A developmental perspective on the Imperfective Paradox

N Kazanina, C Phillips

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

21 Citations (Scopus)


Imperfective or progressive verb morphology makes it possible to use the name of a whole event to refer to an activity that is clearly not a complete instance of that event, leading to what is known as the Imperfective Paradox. For example, a sentence like "John was building a house" does not entail that a house ever got built. The Imperfective Paradox has received a number of different treatments in the philosophical and linguistic literature, but has received less attention from the perspective of language acquisition. This article presents developmental evidence on the nature of the Imperfective Paradox, based on a series of four experiments conducted with Russian-speaking 3 to 6 year olds. Despite the fact that Russian is a language in which the morphological form of imperfectives is highly salient and used appropriately at a very young age, younger children show a clearly non-adultlike pattern of comprehension in our experiments. The results from Experiments 1 and 2 suggest that Russian-speaking children incorrectly ascribe completion entailments to imperfectives. However, Experiments 3 and 4 indicate that the children recognize that imperfectives can describe incomplete events, and that their problem instead concerns their inability to find a suitable temporal interval against which to evaluate imperfective statements. Specifically, children are only willing to accept an imperfective predicate as a description of a past incomplete event when the sentence contains an explicit temporal modifier that highlights a time interval that ends before the failure point of the event. These findings are taken as support for an account of the imperfective that makes use of temporal perspectives in solving the Imperfective Paradox.
Translated title of the contributionA developmental perspective on the Imperfective Paradox
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)65 - 102
Number of pages38
Volume105 (1)
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2007

Bibliographical note

Publisher: Elsevier


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