There has been some discussion about Russian verbal aspect on another thread. I would say this subject is both of great practical importance and is also very interesting from a strictly theoretical point of view, so that it deserves its own thread.
In particular, Ftornay and I were discussing the idea that use of perfective or imperfective may vary according to the Aktionsart of verbs (that is, according to the nature or type of action described by the verb in question.)
Some verbs have an Aktionsart which implies an imperfective process (for example: “to think”, “to build”, “to read”, “to work”, “to watch”, etc.)
But some verbs have an Aktionsart which implies a perfective result (for example: “to kill”, “to break”, “to explode”, “to expire”, etc.)
We noticed that Russian verbs in the first category above often seem to be specially marked for the perfective by the addition of a prefix. For example, from читать (“to read”, imperfective) we have прочитать, which has a sense of “to read through.” We also have почитать, which has a sense of “to read for a while”.
We also noticed that, for Russian verbs in the second category of Aktionsart, the situation often seems to be reversed. Thus they often seem to be marked (by a stem change) for the imperfective. For example from убить (“to kill”, perfective) we have убивать, which refers to a habitual or repeated series of actions. (We might also notice in passing a very vague similarity here to the way some other Indo-European languages - such as Latin - form the imperfective.)
SOME QUESTIONS FOR RUSSIAN NATIVE SPEAKERS:
Is there a difference between these kinds of Aktionsart in the way aspects are used? Are you more likely to use the perfective aspect in the case of a verb such as “to kill”, or “to break”, etc?
If I understand correctly, in the case of a verbs such as “to watch” or “to read”, the imperfective aspect may be used in a sentence such as “I watched a film last night” or “I once read that book” (situations where we foreign learners logically expect the perfective aspect.)
Okay, but could you also use the imperfective of “to kill” in this way? Or would the imperfective of these types of verb (“to kill”, “to break”, etc.) be reserved for a habitual series of actions?
I’d be very interested to hear some input on this.