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Lecture

Predicting Russian Aspect: A corpus study and an experiment

  • Laura Janda
Date
Wednesday 7 December 2016
Time
Location
Lipsius
Cleveringaplaats 1
2311 BD Leiden
Room
228

This talk will present two new investigations of Russian aspect, a corpus study that has not yet been published, and an experiment for which data analysis is still underway.

Corpus study

We ask whether the aspect of individual verbs can be predicted based on the statistical distribution of their inflectional forms and how this is influenced by genre. To address these questions, we present an analysis of the “grammatical profiles” (relative frequency distributions of inflectional forms) of three samples of verbs extracted from the Russian National Corpus, representing three genres: Journalistic prose, Fiction, and Scientific-Technical prose. We find that the aspect of a given verb can be correctly predicted from the distribution of its forms with an average accuracy of 93%. However, there are important differences in the inventory of verbs that characterize genres and in the behavior of individual verbs across genres. We maintain that it would be possible for first language learners to use distributional tendencies in acquiring the verbal category of aspect in Russian.

Experiment

500 native Russian speakers rated the acceptability of both perfective and imperfective verb forms in a context containing 1100-1700 words. The contexts are all authentic texts representing various spoken (transcribed) and written genres: narration, interview, journalistic prose, scientific prose, and fiction. Test items include verbal subparadigms where both aspects are morphologically possible: past tense, future tense, infinitive, and imperative. Below are some examples of raw data from the fiction sample (83 participants). Asterisks mark the verb that appeared in the original text.

 

(1) Categorical negation: here according to “objective” criteria, only imperfective should be possible

 

ženščina nikogda ne [ obrugala / *rugala ] ego... ‘the woman never yelled at him’

 

 

 

excellent

possible

impossible

perfective

0

3

80

imperfective

83

0

0

 

(2) No “objective” criterion for choosing aspect, but native speakers consistently choose imperfective

 

[ Pokazalos´ / *Kazalos´ ], čto ego mat´ ... byla dlja nego angelom xranitelem ‘It seemed that his mother was his guardian angel’

 

 

excellent

possible

impossible

perfective

0

2

81

imperfective

82

1

0

 

(3) No “objective” criteria, and in this case native speakers accept both aspects

 

Deti u mačexi Vasilija [ *pošli / šli ] odin za drugim. ‘Vasilij’s stepmother had (lit. ‘went’) one child after another’

 

 

 

excellent

possible

impossible

perfective

49

27

7

imperfective

25

47

11

 

Both examples like (2) where native speakers make a categorical choice and ones like (3) where they accept both aspects are frequent in our data. Our analysis explores what factors distinguish between contexts of obligatory choice vs. variable construal for Russian aspect.

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