The perfective and the imperfective aspects in Xhosa

  • Stefan Savic
Keywords: grammatical aspect, boundaries, Xhosa


The present corpus study aims to investigate the semantics of the perfective and the imperfective aspects in Xhosa. In a large number of studies that investigate tense and aspect in the Nguni languages, the observations are mostly based on invented, context-free sentences which do not necessarily reflect the complex semantics of these two categories. The data in the present study comes from corpora, thus allowing to test a hypothesis with examples from the natural language use. At the same time, the instances that cannot be accounted for with that hypothesis provide evidence for its improvement.The present study tests the view that the perfective aspect denotes an eventuality which is conceived of as ‘bounded’ or as an ‘indivisible whole’, and that the imperfective aspect represents an eventuality as ‘durative’ or ‘iterated’. The data collected in this study consists of recent past perfective and imperfective verbs which are tested for the possibility to hold true at more than one point in time. The underlying assumption is that, unlike the ‘durative’ and ‘iterated’ ones, the ‘bounded’ events cannot hold true at more than just one point in time. The results show that perfective/imperfective opposition in Xhosa correlates to a large extent with the view of an eventuality as bounded. However, a significant number of the analysed verbs cannot be accounted for with this explanation. The choice of aspect in those cases points toward other factors, such as factuality, number of occurrences, information structure, and sequencing of eventualities.