LINGUIST List 14.175

Fri Jan 17 2003

Review: Syntax: Lagae et al. (2002)

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  1. Emmanuelle Labeau, Lagae et al. (2002), Temps et aspect

Message 1: Lagae et al. (2002), Temps et aspect

Date: Fri, 17 Jan 2003 14:14:22 +0000
From: Emmanuelle Labeau <>
Subject: Lagae et al. (2002), Temps et aspect

Lagae, Veronique, Carlier, Anne, and Celine Benninger (eds) (2002)
''Temps et aspect: de la grammaire au lexique''. Rodopi, paperback
ISBN 90-420-1133-5, vii + 215 pp, Cahiers Chronos 10.

Book Announcement on Linguist:

Emmanuelle Labeau , Aston University, Birmingham (UK) 

This volume is the tenth of the well-known Cahiers Chronos series that
has become in recent years a reference in the study of temporal
reference within the French-speaking linguistic community. Most of the
studies collated here were presented at the third Chronos Colloquium
in Valenciennes (1998) although three (Carlier's, Flaux' and Lagae's)
were presented at the fourth in Nice in 2000. The present volume
offers a reflection on the role of grammar and lexicon in the
expression of time and aspect across languages.


To start with, Dany Amiot asks whether or not the verbal prefix re-
carries an aspectual value. On the basis of the Guillaumean
definition, she expects an aspectual prefix always to indicate an
iteration, the scope of which affects the verb. Her examples, taken
from the ''Tr�sor de la Langue fran�aise'', lead her to conclude
that, if indeed re- implies repetition, this iteration can affect
other constituents than the process, as shown by movement verbs such
as 'reconduire' where the iteration modifies the relation of
localisation between the arguments of the verb. Delphine Battistelli
and Jean-Pierre Descl�es then use the formalism of the ''Grammaire
applicative et cognitive'' (Descl�es 1990) to analyze a series of
semi-auxiliaries: 'se mettre �, commencer �, cesser de, finir de,
�tre en train de, continuer �'. After a brief presentation of the
methodology, they formalise the concept of 'aspect' and 'modalit�
d'action' (expressed by the pre-verbs). This representation implies a
hierarchy between aspect and 'modalit� d'action'. They draw
conclusions relating to inferences triggered by 'modalit�s' that rely
on different types of knowledge: aspectual constraints linked with the
types of verbs and temporal relations such as anteriority, succession
or simultaneity.

Anne Carlier tackles a more general topic: she studies the aspectual
properties of the French passive. Observing that passive clauses tend
to focus on the result of a process or its iteration, she suggests
that semantic changes come from the fact that '�tre' makes the
periphrastic passive stative. She then analyses the impact of tense on
the interpretation of the passive and suggests a hierarchy: the
aspectual value of the passive is within the scope of the aspect
carried by tenses.
We are back to the lexicon with Nelly Flaux, who devotes her
contribution to the relation between time and what she calls
'id�alit�s concr�tes', in other words, concrete entities that are
not perceived by senses. First, she attempts to specify this category
of nouns: (i) they imply a predication ('une sonate de Beethoven'
implies a sonata written by Beethoven); (ii) the complement cannot
express possession (it is not a sonata that belongs to Beethoven) and
(iii) they are not ambiguous with 'm�me' and 'autre' (compare 'la
m�me sonate' and 'le m�me v�lo' that can be understood as the same
object or as the same type). The main point she emphasises is that
'id�alit�s concr�tes' enjoy a unique relationship with time, with
which they are linked, unlike concrete objects, and more precisely
virtually linked unlike abstractions. She concludes with a grammatical
Genevi�ve Girard's paper shifts the language focus, with her
consideration of the English structure 'be + -ing'. She starts by
recalling two main ways of interpreting this as a certain presentation
of the process or as a subjective interpretation of the utterer, a
position held by French enunciativists. She sets herself the goal of
reconciling the two approaches by trying to identify a possible link
between imperfectivity and the value of comment. She comes to the
conclusion that the coherence of the periphrastic form comes from the
fact that it provokes a referential discrepancy between the verb and
the meaning intended by the utterer, either because the process does
not reach its final limit or because it only evokes an interpretation.
A Russian corpus is the source for date for Alina Israeli's study of
verbs of motion prefixed by u-, vy-, po-, pri- and ot-. To achieve her
aims she adds to the parameters of deixis (the speaker's perception of
their position) and of point of view, the concept of focus, which can
focus on the source, the goal, the figure or its relevance. Thanks to
this approach, she is able to identify semantic differences between
u-, vy- and po- and two functions for ot-.
Laurence Jos� sketches a study of temporal complements in French,
involving units such as 'an, mois, semaine', that locate a verbal
phrase. She explores two main questions: (i) why can only some of
those units be used without an introductory preposition and (ii) would
there be other non-segmental indications allowing these to serve as a
reference point? On the basis of a distributional analysis, she
suggests that the dependence from the VP is indicated by other markers
than prepositions, such as contrastive reference marking.
As for Carlier, the passive is the focus of V�ronique Lagae' s study;
she focuses on two ways of expressing the passive in French:
periphrastic passive (�tre + PP) and in particular the pronominal
passive, asking whether the two forms are complementary. She starts
with some properties of the pronominal passive: use of this is
restricted to verbs with a direct object; it prevents the presence of
an agent, its subject is mostly inanimate and in the third person. She
then explores the complementarily of the two passives on the basis of
two hypotheses: the difference between particular and generic, and
accomplishment. If she concludes the existence of opposite trends in
the forms, she acknowledges that binary oppositions do not suffice to
explain the forms.
G�rard M�lis also comes back to a point already tackled in the
volume by Girard, the '-ing' form. He tries to identify an invariant
under the two readings of what he calls the periphrastic form that can
indicate non-accomplishment or a mixture of anaphora and modality that
he subsumes under the tag 'lecture d�nominative'. Whilst some factors
favour one interpretation rather than the other, M�lis concludes that
the form possesses two fundamental properties: the ability to locate
and an operation of identification between either the points of
actualisation or the notions involved in the discursive situation Like
Israeli, Denis Paillard devotes his attention to Russian Pre-verbs and
offers a classification for some 20 of these, that transform
imperfective verbal bases into perfective VP. That classification
shows regularities independent of the semantics of the preverbs. First
preverbs are separated into 'cat�gorisants; and '�v�nements'. The
former refer to a reconstruc! tion of the VP from external
properties, whilst the latter subordinate the VP to the preverb. Then
the combination of the prefix and verb semantics shows three
possibilities: juxtaposition, reconstruction or 'graft' with which the
traditional interpretation of the prefixes can be associated.
The lexicon is the focus of the last two chapters. Katia Paykin aims
to show that, unlike meteorological verbs, meteorological nouns do not
need to be understood as events. She suggests a triangular
classification of those nouns according to the categories of events
(eg. '�clair' - flash of lightning), substances (eg. 'ros�e' - dew)
or states (eg. 'chaleur' - heat).
Finally, H�l�ne de Penanros works on a definition of 'lors de'
contrasted with '� l'occasion de', where the event is predominant and
'au moment o�', where time is primordial. 'Lors de' introduces an
event placed in time, seen as a whole, that is used as a reference
point for another event.

As stated in the presentation, the book aims to open up avenues for
reflection on some ways of expressing temporal reference and aspect
from the most grammatical to the most lexical from the VP with the
passive (Carlier, Lagae), the progressive tense (Girard, M�lis),
semi-auxiliaries (Battistelli and Descl�es), prefixes (Amiot,
Israeli, Paillard), temporal complements (Jos�, de Penanros) and
nouns (Flaux, Paykin). However, to the reader's surprise, the chapters
do not follow that logical order and they appear in alphabetical order
of the contributors' surnames (maybe a bug at some point of the
editorial process?). This results in related studies being
separated. Despite that structural quirk, the book manages nonetheless
to meet its purpose and offers both topical variety and thematic unity
(which is not always the case in volumes based on conference papers).
Variety shows first in the theoretical assumptions. Most of the
contributions are mainly based on French traditions (Guillaume,
Culioli) although Anglo-Saxon inspired formalism also appears
(Battistelli and Descl�es) as does a fusion of traditions
(Girard). This variety appears also in the topics: while some
contributions choose to focus on very precise points (eg. the semantic
nuances of three related prepositions by de Penanros), others offer a
wider overview of a subject , as in the well-informed overview by
Carlier on the passive. Finally, contrasting French with English and
Russian provides a judicious illustration of the general theme:
difference between lexical and grammatical coding of aspect on the one
hand, variety of grammatical coding on the other hand. Complementarity
also shows in the fact that each contribution is related to at least
one other either to focus on different aspects of the topic
(eg. Girard and Melis for the -ing form or Carlier and Lagae for the
passive) or to tackle it from a different angle, like when Paillard
gives a general classification of Russian preverbs whilst Israeli
focuses on some specific cases.

It is of course possible to take issue with some minor points of the
discussion: for example the fact that 'rebriller' would indicate not a
distinct occurrence of 'briller' but only the continuation of a past
situation in Amiot's paper; or de Penanros' etymological 'proof' that
meteorological nouns do not come from verbs); and it is even more
debatable in the case of judgments on created examples (eg. do
sentences such as 'when you vote Thatcher, you vote for the
Conservatives / you are voting against the NHS' really prove that the
-ing form expresses subjectivity as Girard assumes?). However, on th
whole, contributions are very clearly designed and the reasoning easy
to follow; a special mention here for Battistelli and Descl�es who
manage to present clearly and simply the notions on which their fairly
complex formalism is based. To conclude, in spite of a debatable
structure, this volume offers, as it claims, interesting insights into
the whole question of how time and a! spect are expressed in
languages. A good knowledge of both French and English is required to
read the book, as Russian examples are the only ones to be usefully
glossed and then translated.


Emmanuelle Labeau is a lecturer in French in the School of Languages
and European Studies of Aston University (Birmingham). Her PhD
dissertation "The Acquisition of French past tenses by tutored
Anglophone advanced learners: is aspect enough?" was accepted in 2002.
She is more generally interested in time and aspect of the French past
tenses. Together with Pierre Larriv�e, she has organised so far two
workshops on related topics that have led to two publication. 
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