The grammatical category of Aspect allows for the expression of “aspects” of the internal and surrounding timeframe of the action, event or occurrence (e.g. ingressive, progressive, egressive; prospective, perfect, etc.). Aspect differs from Tense in that it indicates a time range rather than a particular point in time. But note that tense and aspect are not mutually exclusive, since both can be applied to the same verb (e.g. past progressive: I was typing; present progressive: you are reading; future progressive: they will be learning).
In our discussion of Tense, we already mentioned such aspects as the progressive (e.g. English -ing) and the habitual. These two represent two quite different forms of aspect, phasal and quantificational aspect respectively.
Phasal Aspect allows us to express a phase or stage within the event or action, such as the beginning, mid or end. The beginning or start of an action or event has been called the ingressive, inceptive or inchoative. Emphasising that an event or action is ongoing leads to such terms as the progressive, continuous or continuative. The ending of an action or event can be called egressive, cessative, terminative or even completive. English only marks the progressive morphologically, with the suffix -ing, while main verbs such as start, keep, stop, and finish typically combine with another verb to express other phasal aspects (e.g. it starts to rain, it keeps raining, it stopped raining, etc.). In Cree, phasal aspects are expressed by adding appropriate preverbs to the verb stem, including ingressive māci- ‘start to …’, pōni- ‘stop …’, kīsi- ‘finish …’.
Ingressive: māci-kimiwan ‘it starts raining’
Egressive: pōni-kimiwan ‘it stops raining’
Completive: kīsi-atoskēw ‘s/he finishes working’
The progressive aspect can be expressed in a number of ways in Cree. Conjunct Order verbs, especially those introduced by the preverb ē-, are often translated with an English present progressive to emphasis present time (e.g. ē-atoskēt “(as) s/he is working”). An ongoing action or event can be expressed through the use of a preverb created through light reduplication (i.e., copy the verb’s initial consonant plus [a] or, if the verb is vowel-initial, simply use the preverb ay-):
Progressive: ma-mātow ‘s/he is crying’
na-nikamow ‘s/he is singing’
ay-atoskēw ‘s/he is working’
One additional preverb, ati-, can serve as both ingressive and progressive, and often expresses the notion of ‘becoming’.
ati-kisitēw ‘it’s beginning to get hot, it’s heating up’
ati-tipiskāw ‘it’s getting dark, night is approaching’
Another very common preverb, wī-, might also be interpreted as representing prospective phasal aspect (cf. Wolvengrey 2005), since it relates a present situation to a future one and emphasises the timeframe between the current and future situations. The preverb wī- is often referred to as an “intentional” or “intentive” future tense. However, there are three details about this preverb that suggest that the notions of intentionality and tense are not strictly accurate.
First, although the preverb wī- is often combined with human participants thus leading us to interpret human or sentient intentions, it is not limited to human or even animate participants where it would not be appropriate to attribute intentions.
Prospective: wī-kīwēw ‘s/he is going to go home; s/he intends to go home’
wī-kimiwan ‘it is going to rain’ [NOT: ‘it intends to rain’]
wī-pīkopayin ‘it is going to break’ [NOT: ‘it intends to break’]
When we use the preverb wī-, the intervening time period is important and we are inviting the addressee(s) to pay attention to the prospective nature of the event or action since it is relevant to the interpretation of the utterance in a way that a simple tense marker is not.
Second, the prospective wī- can combine with tense-marking, particularly the past tense kī-, showing that wī- is best not interpreted as a future tense marker at all:
kī-wī-kīwēw ‘s/he was going to go home’
Thus, a more consistent interpretation is to simply translate wī- as ‘going to’, which implies reference to the time frame between now (or some point in the past) and the potential future occurrence. [Note: in some dialects, wī- can still be used as a desiderative modal meaning ‘want to’, though compare nōhtē- in Plains Cree; see also Modality.]
Pertaining to this last point, all of the preverbs expressing phasal aspects can be combined with a preceding Tense preverb:
kī-māci-kimiwan. ‘It started to rain’
ta-pōni-kimiwan. ‘It will stop raining’
kī-ma-mātow. ‘S/he was crying’
wīpac ta-ati-tipiskāw. ‘It will be getting dark soon’
nikī-wī-kiyokān. ‘I was going to visit.’
to be added