LINGUIST List 24.620|
Sun Feb 03 2013
Review: Historical Ling.; Morphology: Buchwald-Wargenau (2012)
Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons
From: Sonja Zeman <SZemangmx.de>
Subject: Die doppelten Perfektbildungen im Deutschen
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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/23/23-3606.html
AUTHOR: Isabel Buchwald-Wargenau
TITLE: Die doppelten Perfektbildungen im Deutschen
SUBTITLE: Eine diachrone Untersuchung [Double Forms of the Perfect Tense]
SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studia Linguistica Germanica 115
PUBLISHER: De Gruyter Mouton
REVIEWER: Sonja Zeman, University of Munich
Double Perfect Forms (also termed “supercompound/surcomposé past tense forms”;
henceforth “DPFs”) are forms composed of an inflected auxiliary, a past
participle, and an additional past participle auxiliary. These have often been
considered peripheral, but more recently DPFs have attracted increasing
crosslinguistic attention (cf. Litvinov/Radčenko 1998; Thieroff 2004; Ammann
2007; Poletto 2009; Saussure/Sthioul 2012). Furthermore, DPFs are regarded as
closely related to the crosslinguistic rise of perfect forms and the 'decay of
preterit' (cf. Abraham 1999), and are thus linked to broader, yet unsolved
Because DPFs are infrequent in texts, the major methodological problem in
previous studies has been a lack of data, especially historically. This
research gap takes center stage in Buchwald-Wargenau's diachronic
investigation of German DPFs. The study is based on a specifically compiled
corpus -- outlined in Chapter 1 -- covering texts from 1350 to contemporary
German, including texts from the so far unpublished “Szeged-Kassel-Corpus”
(1650-2000) collected by Vilmos Ágel and Mathilde Hennig. This is noteworthy
since those texts are classified with respect to their affinity to the medial
opposition of “language of proximity” vs. “language of distance”
(“Nähesprache” vs. “Distanzsprache”, cf. Koch/Oesterreicher 1985; Ágel/Hennig
(eds.) 2006) and provide a foundation for addressing register variation in
DPFs. Based on this new data, the study focuses on three issues: i) the
diachronic development of DPFs, ii) the meaning of DPFs, and iii) the textual
use of DPFs with a particular eye on “language of proximity” (p. 3).
With respect to the meaning of DPFs, two main hypotheses are taken as a point
of departure. Based on general considerations on aspectuality and temporality,
which rely mainly on functional accounts by Comrie, Bybee et al., and Leiss,
Chapter 2 contrasts temporal and aspectual approaches of DPFs. The former
represents the predominant view within the descriptive tradition on German
DPFs and assumes the temporal meaning of “past perfect” and “past past
perfect” (“Vorvorvergangenheit”) as the main function of DPFs. After a
critical evaluation of this view, Buchwald-Wargenau discusses the
aspect-hypothesis, which, in contrast, regards an additional aspectual feature
as the main characteristic of DPFs (cf. Rödel 2007; Topalović 2010).
Buchwald-Wargenau abandons the “either (tense) or (aspect) question”
(“Entweder (Tempus)-Oder (Aspekt)-Frage”; p. 214) and supports her main thesis
that DPFs have to be captured by interaction of aspectual and temporal
This thesis results from an empirical diachronic analysis outlined in chapters
3 and 4. Chapter 3 discusses the factors triggering the rise of DPFs. It
revises the hypothesis that the development of DPFs is directly linked to
'decay of preterit in Upper German' (“Oberdeutscher Präteritumschwund”). In
this respect, DPFs are considered to replace the pluperfect which is also seen
as being lost due its preterit auxiliary. However, Buchwald-Wargenau’s
empirical findings contradict the description of the rise of DPFs as a
consequence of a causal 'pull-chain' (p. 76). In order to show that the
diachronic development of DPFs does not match the course of preterit decay,
the following arguments are advanced:
> Double PLUPERFECT forms are already documented in 15th century texts. This
contradicts the thesis that DPFs are the consequence of a presumed 'decay of
pluperfect' (p. 64).
> The pluperfect is documented in 17th and 19th century texts alongside Double
Pluperfect Forms; given also the latter’s low frequency, this has to be taken
as evidence that a systematic compensation of the pluperfect is out of the
question (p. 68).
> Early examples of DPFs (14th and 16th century) are also documented in Middle
German. This can be interpreted as evidence that the DPFs were not restricted
to Upper German (p. 70).
The empirical results thus favor Rödel's 2007 hypothesis (p. 83f.) that the
rise of DPFs is not directly linked to the 'decay of preterit' but results
from the instability of the German perfect and the general reorganization of
the verbal categories as the older system of verbal aspect dissolves (cf.
Leiss 1992). In order to test this hypothesis, Chapter 4 offers a detailed
corpus analysis of the textual distribution of DPFs, focusing on the following
parameters: opposition main clause vs. subordinate clause, serialization
within the verbal complex, lexical aspect of the full verb. The results are
classified according to time period (15th to 21th century) and auxiliary
('have' vs. 'be'). While for the early centuries only a small range of
examples (5 to 13 DPFs) is presented, more evidence is found in the 17th
century (90 DPFs, 18 within the dimension of proximity) and the 20/21th
century (200 DPFs). The latter is also systematically investigated with
respect to the dimension of “proximity” and “distance” (106). The analysis
leads Buchwald-Wargenau to draw the following conclusions:
> In contrast to the general development of perfect constructions, early DPFs
show no formal restrictions with respect to embedding under modal verbs and
lexical aspect (p. 161).
> DPFs are prototypically used to denote the textual relation “event --
consequence/result” or the temporal sequence of individual events (i.e.
“relative” use in Buchwald-Wargenau’s term) (p. 162).
> An “absolute reading” (i.e. without a past reference point given in the
context) is already attested for the early occurrences of the DPFs (p. 163).
> There is no striking difference with respect to the opposition of auxiliary
'be' vs. 'have' (p. 184f.).
Contrasting the overall analysis to those DPFs documented in texts which show
an affinity to the language of “proximity”, Buchwald-Wargenau draws attention
to two striking differences: DPFs within the dimension of “proximity” tend to
be used in main clauses (p. 159) and occur more frequently with present
auxiliaries (158). All other investigated parameters, by contrast, seem to
remain unaffected by the opposition “language of proximity” vs. “language of
The question of the original basic meaning of the DPFs is addressed in Chapter
5. Based on a differentiation between “relative” and “absolute” uses, the
individual occurrences of the DPFs in the corpus are examined with respect to
their temporal and aspectual values. The analysis suggests that aspectual and
temporal meanings of the DPFs have to be regarded as semantic components
intricately intertwined. In contrast to Rödel 2007 and Topalović 2010, who
assume a process of grammaticalization from a predominantly aspectual verbal
category to a tense form, Buchwald-Wargenau argues that primary temporal
meanings can be attested already for the very early DPFs (pp. 194f., 203).
Rejecting a general “Grundbedeutung” (‘basic meaning’, p. 203), she thus
favors a two-component-analysis whereby the actual meaning of the form has to
be derived from the particular context.
This volume’s great merit indisputably lies in the new empirical data, taking
also into account the historical dimension and diastratic variation, i.e. the
regional distribution of DPFs and the distinction between “language of
proximity” and “language of distance”. Most notably, the appendix containing
the whole audit trail will be of great value for subsequent studies. In this
respect, the volume speaks to the interests of linguists concerned with
grammaticalization and language change as well as sociolinguistics. Concerning
the theoretical aims set at the beginning of the investigation, some critical
remarks are still in order, addressing the three main aspects of the study:
First, with respect to the diachronic development of DPFs, the empirical
analysis shows convincingly that the rise of DPFs is only indirectly linked to
the 'decay of preterite'. The attested coexistence of pluperfect and DPFs
within the same sentences show in this respect that DPFs cannot be assumed to
compensate for the pluperfect. The question of what distinguishes the semantic
structures of the pluperfect and DPFs, however, is left open. In order to
examine to what extent DPFs may be analyzed as a strategy to compensate the
loss of aspectual markers (p. 94f.), the degree of grammaticalization of the
perfect construction and the aspectual value of the ‘ge’-prefix in the 15th
century are taken into account, however without leading to clear conclusions
(p. 104). This seems unsurprising given that the aspect system is only a
relict system in Middle High German. Instead, the earlier restructuring
processes in the temporal domain are neglected. A look at the diachronic
development of perfect constructions and their oscillation between temporal
and aspectual values, however, would have been necessary background for
integrating the rise of DPFs in the general reorganization of the verbal
system, as well as for the evaluation of the grammaticalization of complex
Second, rejecting a unified “Grundbedeutung”, Buchwald-Wargenau argues for a
two-component-analysis which integrates aspectual and temporal values whereby
the particular meaning has to be derived from the actual context. Regarding
the biphasicness of perfect constructions, semantic ambiguity between
aspectual and temporal values seems unsurprising (cf. also Saussure/Sthioul
2012: 592). This is also pointed out by Rödel 2007, who claims that DPFs -- in
his analysis an extension mechanism which operates upon a perfect construction
-- has to be seen as a “combination of temporal and aspectual meaning” (Rödel
2007: 178). A similar proposal is put forward by Poletto 2009 (not cited in
Buchwald-Wargenau), who sees the characteristic meaning of the DPFs in an
“additional aspectual feature” (Poletto 2009: 48). Since similar ambiguity
holds for the pluperfect in the older stages of German (cf. Zeman 2010), the
assumption of a linear grammaticalization process from aspect to tense seems
unlikely for complex tense forms.
Third, concerning register variation of DPFs, the methodological approach
(i.e. taking all tense forms as “proximate” which are documented in texts
validated as “language of proximity”) seems questionable as it does not
explain the most striking result, namely the complementary distribution of
Double Perfect Forms vs. Double Pluperfect Forms in 20th/21th century texts
(146f.). This result is conspicuously analogous to the empirical findings in
Zeman 2010, showing that the main factor triggering the textual distribution
in Middle High German is not linked to the multi-factor dimension of “oral”
vs. “written” resp. “language of proximity” vs. “language of distance”, but to
different discourse modes (cf. Smith 2003). A short glance at DPFs in the
appendix reveals that the same explanation also seems to hold for the
distribution of early DPFs in the 15th century: the Double PLUPERFECT Forms
are used in narrative, the Double PERFECT Forms in reportive discourse mode,
where the latter has a natural affinity to the “dimension of proximity” but is
not linked to it directly (cf. Zeman 2010). In this respect, the short glance
at the appendix also reveals that Buchwald-Wargenau’s data can be of great
value for further investigations of DPFs.
Overall, the book fills an important research gap as DPFs have not been
empirically investigated diachronically until now. As the main methodological
difficulty has been the rarity of examples of DPFs, the supply of empirical
data is not to be underestimated for its value to further studies. In sum, the
volume thus cannot solve the general puzzles linked with DPFs, but it offers a
wide range of material for addressing them in subsequent investigations.
Abraham, Werner. 1999. Preterite Decay as a European Areal Phenomenon. In
Folia Linguistica 33/1, 11--18.
Ágel, Vilmos / Hennig, Mathilde. Eds. 2006. Grammatik aus Nähe und Distanz.
Theorie und Praxis am Beispiel von Nähetexten 1650-2000. Tübingen: Niemeyer.
Ammann, Andreas. 2007. The fate of ‘redundant’ verbal forms -- Double perfect
constructions in the languages of Europe. In Sprachtypologie und
Universalienforschung 60/3, 186--204.
Koch, Peter / Oesterreicher, Wulf. 1985. Sprache der Nähe -- Sprache der
Distanz. Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im Spannungsfeld von Sprachtheorie
und Sprachgeschichte. In Romanistisches Jahrbuch 36, 15--43.
Leiss, Elisabeth. 1992. Die Verbalkategorien des Deutschen: Ein Beitrag zur
Theorie der sprachlichen Kategorisierung. Berlin / New York: de Gruyter
[Studia Linguistica Germanica; 31].
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der deutschen Literatursprache. Tübingen: Stauffenburg [Studien zur deutschen
Poletto, Cecilia. 2009. Double auxiliaries, anteriority and terminativity. In
Journal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 12/1, 31--48.
Rödel, Michael. 2007. Doppelte Perfektbildungen und die Organisation von
Tempus im Deutschen. Tübingen: Stauffenburg [Studien zur deutschen Grammatik;
Saussure, Louis de / Sthioul, Bertrand. 2012. The Surcomposé Past Tense. In
Binnick, Robert I. (ed.), The Oxford handbook of tense and aspect. Oxford /
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Smith, Carlota. 2003. Modes of discourse. The local structure of texts.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [Cambridge studies in linguistics; 103].
Thieroff, Rolf. 2004. Inherent verb categories and categorizations in European
languages. In Thieroff, Rolf / Ballweg, Joachim (eds.), Tense and aspect
systems in European languages. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 3--45.
Topalović, Elvira. 2010. Perfekt II und Plusquamperfekt II: Zur historischen
Kontinuität doppelter Perfektbildungen im Deutschen. In Moulin, Claudine /
Ravida, Fausto / Ruge, Nikolaus (eds.), Sprache in der Stadt. Akten der 25.
Tagung des Internationalen Arbeitskreises Historische Stadtsprachenforschung,
Luxemburg 11.-13. Oktober 2007. Heidelberg: Winter, 165--199.
Zeman, Sonja. 2010. Tempus und “Mündlichkeit” im Mittelhochdeutschen. Zur
Interdependenz grammatischer Perspektivensetzung und “Historischer
Mündlichkeit” im mittelhochdeutschen Tempussystem. Berlin / New York: de
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ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Sonja Zeman is assistant professor in the German Linguistics department at LMU
Munich. Her research interests include grammaticalization and language change,
verbal categories, tense semantics, orality, and narrativity. Currently, she
is working on phenomena of perspectivization from a diachronic perspective.
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