5.10 Other Communicative Purposes

We finish the modules for imperfective statements of fact asserting the occurrence of a single completed action in the past with four particular communicative purposes for this usage of the imperfective. These are related to functions that we have already gone over, but we treat these communicative purposes as distinct factors, to complement the previous modules. For each purpose, there is an exercise with a few imperfective examples for which you need to choose the statements that correctly describe the discourse situation. In this module we forego exercises with contrasting perfective usage, which has been adduced sufficiently in the previous modules of this section. The module ends with a final exercise in which you are to choose the most appropriate aspect in a context.


Exercise A

Examine the following dialogues and choose the statements that most accurately describe the conversations.



Exercise B

Examine the following dialogues and choose the statements that most accurately describe the conversations. 



Exercise C

Examine the following dialogues and choose the statements that most accurately describe the conversations.



Exercise D

Examine the following dialogues and choose the statements that most accurately describe the conversations.



Exercise E

Choose the aspect that is most appropriate in the context. Pay attention to whether questions get real answers or not.



Final Thoughts

The discourse purposes discussed in this module have been treated as specific purposes that trigger the imperfective, so that students can be aware of them, and be on the lookout for them when speaking. Alternatively, we can emphasize what they have in common, which are two things: (1) the past action is mentioned with little or no information concerning the circumstances in which it occurred and its consequences at the time, and (2) the speaker mentions the action only insofar as doing so allows the speaker to speak about and/or steer the conversation toward topic(s) that s/he wants to talk about. These shared features are rather abstract, and while they allow one to understand the usage at hand intellectually, they are best combined with the individual discourse purposes covered here (and in previous modules). Similarly, when considering the discourse uses covered here vis-à-vis contrasting perfective usage, one should combine two ways of understanding the difference. On the one hand, one can focus on the particular discourse purposes triggering the imperfective (and their abstract commonalities mentioned above); on the other hand, one can focus on the discourse purposes of the perfective (e.g., checking up to see whether something has been done) or the causal/temporal sequencing asserted by the perfective (whether surfacing explicitly in the discourse/text, or implicitly understood by the discourse participants). Again, having a solid grasp of what each aspect does will allow one, with time, to gain a feel for the difference.

It bears repeating that the discourse purposes here have differing levels of correlation with the imperfective aspect. On the one end of the spectrum are strong, if not automatic correlations, as with the use of general-experience questions to keep a conversation going or the use of the imperfective in statements of fact used to help identify a thing. On the other end are things like discourse reminders, which, though perhaps tending to be imperfective by default, can occur in either aspect depending on how the speaker formulates the reminder and continues what his/her contribution to the discourse is. This point applies to all kinds of other aspectual usage as well, and it cannot be overemphasized. In this regard it is useful to repeat the examples with an imperfective and a perfective discourse reminder given in exercise A and the post-exercise comment, side by side:

Помнишь, ты спрашивала, кого я люблю больше всего на свете? – спрашивает он. Я киваю, хотя я и не думала, что он помнит об этом разговоре. – Тебя. Больше всех я люблю тебя.

Помнишь, ты как-то спросила, что бы я подумал, расстанься мы навсегда? – тихо спросил он. – Помню. – Я тогда сказал, что не знаю… А на самом деле знаю.

– Помнишь, как-то ты спросила меня, в чём разница между тобой и Хюррем? Так вот, я могу теперь тебе ответить, в том что она своим умом живёт, а ты – ЧУЖИМ!

These are very similar in that in each case the speaker reminds the listener of a single question that was asked at some time in the past, i.e., the discourse purpose is basically the same. However, as pointed out above, the imperfective occurs when the asking is mentioned without any particular episodic details and the speaker shifts quickly to what he wants to say now. In contrast, the first perfective dialogue stays focused on what happened when the question was asked (creating a sequence with Я тогда сказал, что не знаю… ‘I said then that I didn’t know…’), if only briefly, before the speaker goes on to what he wants to say now. In the second perfective dialogue, the speaker creates a cause-and-effect link between the original asking of the question and his current action of answering that question (in focusing on a link between the question and his present actions with Так вот, я могу теперь тебе ответить… ‘Well now I can give you an answer…’, which also creates a temporal/causal sequence between the two actions).

Such differences in formulation can pass by the language learner very quickly in a real-time conversation. Getting used to them will take time, but the concepts involved are not complicated, and an awareness of what is involved puts on well on the road to being able to make sense of things on a case-by-case basis.


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Russian Aspect in Conversation Copyright © 2023 by Stephen M. Dickey, Kamila Saifeeva and Anna Karpusheva is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.