(a)telicity and number

i still seem to have a problem with events in regard to telicity/atelicity. if an event is bounded, an entity is bounded if it is conceptualized as having a clear boundary in time and/or space, then the event is labeled telic. if the event is unbounded and does not have a solid endpoint, then it is labeled atelic. fine, it’s not the definition i’m having problems with.

the problem arises when certain sentences are used to express with theory. for example:

  1. John built the house in a week/*for a week.
  2. John built houses *in a week/for a week.

(*) indicates that the sentence is ungrammatical–this term ungrammatical can be tricky because it often times refers to the sentence as not possessing the meaning that it is intended to possess. anyway, many theories have come forth indicating that you will usually find that telic events have a definite determiner, while atelic events have an indefinite. fine again. but this is where is starts to get shady for me.

if you read (1-2), you will notice that (2)’s in a week can definitely be grammatical. could i hear someone saying *john built houses in a week? you bet. could you? the only problem i see with that sentence is that it doesn’t specify a number of houses that john built, therefore deeming it ungrammatical. but in order for an event to be bounded, are we now needing number to play a role in its determination? you can also see the same problem (though this one is more problematic than 2) in (1)’s *john built the house for a week. this could possibly be said, but as i’ve stated, it’s a bit more problematic than (2). (1) has the meaning that the house is in the process of being built, but is not yet done. (2) has the meaning that the houses were indeed completed but we are unaware as to the number of houses built in that week’s timeframe.

so number correlates with (a)telicity. so then does that make number the main determiner in events, whether bounded or unbounded?


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