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Title: Nominal and verbal gerunds in Present-day English. An aspectual distinction?
Authors: Heyvaert, Liesbet
Issue Date: 20-Sep-2013
Conference: SLE conference edition:46 location:Split (Croatia) date:18-21 September 2013
Abstract: Nominal and verbal gerunds in Present-day English. An aspectual distinction?

This paper deals with nominal and verbal gerunds in Present-day English. Nominal gerunds (or NGs, e.g. (1)) have the internal syntax of a noun phrase (NP), verbal gerunds (or VGs, as in (2)), have clause-like internal structure.
(1) a. (...) [the downing of an alleged Indian spy plane over Pakistan] kept tensions high. (Wordb-USnews, 2002)
b. We will never accept [the dismantling of our organization] (…). (Wordb-USnews, 2003)
(2) a. And the mother of another soldier killed in Basra demanded the PM set a deadline for [bringing the troops home]. (Wordb-UKregionalnews, 2004)
b. Tony Blair has ruled out [enhancing the post by investing it with more powers]. (Wordb-UKregionalnews, 2001)
While their formal features have been described in detail, the semantic and discourse-functional differences between NGs and VGs remain to be elucidated. The focus of this paper is on their aspectual features. NGs, Quirk et al. (1985) argue, zoom in on an “activity that is in process” (1292) rather than on “the action as a whole event, including its completion” (1551). Brinton (1998: 48) claims that -ing in NGs “does not seem to preserve the aktionsart of the verb” but instead “has the effect of converting a situation into an activity, of making the situation durative, atelic, and dynamic”. Brinton’s analysis, however, is based on single-verb NGs (e.g. coughing, living) and does not take into account the impact of nominal arguments and temporal adverbials on the gerund’s aspectual status.
This paper presents an aspectual analysis of both NGs and VGs based on a set of 500 gerunds randomly extracted from the Wordbanks corpus, distinguishing between (a) the inherent temporal nature of the situation expressed by the underlying VP (i.e. ‘Aktionsart’ or ‘ontological’ aspect); and (b) the aspectual view that is taken of that situation in the clause in which it is embedded (i.e. bounded or nonbounded) (Vendler 1967; Declerck 2006). It maps out the various Aktionsart categories realized by NGs vs. VGs (States, Activities, Accomplishments or Achievements) and the overall aspectual perspective taken on them in the clause.
The results show that the existing aspectual claims about NGs cannot be upheld once their usage context is included in the analysis: (a) a significant number of them turns out to be based on telic VPs (designating an Accomplishment, for instance, rather than an Activity; see (1a and b)); and (b) they are most often construed as designating bounded situations (as in (1a and b)), reinforced at the nominal level by the use of the article (which is characteristic of count nouns or nouns with the nominal (and hence spatial) aspectual property of ‘shape’ or a ‘definite outline’, cf. Rijkhoff 1991: 293). Interestingly, nominal and verbal gerunds do not appear to show fundamental differences in their Aktionsart features: verbal gerunds too are most often based on telic VPs (e.g. (2a)). Whether or not they represent these telic VPs as designating a bounded event, however, is much harder to determine than in the case of NGs (cf. (2a and b)). While an aspectual analysis of NGs and VGs thus reveals great aspectual flexibility of the VP underlying either system (and argues against positing an ‘Activity’ profile for NGs, for instance), it also sets us on the track of differences in terms of the aspectual viewpoint taken on gerunds in their distinct usage contexts and brings to the fore the role played by the determiner as a marker of nominal aspect in NGs.

Brinton, Laurel (1998). Aspectuality and countability: a cross-categorial analogy. English Language and Linguistics 2.1: 37-63.
Declerck, Renaat (2006). The Grammar of the English Verb Phrase. Volume 1. Berlin: Mouton.
Quirk, Randolph, Sidney Greenbaum, Geoffrey Leech, Jan Svartvik (1985). A Comprehensive Grammar of the English Language. London: Longman.
Rijkhoff, Jan (1991). Nominal Aspect. Journal of Semantics 8: 291-309.
Vendler, Zeno (1967). Linguistics in Philosophy. Ithaca/NY: Cornell University Press.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: IMa
Appears in Collections:Functional and Cognitive Linguistics: Grammar and Typology (FunC), Campus Kulak Kortrijk
Linguistics Research Unit - miscellaneous

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