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  1. #11
    Pokemon is offline Member
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    Frankly speaking, not knowing Japanese, it's difficult to look at the world with their eyes. I understand there are considerable typological differences between English and Japanese, which means they structure time, space, motion, etc. differently and their language works differently. So it's natural that they are trying to project their system of concepts onto the target language, and you are trying to understand what's going on in their minds. However I don't think it makes much sense to adjust the semantics of the English grammatical categories to Japanese mentality. On the contrary, it should be the other way round. Otherwise they will speak not English but Japlish.

  2. #12
    timtak is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    If you know Japanese then it makes it obvious that something strange is going on in English too, but it is not important. Forget I mentioned Japanese.


    Why do posture verbs refer to states and not movements?

    Why does "sitting" refer to the a state of being seated, rather than to moving from the erect to seated position, why does "sitting" refer to "having sat"?

    Why does "standing" refer to the erect state, rather than to moving to the erect position, why does "standing" refer to "having stood"?

    "Taking" does not refer to "having taken". If I am taking a piece of cake then I am holding a piece of cake and moving my arm away from the table towards my plate.

    "Throwing" does not refer to having thrown the ball. If I am throwing then then by arm is in motion.

    Posture verbs are not like other verbs.

    Is "standing" (refering to a motionless state) in the present continuous because the act of standing is often brief (only guardsmen stand for more than a couple of hours), because it is intentional (if one did not keep trying to remain standing one would fall down), or because it is reflexive?

    Reflexivity does seem to be important, but there are many verbs such as "hitting myself" which refer to movement, not to having hit myself. The reflexivity of posture verbs is embedded. In the (slightly archaic) phrase "He sat himself down," suddenly the present continuous "he is sitting himself down" does not refer to the seated state, but to the act of placing his posterior on a seat.

    This is an important point but I am not sure why embedded reflexivity should turn a verb into a state verb into a stative present continuous verb.
    Last edited by timtak; 03-Nov-2010 at 06:48. Reason: realising that the "imbedded reflexivity" is essential for the stative continuous

  3. #13
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by timtak View Post
    If you know Japanese then it makes it obvious that something strange is going on in English too, but it is not important. Forget I mentioned Japanese.


    Why do posture verbs refer to states and not movements?

    Why does "sitting" refer to the a state of being seated, rather than to moving from the erect to seated position, why does "sitting" refer to "having sat"?

    Why do we call a tree a 'tree' and not a 'klib'? That question is not as facetious as it might appear. We can see how some words have acquired certain meanings over time, but it is impossible to say why one particular group of sounds was originally used to refer to one action, state, event or process. It just happens that that we can say today, in English:

    He is sitting (down) now = he is moving towards a seated position.
    He is sitting next to George. = he is in a seated position.

    Geman uses two different verbs, 'sich setzen' and 'sitzen', but English doesn't, though we tend to use 'down' with the movement and not with the position.


    The same is true of 'stand', 'lie', 'kneel', etc.
    You wrote, "Forget I mentioned Japanese". I can't. I think that is possible that you have noticed something about what you call 'posture verbs' that I for one had not noticed before. However, I also think that it is possible that you are seeing a problem where none exists, because you are looking at it through Japanese-tinted spectacles. That last sentence is NOT intended to be dismissive or patronising. I am going to look more closely at the interesting points you made.

  4. #14
    Pokemon is offline Member
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by timtak View Post
    Why do posture verbs refer to states and not movements?

    Why does "sitting" refer to the a state of being seated, rather than to moving from the erect to seated position, why does "sitting" refer to "having sat"?
    Ok, let me paraphrase the question a little. (correct me if I misinterpret anything).

    Why are postures understood as just states and not resultant states?

    I think the answer is obvious. Because the perfect tense serves the purpose of the latter. If you say 'I have sat down', you imply that now you're sitting. Why should you have another tense form (present continuous) to indicate the same thing? Language is a very economical coding system.

  5. #15
    timtak is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    However, I also think that it is possible that you are seeing a problem where none exists, because you are looking at it through Japanese-tinted spectacles.
    Hmm....I agree with you in a way. I think that if I had never learnt Japanese, I would not have realised that there is anything strange about English posture verbs. I am not a clever guy. I would not have been able to see the strangeness of my own language had I not learnt another.

    But then, learning Japanese I came accross a whole load of verbs that indicate *the result* in the *present continuous*. I thought that Japanese was weird. In Japanese one says (transliterating) "The stone is falling" about a stone that has fallen, that is on the ground. "Nah", I thought, it is not "falling," "it has fallen." "What are you guys on about?" Further, I thought, "in your language there is no simple way of describing the object in motion." There is no easy way of saying that a stone is falling (in motion, descending) in Japanese, without resorting to expressions like "It is in the process of falling." I thought that their language, the Japanese language, was weird and uneconomical one. Why don't they just say that the stone has fallen when it has fallen and that it is falling when it is falling?

    ((If any Japanese speakers are reading I will admit that the present perfect is unnatural in Japanese, but one could say "Ochite-aru" instead of "Ochite-iru" to describe fallen stones.))

    Why are postures understood as just states and not resultant states?
    Shouldn't that be the opposite? In English postures are understood as resultant states even in the continuous.What has happened to the transitory state of sitt-ing (being in the process of seating oneself)? Why is it so difficult to refer to this motion?

    I think the answer is obvious. Because the perfect tense serves the purpose of the latter. If you say 'I have sat down', you imply that now you're sitting. Why should you have another tense form (present continuous) to indicate the same thing? Language is a very economical coding system.
    You seem to be saying exactly what I would like to say but drawing the opposite conclusion!

    "Language is economical. "(I agree, or at least I think it usually is economical)

    "Why should you have another tense form (present continuous) to indicate the same thing? " (I agree entirely!!)

    And yet, in English, the two tense forms
    I have sat down
    means the same thing as
    I am sitting
    Why so uneconomical? Why so wasteful? They could mean different things.

    This is weird! The English verbs could, theoretically, be economical so that
    I have sat down
    does not mean
    I am sitting
    since the latter could mean, though it does not, that I am in the process of moving from the erect to the seated posture.

    And just as I "complained" about Japanese...

    In Japanese there is no easy way of describing the process of falling, because the Japanese present continuous of "falling" refers to the result.

    Similarly in English there is not easy way of saying the process "sitting" (of taking a seat, of being in motion between standing and the seated posture) because "sitting" refers to the result.

    We have in English at least, a perfectly good tense for describing a seated person: the present perfect, "He has sat."

    But for some reason unknown to me, we English speakers waste a perfectly good way of describing the downward motion (he is sitting) allowing "he is sitting" to mean the same thing as "he has sat." What a waste!

    Why are we so uneconomical?

    "He is sitting" could, in theorey, refer to the transition (he is in the process of sitting, bending his knees), and "he has sat" to the state of being seated.

    So, in both Japanese and English there are groups of verbs that refer to actions that are difficult to descirbe in the transitional phase.

    People and things are often in the process of (1) falling, (2) sitting and standing.

    But in Japanese both (1) and (2) are difficult to say, and in English (2) is difficult say, without using "He is in the process of"

    Why? Why is there this lack of economy? Why are certain transitional states so difficult to say?
    Last edited by timtak; 04-Nov-2010 at 12:26. Reason: whatever

  6. #16
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    Quote Originally Posted by timtak View Post
    And yet, in English ...
    I have sat down
    means the same thing as
    I am sitting
    No, no, no. The two do not 'mean the same thing'.

    The first may be loosely paraphrased as: I have completed the process of seating myself,
    The second as: I am in what may be described as a 'sitting' rather than 'lying or 'standing' position.

    And, in another context, the second could be loosely paraphrased as: I am lowering my buttocks towards the chair with the aim of resting them there.

    It is true that when we see a person with his buttocks on the seat of a chair and his feet touching the ground we may choose to say, "he has sat (down)" or "he is sitting down", but we are describing the situation from a different point of view.

    I think that part of the problem may be that you take two different ways of describing a situation as meaning exactly the same thing.

    Let's take a completely different example to reinforce my point:

    1. John punched Jack.
    2. Jack was punched by Jack
    .

    With no further context, co-text or evidence of stress, intonation, etc, we can say that these two sentences describe the same situation, but we cannot say that they 'mean the same thing'.
    #1 focuses on the fact that John performed an action with his fist.
    #2 focuses on the fact that Jack received a blow delivered with a fist.

  7. #17
    timtak is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    I think that part of the problem may be that you take two different ways of describing a situation as meaning exactly the same thing.
    Sure, I would not say that there is absolutely no difference between He has sat and he is sitting. However, the difference in other verbs far greater than in the case of posture verbs, making posture verbs different from other verbs.

    Consider the following list

    He has eaten he is eating
    He has taken he is taking
    He has thrown he is throwing
    He has sat he is sitting

    In the first three pairs, the present perfect refers to the result of the action, and the present continuous refers to the motion which is the action in progress. In the last pair, both the present perfect and the present continuous refer, in the vast majority of cases, to the result, or at least not to a motion.

    Now as you point out if "sitting" meant or
    could be loosely paraphrased as: I am lowering my buttocks towards the chair with the aim of resting them there.
    then there would be no issue.

    But that is not what sitting means. In 99 cases out of a 100, "he is sitting" ("he is leaning" "he is standing") do not refer to lowering or otherwise moving ones body to a position, but rather being still in that position.

    Why is it that in the case of posture verbs, unlike in other verbs, it is correct to describe the unmoving resultant state by the present continuous? eating, throwing, taking, picking, singing, typing all refer to people in motion, and their present perfect forms a very different meaning to their present continuous forms.

    Posture verbs are different.

    Wherein does the difference lie?
    Reflexivity (the obejct is the subject)?
    Brevity (the motion in sitting typically takes a lot less time than the duration for which the subject remains seated)?
    Lack or presence of intentionality in post movement phase (after a ball is thrown, the trower does not need to expend any mental energy, but after someone has seated themselves, they must continue to put effort into remaining seated lest they slouch and fall from their chair)?
    Simple interest: posture verbs refer to the postures that people have taken and not to their movement into those postures.

    "The linguistics of sitting, standing and lying" By John Newman looks like a good place to start. He mentions
    a We enter the state of sitting through a conscious, controlled act on our part.
    b The act of sitting is done with the express intention of maintaining a state of sitting.
    c The act of sitting is relatively brief.
    d the state of sitting is relatively long compared with the act of sitting.
    The google books version does not show enough of the book but fortunately it is in our library.

    Tim
    Last edited by timtak; 05-Nov-2010 at 03:32.

  8. #18
    5jj's Avatar
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    I shall have to leave this discussion, not from boredom or frustration, but simply because I have nothing else to offer. I have to confess that, until you started it, I had never even thought of posture verbs as being significantly different from other verbs in English.

    I shall now have to go away and read up on this. Thank you for raising an interesting topic.

  9. #19
    timtak is offline Newbie
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    Me too. From what I can see from Google books, the above tome seems to be saying that there are a range of verbs from those that have a clear distinction between perfect and continuous, to those (such as resmble) which contain a continous, time enduring aspect within their meaning and do not even take a continuous. Posture verbs are not so special, but they do seem to be treated as a class with a degree of family resemblance and distinctiveness.

  10. #20
    Pokemon is offline Member
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    Default Re: Stative present continuous posture verbs

    "I have sat down" and "I am sitting" are two different ways of looking at the same situation. The denotation is the same but the conceptualizing fashions are different. When you say "I have sat down" you grammatically express that the resultant posture is the consequence of that action. When you say "I am sitting" there is no grammatical expression of the action that has resulted in this posture. The implication of such is purely pragmatic: from your life experience you know that in order to find yourself in a sitting position you need to sit down. I believe if we separate the pragmatical aspect of meaning from the conceptual one we'll see light at the end of the tunnel.

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