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The relation between aspect and inversion in English

Journal Contribution - Journal Article

This article discusses the peculiar use of the simple present/past in full-verb inversion (i.e. locative inversion, directional inversion, quotative inversion, presentational there), and the corresponding scarcity of progressive aspect in these contexts. While it is normally ungrammatical in English to use the simplex tenses to report events that are ongoing at reference time, inversion seems to defy this restriction. Building on a combination of insights from analyses of aspect and of full-verb inversion in English, this study presents a cognitive-functional explanation for this exceptional characteristic of inversion that has gone largely unnoticed in previous accounts. I argue that there exists a canonical relationship between the preposed ground and the postposed figure in full-verb inversion and that this meaning of canonicity ties in perfectly with the perfective value that I deem constitutive of the English simple tenses. In addition, some cases of directional inversion involve a deictic effect (Drubig 1988): in these instances, the conceptualizer's vantage point is anchored within the ground and the denoted (dis)appearance of the figure is construed as inevitable. On the basis of a large sample of corpus data and native-speaker elicitations, I demonstrate that the use of the progressive is disallowed in inverted contexts that involve a deictic effect, while its use is dispreferred but not excluded in other cases of inversion. This study thus brings together insights from the domains of information structure and aspect in English, and merges these into a comprehensive cognitive account.
Journal: English Language and Linguistics
ISSN: 1360-6743
Volume: 20
Pages: 107 - 128
Publication year:2016