectual constructions do not represent grammatical oppositions, where the term 'grammatical' is interpreted to imply obligatoriness or membership in the verbal paradigm. The ramifications of these conclusions for theories of the history of Yiddish and of Yiddish-Slavic language contact are considered. Chapter Four proposes the term 'bounded' to characterize the aspectual nature of the stem construction and of prefixed verbs; visual representations illustrate the way in which 'boundedness' can account for the co-occurrence of these constructions and for the use of prefixed verbs as a pseudo-pluperfect. Chapter Five is devoted to tense: a semantic analysis is presented within a Reichenbachian model and lexical and syntactic structures are proposed for the future, habitual past, immediate future, past, future perfect and pluperfect constructions. There is a discussion of the status and composition of the verbal paradigm. The structures of prefixed verbs and the stem construction are presented in Chapter Six. It is argued that aspect, like tense, is expressed lexically in Yiddish. That is, there are no aspectual or tense features active in the syntax and no syntactic structures that reflect tense or aspectual semantics. Issues discussed include the nature of the lexicon and the evidence needed to propose such functional categories as Aspect Phrase and Tense Phrase. This thesis builds upon earlier work on Yiddish aspect, tense and syntax to bridge the different fields and present a unified account of expression of time in Yiddish.


Yiddish; Aspect; Tense; Perfective; Imperfective;

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