A contrastive analysis of perception verbs in English and German

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2006

19 Pages, Grade: 1



1. Introduction

2. Perception verbs
2.1 Three types of perception verbs
2.1.1 Cognitive verbs
2.1.2 Active verbs
2.1.3 Descriptive verbs
2.2 Summary

3. Perception verb complements
3.1 Finite clause
3.1.1 Declarative
3.1.2 Interrogative
3.1.3 Adverbial
3.2 Non-finite verbal
3.2.1 Full infinitive
3.2.2 Bare infinitive
3.2.3 Present participle
3.2.4 Past participle
3.3 Non-verbal
3.3.1 Adjective phrase
3.3.2 Prepositional phrase
3.3.3 Noun phrase
3.4 Nominalized
3.5 Summary

4. Concluding remarks

5. List of tables

6. References

1. Introduction

An extensive number of studies deal with perception verbs and their complementation in English or in German[1] but so far no study found, analyses the two languages with respect to perception verbs contrastively. This paper shall provide the basis for a contrastive analysis of perception verbs and their complements in English and German. The goal is to contribute to the comparative typological study of the two languages as well as to the typological study of perception verbs and perception verb complements cross-linguistically.

The first part of this paper focuses on the basic types of perception verbs. Three main types of perception verbs are identified and analysed. Examples will be given to show which types are lexicalized in English and in German. The second part focuses on the perception verb complements and, again, examples are given in order to point to the differences between English and German in this respect. Last but not least, the paper ends with some concluding remarks.

2. Perception verbs

The verbs of sensory perception are the basic verbal expressions of the visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory and gustatory sensory modalities. According to Harm (2000) the relevance of perception in everyday life makes it probable that all humans possess a concept for perception and that in all human societies these concepts are communicated. Viberg (1984) presents empirical evidence for the universality of perception verbs in his paper “ The Verbs of Perception: A Typological Study” where 53 languages from all bigger language groups around the world are examined. In all the languages in the sample perception verbs were found, although in some cases one single verb covers more than one meaning.

2.1 Three types of perception verbs

Rogers (1971:206) identifies three types of physical perception verbs: cognitive[2] verbs, active[3] verbs and descriptive[4] verbs. These three types of perception verbs shall be further explained and illustrated with example sentences in English and in German in the following sections.

2.1.1 Cognitive verbs

Cognitive perception verbs describe the act of more or less passive perception. Hear is such a verb, as opposed to listen as well as see, as opposed to look. According to Scovel (1971:76) cognitive perception verbs imply a notion of progression. They rarely occur in the progressive form, because they represent a state, that either exists or does not, but that does not involve a notion of movement towards a completion. Furthermore, cognitive perception verbs cannot be used in the imperative. The cognitive forms are syntactically stative[5] and the subject noun phrase of such cognitive verbs is called a dative or an experiencer.

Rogers (1971:207) states that cognitive verbs of perception refer to receiving a sensory data input of a certain type, and to notice the input as the appropriate type of sensory data. In order to see or to hear, it is not necessary, to intend to see or to hear. It is thus possible to see or to hear accidentally. Also the noticing which must take place appears to be more or less automatic if the sensory input is strong enough. The strength of the required input seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of attention payed to the particular sense involved. Thus, if we don’t want to hear something we can suppress it within limits, if we’re concentrating on something else, we may miss it and if we pay attention, a weaker than normal input is sufficient. Roger concludes that all cognitive verbs of perception “mean the same thing, except for the fact that they represent perception of different kinds of sense-data” (1971:208).

The following examples illustrate that English as well as German lexicalize the use of cognitive verbs of perception for all five senses:

(1) Peter sees the birds.
(2) Peter sieht die Vögel.
(3) Peter hears the birds.
(4) Peter hört die Vögel.
(5) Peter feels a stone in his shoe.
(6) Peter fühlt einen Stein in seinem Schuh.
(7) Peter smells smoke in the room.
(8) Peter riecht Rauch in dem Raum.
(9) Peter tastes garlic in the food
(10) Peter schmeckt Knoblauch im Essen

2.1.2 Active verbs

Active perception verbs in contrast to cognitive perception verbs require a certain activity by the subject. According to Scovel (1971:79) active perception verbs do not imply progression and therefore they may occur in the progressive. Furthermore, active perception verbs, in contrast to cognitive perception verbs, can be used in the imperative. The active forms are syntactically non-stative and the subject of such active verbs is called an agent.

According to Scovel (1971:77) the subject of a sentence with an active perception verb has to be consciously involved with the verbal action, in contrast to the cognitive perception verbs, where no such participatory involvement exists. Rogers gives an example of listening to a singer. If a person is attending a concert of a singer it does not mean automatically, that the person listens to the singer. The person may hear the singer, but he is not listening to the singer, unless he is paying attention to what he hears. So, while hearing does not entail listening, it appears to be the case that listening entails hearing. That is, “if one listens, one must hear, and if one does not hear, one does not listen” (Rogers, 1971:208). So the difference between the cognitive perception verbs and the active perception verbs is approximately the difference between noticing and paying attention to.

The following examples show that the active verbs of perception are lexicalized for all five senses in English as well as in German:

(11) Peter looks at the birds.
(12) Peter sieht sich die Vögel an.
(13) Peter listens to the birds.
(14) Peter hört den Vögeln zu.
(15) Peter feels the cloth.
(16) Peter befühlt den Stoff.
(17) Peter smells the smoke in the room.
(18) Peter riecht den Rauch im Raum.
(19) Peter tastes the food.
(20) Peter schmeckt das Essen.

2.1.3 Descriptive verbs

Descriptive perception verbs form the last of the three cohesive sets of physical perception verb. Scovel calls the descriptive perception verbs resultative verbs because “they are verbal actions which are clearly the result of the state of using a certain sense” (1971:83). Rogers (1971:214), too, states that sentences involving the descriptive perception verbs presuppose corresponding sentences involving the cognitive form. For example, a sentence involving the descriptive verb look is a result of the state of using the eyes. The descriptive perception verbs, unlike the vast majority of verbs in English, do not occur with adverbs, but with adjectives.

Again, the following examples show that English and German lexicalize the use of descriptive verbs of perception for all five senses:

(21) Peter looks happy.
(22) Peter sieht glücklich aus.
(23) Peter sounds happy.
(24) Peter hört sich glücklich an.
(25) The cloth felt soft.
(26) Der Stoff fühlte sich weich an.
(27) Peter smells of smoke.
(28) Peter riecht nach Rauch.
(29) The food tastes good.
(30) Das Essen schmeckt gut.


[1] See list of references

[2] Other terms for cognitive perception verbs include spontaneous, achievement, state, experiental, experience, passive, nonintentional and non-deliberate (Behrman, 1998:2)

[3] Activity perception verbs are also called agentive, deliberate, behavioural and Verben des visuellen Handelns (Behrman, 1998:2)

[4] Descriptive perception verbs are also labelled copular, copulative, flip and resultative (Behrman, 1998:2)

[5] In the sense of Lakoff (1966)

Excerpt out of 19 pages


A contrastive analysis of perception verbs in English and German
University of Hamburg  (Anglistik)
Contrastive analysis of English and German
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ISBN (Book)
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Contrastive, English, German, Contrastive analysis, Perception verbs
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Philipp Helle (Author), 2006, A contrastive analysis of perception verbs in English and German, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/56260


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