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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
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BREED, Adri. Aspect in Afrikaans: A theoretical description. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2016, vol.56, n.1, pp.62-80. ISSN 2224-7912.

The Afrikaans verb system distinguishes between past, present and future tense, but is ambiguous with regard to aspectual interpretation. Whereas English has different formal ways to specify aspectual meaning (for example the differences between the past situations indicated by drank, has drunk, had drunk and was drinking) the het ge past tense can be used in Afrikaans for all four these aspectual past tense meanings (namely het gedrink). Afrikaans is therefore regarded as a non-aspectual language (cf. Bylund et al. 2013:932). The aspectually ambiguous nature ofthe Afrikaans verb system has a far-reaching effect on the manner in which the Afrikaans grammar in the Afrikaans academic literature is described or understood. Firstly, there is a view that the verbal form of Afrikaans is inadequate to express certain aspectual nuances and meanings in the same way as, for instance, English (cf. Brink 1976:93; De Villiers 1962:250; Du Toit 1940:250; Meyer 2010; Paul 2010; Visser 2012; Wybenga 1983:1). Secondly, expressions such as "easy", "simplified", "lacking a real system" and "problematic" have been used to describe temporal expression in Afrikaans (cf. Anon 2010; Britz 2002; De Villiers 1962:59). Some scholars even assume that Afrikaans "has no aspect" (cf. Van derMerwe 1968a:281). However, these statements are contentious as it is indeed possible to distinguish between different aspectual meanings in Afrikaans. Although verb inflection is not really used to make these distinctions, other linguistic strategies such as phrasal and lexical constructions can be employed. A possible reason for the above-mentioned views is the fact that Afrikaans aspectual expressions have not yet been researched or described adequately. In fact, since 1940, only ten Afrikaans publications on aspect have been published (cf. Breed 2012:7-14). However, in my opinion, these publications do not offer a good explanation of the different ways in which aspect can be expressed in Afrikaans, and therefore fail to contribute to a better understanding of aspectual expressions in Afrikaans. This article endeavours to fill the dual void by offering a general theoretical description of aspect in Afrikaans, and secondly by systematically presenting the different linguistic strategies that are used in Afrikaans to express aspectual meaning. By means of a search on the "Digitale Bibliografie van die Afrikaanse Taalkunde (DBAT)", ten Afrikaans publications were found that offer a theoretical description or definitions of aspect, i.e. Broos (1960), De Villiers (1942, 1948, 1951, 1962, 1968), Labuschagne (1968), Louw (1987), Potgieter (1982), Scholtz (1940), Van der Merwe (1968b), Van Niekerk (1997) Visser (1968) and Wybenga (1983). This literature is useful to form an overall conceptual framework of aspect in Afrikaans, and also to identify some aspectual expressions in Afrikaans. However, it is inadequate to serve as theoretical framework for the description of aspect in Afrikaans for the following reasons: The publications on Afrikaans aspect do not seem to have taken cognisance of contemporary international research findings on aspect in general. It is difficult to understand and distinguish the definitions and classifications of aspectual meanings made in the Afrikaans literature. There is little agreement between the definitions or classifications given in the different publications for the various aspectual meanings (e.g. the conative, causative, iterative, momental, punctual, ingressive and inchoative), and the description and classification of the perfective and imperfective meanings given in the relevant publications do not agree with contemporary international views on aspect (for example those of Binnick 1991; Bybee et al. 1994; Bybee 2003, Comrie 1976,1985; Dahl 1985; Langacker 1991; McCawley 1971). I consider the classification and definitions offered in the literature for aspectual meanings in Afrikaans unclear, incongruous and mostly incompatible. Apart from some references to Lyons (1977) and Jespersen (1965), non-South African sources on aspect are seldom referred to. It is still not clear which constructs or methods are being used by Afrikaans speakers to express aspectual meaning. According to the received linguistic view of grammatical aspect, it has to do with the point of view from which a situation is perceived. A situation can be viewed from two perspectives. Firstly, it can be viewed as a whole, with the boundaries of the situation included, for example The dog drank the water. This approach is called the perfective aspect. Secondly, a situation can be viewed with a focus on the internal temporal structure of the situation, for example The dog is drinking the water. This approach is called the imperfective aspect. All other aspectual meanings, (for example the habitual aspect such as Elephants eat leaves or the frequentative aspect such as He visits her often) can be regarded as a subtype of one of these two aspectual distinctions. A further distinguishable temporal-aspectual construction, namely the perfect or the anterior, is also relevant to this discussion. The anterior does not stand as a structure in opposition to the perfective or imperfective, but involves multiple points in time and should therefore be dealt with slightly differently than simply to be categorised as grammatical aspect. The two terminologies, namely the perfective and the perfect are often confused with each other or treated as synonyms, but are inherently different. In some traditions, the perfect is rather regarded as a tense category (cf. Comrie 1976:52). The anterior specifies that a process in the past has an effect on a subsequent situation, as it results in a state situation. The expression does not reveal anything about the situation itself, but places the situation in a particular context. Further descriptions and classifications of subtypes are addressed in the article. Although Afrikaans does not use verb inflection to distinguish aspectual meaning as in English, five linguistic strategies are used to specify aspectual meaning, namely i) lexical constructions such as adverbs and conjunction; ii) affixation; iii) reduplication; iv) passive constructions; and v) periphrastic constructions.

Keywords : anterior; aspect; imperfect; perfect; tense.

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