Constraints on the Formal Structure of Russian Verb Clusters

Laura Janda, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

The Russian verbal lexicon is dominated by the aspectual distinction of Perfective vs. Imperfective, which is obligatorily expressed by all verb forms and effectively divides the verbs into two types: Perfective verbs and Imperfective verbs. The linguistic tradition has asserted that Russian verbs exist as aspectual "pairs", with one Perfective and one Imperfective verb to express each lexical item. Despite the long-standing tradition of describing Russian verbs as "paired", it is a fact that most verbs exist in larger clusters of at least three or more aspectually related forms. Thus, for example, in the traditional model the lexeme 'pluck' is expressed by the "pair" o(b)shchipat' (Perfective=p) and shchipat' (Imperfective=i). However this "pair" is part of a larger cluster of verbs, among them: vyshchipat'(p) 'pluck out', vyshchipyvat'(i) 'pluck out', poshchipat'(p) 'pluck for a while', povyshchipyvat'(p) 'pluck out for a while', and shchipnut'(p) 'pluck once'. The "pair" model fails to distinguish among several types of Perfectives and cannot yield any constraints or distinguish significant aspectual derivational patterns. Among Perfectives, morphological and semantic behavior formally distinguishes: 1) Natural Perfectives (o(b)shchipat'(p) 'pluck') which describe the logical completion of the corresponding Imperfective Activity; 2) Specialized Perfectives (vyshchipat'(p) 'pluck out') with enough new semantic content to motivate a corresponding Imperfective (vyshchipyvat'(i)); 3) Complex Acts (poshchipat'(p) 'pluck for a while', povyshchipyvat'(p) 'pluck out for a while') which consist of an Activity combined with a limit, forming delimitatives, ingressives, etc.; 4) and Single Acts (shchipnut'(p) 'pluck once') which isolate a single cycle of a repeated Activity. As an alternative to the "pair" model, I propose a model inspired by conceptual spaces and semantic maps (primarily in Croft 2001 and Haspelmath 2003). I present a conceptual space of aspect, in which I draw a semantic map of Russian aspectual relationships and show that the composition of clusters conforms to a strict implicational hierarchy. The four types of Perfectives plus the Imperfective Activity comprise the five possible elements in a verb cluster. Theoretically, five elements can be combined in 31 ways, but an empirical study of a representative sample of 283 verb clusters reveals that most (19) of the possible cluster structures are not attested, a quarter of the possible types account for over 90% of verbs, and three similar cluster types (with an Activity and a Specialized Perfective, plus a Natural Perfective and/or a Complex Act) account for over half of the verbs sampled. The presence of a Single Act verb in a cluster requires the presence of a Complex Act, though the reverse is not true. The data suggest an implicational hierarchy to which all attested verb cluster types conform:

Activity>(Specialized Perfective/Natural Perfective)>Complex Act>Single Act

This model accounts also for verbs with atypical formal aspectual marking, such as biaspectuals, motion verbs, perfective simplexes (such as dat'(p) 'give'), and clusters including "dual simplex" verbs (such as brosit'(p) and brosat'(i) 'throw').

The pragmatic purpose of this contribution is to demonstrate that the formal structure of Russian verb clusters is highly constrained and well-motivated. In achieving the pragmatic purpose, I also extend the model of the semantic map to describe a dynamic synchronic phenomenon.

Croft, William. 2001. Radical Construction Grammar. Oxford: OUP.
Haspelmath, Martin. 2003. The geometry of grammatical meaning: semantic maps and cross-linguistic comparison. The New Psychology of Language, 2, 211-242.