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Language Log

Friday, Sept. 21, 2007 - 11:08 a.m.

This is a bit absurd, but I have to discuss it anyway, because it's interesting and timely.

'Quit', according to the usual tests, is an achievement verb. This means it has a punctual culmination-- the grammar behaves as though there's some moment of transition, with not much leading up to this point and nothing after (nothing encoded lexically as part of the verb's meaning, anyway).

Evidence: If you say "I am quitting", it means that you have not actually quit yet. "I finished quitting" is odd, and "I quit for one week" does not mean that the quitting itself took place over a week-- it means you quit, then resumed after a week. "I began quitting" does must be interpreted as meaning that a series of quitting events began, not that one event oof quitting began (c.f. "I began reading a book", where there's just the one event in play). Similarly "I quit in a week" means "I quit after a week", not that it took a week for the event to unfold (vs. "I read the book in a week", where the one event progresses incrementally over the period of time).

However. World knowledge does not mesh with this very well, and indeed after my own recent quitting event, my judgments are a bit shifted. First of all, it wasn't punctual. I can't point to any moment at which the quitting could be said to have taken place. As J noted yesterday, by the time I informed the relevant parties, I had already quit; the speech act of informing my advisor did not constitute quitting, really. The whole decision making process was protracted, with some back and forthing, gradually the backing reducing and the forthing proceeding apace. Not a moment. And indeed, whenever I said "I am quitting" these past few months, I never meant, "I will quit". I meant, really, I am mid-event. You see in me a person mid-quit. An extended, durative event nucleus. And in my case, "I quit in 6 months" may well mean that the act of quitting really did take place over that 6 months, not just at the end of it.

So what's up with 'quit' Is this coercion? Type-shifting? Or just good ol' world knowledge and frequency determining the aspect of this verb?

Now to go finish rinsing dye out of some paper (it's a lovely green and blue).

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