LINGUIST List 14.2340

Fri Sep 5 2003

Review: Semantics/Morphosyntax: Giorgi & Pianesi (1997)

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  1. ALEXANDRA GALANI, Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax

Message 1: Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax

Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 13:47:26 +0000
Subject: Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax

Giorgi, Alessandra and Fabio Pianesi (1997) Tense and Aspect: From
Semantics to Morphosyntax, Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in
Comparative Syntax.

Announced at

Alexandra Galani, Department of Language and Linguistic Science,
University of York, England.
This book investigates the interpretation of tense and aspect on the
basis of the interaction between morphosyntax and semantics. The
authors adopt Chomsky's (1995) minimalist framework in an attempt to
provide theoretical explanations for the variety of the
morphosyntactic distribution and interpretation of tense and aspect in
the Romance and Germanic languages. Specifically, the authors are
interested in answering the following questions: how the semantics are
expressed in morphemes, how this interface is governed, how children
acquire the temporal and aspectual system of a language and how
language variation is interpreted. They pay attention to issues
concerning morphology and word order as well as issues related to
tense, aspect, and sequence of tense. The Reichenbachian (1947)
approach to semantics also plays an important role to the ideas they
are developing.
The book is divided into six chapters in addition to the introduction
(pp.xiii-xv), appendixes of the symbols used (pp.xi-xii), author
(pp.304-307) and subject (pp.308-319) indexes which are also
A fairly clear introduction of the general aim of the book and the
framework followed, are given in the introduction.
Chapter 1: The Syntactic and Semantic Background
The first chapter is devoted to the syntactic and semantic background
under which this work is formulated. The authors briefly sketch the
Split-Infl hypothesis, Chomsky's minimalist approach, they make a
short reference to phrase structure, syncretic categories, the feature
scattering principle, sentential operators, temporal entities and
events. They present some arguments in favour of the referential
approach to the representation of tenses and they also pay attention
to syncretic and hybrid categories.
Chapter 2: On the Italian, Latin, and Portuguese Temporal Systems
In the second chapter, the authors look at the Italian, Latin and
Portuguese temporal systems. They also discuss the assignment of
nominative case, whereas the etymology of the Latin pluperfect and
future perfect is looked at in the appendix. The aim is to provide
evidence for the neo-Reichebachian theory of tense they are arguing
for. The comparison of the above systems shows that their account
correctly predicts the presence or the absence of auxiliaries even in
languages which differ minimally from each other in relation to the
way tenses are morphologically spelled-out.
Chapter 3: The Present Perfect in Germanic and Romance
In this chapter, Giorgi and Pianesi expand their theory to the present
perfect in the Germanic and Romance languages. Some of the main issues
discussed here, are the following: the morphosyntax of the English
verbal system, the present perfect in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish,
Icelandic, German and Dutch, the position of negation, English modals,
the present perfect puzzle, the simple past and the present perfect in
Italian. The second part of this chapter deals with the semantics of
the present perfect; notion of consequent state, compositional
semantics for synthetic and analytic perfects, argumental status of
temporal adverbials. In the final section of the chapter, the present
perfect in Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese is discussed. A short
reference to the present perfect in Catanese and Vicentino is made in
the appendix. They highly argue in favour of the existence of temporal
arguments in the thematic grid of predicates they are proposing.
Chapter 4: The Present and Imperfect in Germanic and Romance
The theory is applied to the present tense in the Romance and Germanic
languages as well as to the present-in-the-past interpretation of
embedded predicates. They claim that punctuality is the property of
anchoring events. The focus of this chapter lies on aspectual
facts. The main issues relate to the structure of events, notion of
punctuality, properties of the speech event, present tense,
perfectivity and Italian imperfect.
Chapter 5: On the Semantics and Morphosyntax of the Italian Subjunctive
In the fifth chapter, the semantics of subjunctive, mood and modality,
mood in subordinate clauses, factive predicates, the morphosyntax of
the Italian subjunctive, syncretic categories, the feature scattering
principle and conditionals are the main topics of discussion.
Chapter 6: The Double Accessibility Reading in Italian and English
In the final chapter, the double accessibility reading and the
property of the present tense in embedded clauses, are
discussed. Evidence for the claims made, is drawn from Italian and
As a whole, the book is well-organised and coherent. The theoretical
points are generally well-supported and illustrated by good
exemplification throughout the book. There are few cases where a
closer look to and some additional discussion of some of the examples
are necessary for the reader's better understanding. A general problem
of most of the examples is that the glosses are either not provided or
they are not particularly detailed.
The chapters are generally well-organised and equally presented.
Nevertheless, the length of the third chapter in addition to the
variety of issues covered makes the comprehension fairly hard. At
several points, and especially in short sections- the discussion could
have been expanded/implemented. As it stands, it gives a feeling of
incompletiness and the discussion does not seem to be linked to the
remaining sections. The frequent concluding remarks are particularly
Alternative analyses are also highlighted in some cases where
possible, although complete and detailed arguments are not offered.
Cross-referencing is well managed, there are no major misprints, the
subject and author indexes are complete. Only a couple of symbols
abbreviations (for example, CHL) are missing from the symbols
I would want this review to be based on the arguments the authors are
making for the data presented. Driving away from any personal beliefs,
I believe that this book provides useful arguments for the
morphosyntactic-semantic interface of tense and aspect.
Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist programme. MIT Press, Cambridge,
Massachussets. Reichenbach, H. (1947). Elements of symbolic
language. MacMillan, New York.

Alexandra Galani is a PhD student at the Department of Language and
Linguistic Science at the University of York, UK. She is currently
working on the morphosyntax of tense and aspect in Modern Greek within
the theoretical framework of Distributed Morphology.
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