University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics


The Russian semelfactive (event-minimizing) suffix 'nu' (e.g. pryg-nu-t’ = to jump once), rarely discussed in the rich literature on Slavic aspect, (Forsyth 1970, Fowler 1994, Borik 2002, Svenonius 2004a,b,c, Filip 2000, 2003, Romanova 2004, inter alia) presents an interesting problem as it shows a number of striking differences from other perfective operators and unexpected, previously unobserved similarities to the secondary imperfective suffix 'iv' (e.g. vy-pry-iv-at’ = to be jumping out). I argue that both suffixes instantiate the same light verb v. Whether the v is realized as nu or iv depends on whether it has features [+Inst] or [+Prog]/ [+Hab] respectively. The paper is embedded into a large body of work (Svenonius 2004, Romanova 2004, Matushansky 2002) that treats aspectual prefixes in Slavic as prepositions. It adds to the existing discourse by addressing the status of aspectual suffixes. Empirically, the proposal unifies the seemingly distant secondary imperfective and semelfactive suffixes in Russian and links them to light verb constructions such as those present in Hindi and Yiddish. On a theoretical side, the proposal places the aspectual phrase (AspP) into a typology of split categories alongside CP (Rizzi 1997) and IP (Pollock 1989). The overall conclusion that emerges from the proposal is that while the perfective/ imperfective distinction in Slavic is a real one, it is semantic in nature and is not due to the [+/- perfective] feature on an Aspect head. In Slavic, and arguably, universally, Asp is a collocation of syntactic heads, but is not itself a head.