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Linguistics, Vol.4 No.1 September 2003. -

In this paper we provide evidence that conceptual metonymies are

cross-linguistically significant in the coding of verbal aspect. Guillemin-

Flescher 1981: Ch. 2, in an important contrastive study of narrative

texts, notices that English and French differ quite often as to

which phase of an aspectual situation is coded in an utterance. To illustrate,

compare sentence 1, taken from François Mauriac’s well-known

novel Thérèse Desqueyroux, with its English translation in 2:

1 Le train ralentit, siffle longuement, repart.

2 The train came to a halt, uttered a long whistle, and started to

move again.

In the French original 1 the process of moving again is coded. In contrast,

it is quite striking that the English translator of 1 prefers to verbalize

only the incipient phase of this process by means of an ‘inceptive

verb construction’—thereby metonymically evoking the process as a

whole. We explore the hypothesis that in English, in contrast to French,

there is a fairly systematic exploitation of the high-level metonymy

SUB-EVENT FOR WHOLE EVENT with the two sub-metonymies INCIPIENT


EVENT. A corpus search of two different text genres, bilingual transcripts

of Canadian parliamentary debates and narrative fiction, reveals

that in about 20% of the cases where English has a metonymically interpreted

inceptive verb construction, French expresses the equivalent

idea directly by means of a single verb form. We relate the findings for

the incipient verb construction to the observation that English makes more extended use of the POTENTIALITY FOR ACTUALITY metonymy

with perception and mental processing verbs.

predicational metonymy; lexical aspect

Author: Klaus-Uwe Panther - ; Department of English and American Studies, Hamburg University Linda L. Thornburg - ; Department of English



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