On 13/02/2014 12:08, Christophe Grandsire-Koevoets wrote:
> On 13 February 2014 12:01, R A Brown
> <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> On re=reading Comrie on "telic and atelic" (op.cit.
>> pages 44 to 48), it seems that this notion requires
>> real world knowledge and is not a purely grammatical
>> concept.
> Actually, the Wikipedia article about telicity (
> criticises this
> point of view, ending with the words: "This type of
> exercise can serve as a reminder of the futility of
> trying to link linguistic semantics to the real world
> without considering the intermediary agent of human
> cognition."

Yes, but that merely questions whether telicity is actually
a useful or notion or not.    ;)

It also depends who wrote the Wikipedia article;  I have
found some dreadful stuff on Wikipedia (and tried to correct

Having said that, I've never been satisfied with Comrie's
treatment of telicity.  While he may be (fairly) sound on
aspect, I got the felling he included the bit on telicity
because he felt he should without really getting to grips
with it.

I did consult Trask (A Dictionary of Grammatical Terms), but
he says little and basically refers to Comrie.  I've also
checked Crystal (A Dictionary of Linguistics and Phonetics)
and find:
*telic(ity)* A term used in the GRAMMATICAL analysis of
ASPECT, to refer to an event where the activity has a clear
terminal point.  Telic verbs include _fall, kick_, and
_make_ (something).  These verbs contrast with ATELIC verbs,
where the event has no such natural end-point, as with
_play_ (in such a context as _the children are playing_).

He seems to imply that the telicity of some verbs, e.g.
_play_ is context dependent, while that of other, e.g.
_fall_, kick_ is not.  I find this unsatisfactory and, I'm
sure, so do you.

> The problem is that Comrie is trying to refer to real
> world events *on their own*, while we should be looking
> at real world events *as they are conceptualised by the
> speaker*. The distinction is not trivial.

Indeed not - you make a very valid point IMO.  Language
developed aeons ago as individuals vocalized their thoughts
in order to communicate with their fellows.   Language
reflected the conceptualized world-view of the speaker as it
still does.  We just hope our listeners'/ readers'
conceptual world-view is not significantly different as to
hinder comprehension.

Also it is arguable whether any of us can, in fact, ever
refer to 'real' world events *on their own*.  Surely each of
us must perforce refer to things through our own
conceptualization?  It does not seem to me to make Comrie
point about _John is singing a song_ any less valid.  Surely
the point is whether the speaker conceptualizes _John is
singing a song_ as a telic or atelic situation.

> Once you have that in mind, it's not an issue to describe
> telicity as a purely linguistic concept, because that's
> what it is.

So how is it defined linguistically?  (That's a genuine

If one takes the first sentence of the Wikipedia article as
the definition, then what is seems to say is that verbs
which are past perfective and verbs which are present
perfect are telic.   This may well be useful in explaining
why verbs in many languages, e.g. Classical Latin and modern
French, do not formally distinguish the two tense-aspect combos.

> Once again, I think the "quantisation and cumulative
> reference" definition hits the mark pretty well when it
> comes to telicity.

Interesting - I've downloaded a copy of Manfred Krifka's
"The Origins of Telicity", and shall read it carefully and
with interest.

> Look at your example: "John is singing a song". Imagine
> he does so for 4 minutes. So we can cut this 4-minute
> event into 2 2-minute subevents. Can those two events be
> accurately described as "John is singing a song"? Yes of
> course! In that case, the expression "John is singing a
> song" has cumulative reference, i.e. it is atelic.

Two small points:
(a) It is not _my_ example - it's Comrie's.
(b) By Comrie's definition a situation is telic if it has
only one definite end point at which we can say "X had done.
/X has done ... / X will have done ...", then the situation is

His example is _John is singing_.  There is no definite end
point.  If John gets interrupted and has to stop (or chooses
to stop) we can say "John has sung."   But with "John is
making a chair", we cannot say "john has made a chair" if he
was interrupted work and to leave of his making; we can say
"John has made a chair" only when the chair is made.

How that relates, if at all, to quantization and cumulative
reference I will nor speculate at the moment.  I will read
Krifka first.

> On the other hand, "John sang a song" is telic, even if
> it refers to exactly the same event.

It's certainly part perfective   ;)

> As you can see, the same event can be described using an
>  atelic or a telic expression.

Comrie seems to say that as well.

> Telicity is often confused with perfectness, and indeed
> those two have a lot in common.


> But they are different enough that they can be combined
> (indeed, in English "I have written a book" is perfect
> and telic, while "I have been writing a book" is perfect
> but usually atelic).

Ah, the English "perfect progressive" forms - Welsh has
corresponding forms.  How common is this combination of
aspects in other languages?

>> As one of the objects of conlanging, at least for some
>>  of us, is to experiment with ideas, why not just
>> tryout Scenario A and Scenario B and see what happens.
>> Even if, in the end, an experiment proves unsuccessful,
>> it does IMO give some insight into the way language
>> works.
> True, but only if one is using a useful definition of
> telicity. If the definition is unclear or incorrect,
> whatever happens will not give us much insight.

It might send someone looking for a more correct definition.
  I won't bother to experiment; your email has already sent
me looking for a more correct definition   :)

As for the Wikipedia article, I notice on the 'Talk' page:
"Telicity is *not* a verb aspect. The reading of the notion
of telicity, as described in the article, is somewhat
strange for me ...."

Another person writes: "I have just noticed that telicity is
defined incorrectly in the article."

Also, interestingly: "...telicity is not a morphological
category at all, but a semantic feature (verbs that somehow
express or do not express an inherent goal of the action)
that can have very different morphological realizations in
different languages .... The Navaho situation provides
particularly good evidence that telicity and aspect have
nothing to do with each other: Navaho distinguishes aspect
by means of phonological changes of the verb root, and
telicity by means of prefixes."

That last bit is interesting.  I think there are people on
the list who know (some/ something about) Navaho.  Is that
last sentences quoted correct?

I see 'SIL Glossary of linguistic terms' doesn't list
_telic(ity)_     ;)

Ah, well, I'd better pour myself a strong coffee and get
reading Krifka's article    ;)

"Ein Kopf, der auf seine eigene Kosten denkt,
wird immer Eingriffe in die Sprache thun."
[J.G. Hamann, 1760]
"A mind that thinks at its own expense
will always interfere with language".