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A Cognitive Grammar account of the semantics of the English present progressive1


In this paper, we propose a unified account of the semantics of the English present progressive in the form of a semantic network, basing ourselves on the theoretical principles and analytical tools offered by the theory of Cognitive Grammar, as laid out by Langacker (1987, 1991). The core meaning of the English present progressive, we claim, is to indicate epistemic contingency in the speaker's immediate reality. It thus contrasts with the simple present, which is associated with situations that are construed as structurally belonging to reality. On the basis of a study of the Santa Barbara Corpus of spoken American English, an inventory has been made of the more specific uses of the present progressive, temporal as well as modal. It is shown that each of these uses can be derived from this basic meaning of contingency in immediate reality via a set of conceptual branching principles, in interaction with elements in the context.

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Authors' addresses: Department of Linguistics, University of Antwerp, Prinsstraat 13, 2000 Antwerpen,
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Parts of the research for this paper have already been reported in De Wit & Brisard (2009). We wish to thank Ron Langacker and three anonymous Journal of Linguistics referees for their useful comments on earlier versions of this text. Thanks are also due to the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO) for its financial support of the first author (grant 4740).

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Nicholas Asher . 1992. A default, truth conditional semantics for the progressive. Linguistics and Philosophy 15, 463508.

Frank Brisard . 2001. Be going to: An exercise in grounding. Journal of Linguistics 37, 251285.

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Tom Güldemann . 2003. Present progressive vis-à-vis predication focus in Bantu: A verbal category between semantics and pragmatics. Studies in Language 27.2, 323360.

Fred Landman . 1992. The progressive. Natural Language Semantics 1, 132.

Ronald W Langacker . 2011. The English present: Temporal coincidence vs. epistemic immediacy. In Adeline Patard & Frank Brisard (eds.), Cognitive approaches to tense, aspect and epistemic modality, 4586. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Laura A Michaelis . 2004. Type shifting in Construction Grammar: An integrated approach to aspectual coercion. Cognitive Linguistics 15, 167.

Paul Portner . 1998. The progressive in modal semantics. Language 74, 760787.

Carlota S Smith . 1997. The parameter of aspect, 2nd edn.Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Henriette de Swart . 1998. Aspect shift and coercion. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 16, 347385.

Zeno Vendler . 1957. Verbs and times. The Philosophical Review 66, 143160. [Reprinted in Zeno Vendler, Linguistics in philosophy. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967.]

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Journal of Linguistics
  • ISSN: 0022-2267
  • EISSN: 1469-7742
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-linguistics
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