Subjective seriality and nominal aspect: how distributive viewing of a nominal referent produces subjective dynamicity in the Finnish copulative construction.
In Cognitive Grammar, nouns are analyzed as elements designating a THING, i.e. a region in some cognitive domain. As such, they lack a temporal profile, and the temporal profile of a whole clause is inherited from the finite verb which indicates a process. Canonically, the referent of a nominal element participates in a process throughout and does not limit its temporal extension. In some cases, however, the quantity of a nominal referent directly determines the aspectual interpretation of the sentence. This is the case when the participation of the nominal referent in the process is incremental (in the sense of Dowty 1991), i.e. if different components of the entity participate in the process sequentially and the temporal extension (duration) of the process is limited by the quantitative extension of the nominal referent. An example given by Dowty is I was moving the lawn, where the process reaches its endpoint only after the whole lawn has been mowed. Here the participation of the nominal referent is sequential in a “factive” sense, i.e. the mowing actually affects different parts of the lawn at different points of time. However, it is also possible is that the incremental participation of a nominal referent is based on subjective factors.
In my paper I discuss nominal aspect as expressed by the Finnish copulative clause, which is an interesting case in point since the case marking of the predicate adjective (PA) reflects the understood nature of the subject as indicating either a bounded entity (being a count noun) or a substance (being a mass noun). Consider the opposition between Pöytä on pyöreä [table.NOMINATIVE be.PRES.3SG round.NOMINATIVE] ‘The table is round’ vs. Kahvi on musta+a [coffee.NOMINATIVE be.PRES.3SG black+PARTITIVE] ‘The coffee is black’. In the first example the subject is a count noun and requires the PA to take the nominative case, whereas in the second example the subject is a mass noun and requires a partitive PA. In Finnish linguistics it has been argued that a nominative PA characterizes the subject in a holistic way and attributes a quality to the referent of the subject as a whole, whereas the partitive PA expresses a distributive characterization where the quality is independently attributed to each [imaginable] component of the referent of the subject. In my paper I argue that the distributive meaning of the partitive PA often reflects a subjective dynamic conceptualization where the referent of the subject is scanned through in a serial way by the conceptualizer. In such cases it is not the nature of the subject as such but the nature of the conceptualization that motivates the case selection. Consider the following example, from a newspaper interview of a car driver who had been in an accident on an icy road: Tie+n pinta ol+i lasi+mais+ta [road+GEN surface.NOM be+PST.3SG glass+like+PAR] ‘The surface of the road was glassy [i.e. icy]’. As such, ‘the surface of the [whole] road’ would be a bounded entity, and the PA would thus be expected to take the nominative case. The function of the partitive in this example is to reflect the nature of the experience of the car driver who is actually moving along the surface and encountering it in an incremental part-by-part manner. This evokes the subjective serial conceptualization of the surface as an incremental theme, even though its actual condition of being icy is of course continuous and holistic. At a more general level the main contribution of my presentation is to study the subjective nature of the interplay between nominal quantity and aspect.