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Zeno Vendler

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Zeno Vendler

Zeno Vendler (1921 – January 13, 2004) was an American philosopher of language, and a founding member and former director of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Calgary. His work on lexical aspect,[1] quantifiers,[1] and nominalization[2] has been influential in the field of linguistics.


Vendler was born and raised in Hungary, where he learned to speak both Hungarian and German.[1][3] He studied there until he began to train as a Jesuit priest in Maastricht.[2] Vendler later went to Harvard University to study philosophy, and earned his doctorate in 1959 with a dissertation entitled "Facts and Laws." After holding several teaching positions at various American universities, he became a professor at the University of Calgary, where he was one of the founding members of the Department of Philosophy.[3] After leaving the University of Calgary in 1973, he taught at several other schools, including Rice University[3] and the University of California, San Diego.[2]

He was married twice[3]—his first wife was poetry critic Helen Hennessy Vendler[4]—and had two sons. Vendler died on 13 January 2004 at the age of 83.[3]


Vendler's 1957 Philosophical Review article "Verbs and times"[5] first introduced a four-way distinction between verbs based on their aspectual features,[6] a distinction which has had a major influence on theories of lexical aspect or aktionsart.

Under Vendler's model, events may be classified into one of four aspectual classes:

  • states, which are static and do not have an endpoint ("know," "love");
  • activities, which are dynamic and do not have an endpoint ("run," "drive");
  • accomplishments, which have an endpoint and are incremental or gradual ("paint a picture," "build a house"); and
  • achievements, which have an endpoint and occur instantaneously ("recognize," "notice").[7]

Vendler also popularized the use of the progressive aspect as a diagnostic for distinguishing between these lexical classes;[8] for example, activities and accomplishments are able to appear in the progressive (He is running, He is painting a picture), whereas states and achievements are not (*He is knowing French, *He is recognizing his friend).[8] Vendler's categories are still widely used in current research in areas such as syntax, semantics, and second language acquisition.[9] Linguist S.-Y. Kuroda has said that Vendler's terms achievement and accomplishment "have since become basic technical vocabulary in modern linguistics,"[1] and have been used to develop numerous theories and allow for "sophisticated and highly technical" research in a variety of areas.[1]

Vendler's 1967 book Linguistics in Philosophy, a collection of some of his earlier articles, had a large influence on the field of linguistic philosophy,[2] which attempts to use the study of language and linguistic structures to inform philosophical theory. The book has been described as an attempt to "reconcile the empirical basis of linguistic science with the a priori nature of philosophical reasoning."[2] His 1972 Res Cogitans also dealt with the relationship between language and philosophy.[2]

Overall, Vendler published over 30 widely cited journal articles and four monographs.[2]



  1. ^ a b c d e Fischer, Susan; Kuroda, S.-Y. (24 January 2004). "Obituary: Zeno Vendler".  
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "Zeno Vendler, 1921-2004".  
  3. ^ a b c d e Olafson, Frederick; Stroll, Avrum (24 February 2004). "In Memoriam: Zeno Vendler" (PDF).  
  4. ^ "Vendler, Helen". Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  5. ^ Vendler, Zeno (1957). "Verbs and times".  
  6. ^ Lin, Jimmy (2004). "Event Structure and the Encoding of Arguments: The Syntax of the Mandarin and English Verb Phrase". p. 19. Retrieved 12 November 2008. 
  7. ^ Lin, Jimmy (2004). "Event Structure and the Encoding of Arguments: The Syntax of the Mandarin and English Verb Phrase". p. 19. Retrieved 12 November 2008.  Examples from  
  8. ^ a b Gabriele, Alison (2008). "Transfer and Transition in the L2 Acquisition of Aspect". Studies in Second Language Acquisition: 6. 
  9. ^ See, for example, the following articles:
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