LINGUIST List 6.383

Sat 18 Mar 1995

Disc: Progressive with future time reference

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  1. Elizabeth Pyatt, Re: 6.312 Sum: Progressive with future time reference
  2. Vincent DeCaen, re 6.346 Rev: The Parameter of Aspect (C. Smith)

Message 1: Re: 6.312 Sum: Progressive with future time reference

Date: Tue, 28 Feb 1995 11:41:39 Re: 6.312 Sum: Progressive with future time reference
From: Elizabeth Pyatt <>
Subject: Re: 6.312 Sum: Progressive with future time reference

 Welsh is yet another language with a future progressive tense.
Welsh progressives are formed by inflecting the 'bod' (to be) for the
relaevant person, number and tense and then the non-finite verb. Note
though that Welsh is VSO, so the order is - Bod + Subj DP + yn (Prt) + V.
 Welsh lso distinguishes progressive and non-progressive futures.

 (1) Non-Progressive

 Darlleniff Gwen y llyfr.
 read-fut-3s G. the book
 Gwen will read the book.

 (2) Progressive

 Bydd Gwen. yn darllen y llyfr
 will-be G. Prt read the book.
 Gwen will be reading the book.

 In addition, it is likely that that Modern Irish and Breton also
have some sort of future progressive. However, I am not as fluent in these
languages. Hope this is useful.

 Elizabeth Pyatt
 Harvard University
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Message 2: re 6.346 Rev: The Parameter of Aspect (C. Smith)

Date: Mon, 13 Mar 1995 14:16:55 re 6.346 Rev: The Parameter of Aspect (C. Smith)
From: Vincent DeCaen <>
Subject: re 6.346 Rev: The Parameter of Aspect (C. Smith)

I have been working with the notion of "aspectual default" for a
couple of years, and I add the following comments to broaden the
perspective on Smith's work.

I think first that tense-aspect systems in natural language are highly
complex, and that they can be usefully investigated like any other
"complex system", ie., the economy or the immune system. (For an
entertaining introduction to "complexity", see Waldrop, "Complexity:
The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos", 1992.) The
hallmark of such an approach is the interaction of many simple
components; in the case of tense-aspect, there is the lexicon,
semantics proper, syntax, pragmatics, morphology. Further, in the
semantics component we must also deal with tense, mood, and aspect (at
the very least). If we further assume that the semantic subcomponents
are parameterized a la Chomsky 1981, we can obtain the
complexity attested (in principle) and still aim at explanatory adequacy.

This view is presented in DeCaen, Forthcoming 1995, "Tenseless
Languages in Light of an Aspectual Parameter for Universal Grammar: A
Preliminary Cross-Linguistic Survey," Toronto Working Papers in
Linguistics; and is applied in my dissertation, 1995, "On the
Placement and Interpretation of the Verb in Standard Biblical Hebrew
Prose," University of Toronto (forthcoming 1996?, Peter Lang). This
work relies heavily on the work of Elizabeth Cowper, who has also
proposed a "parameter of aspect".

The idea of an aspectual parameter, or a parameter of viewpoint, can
be found as early as Comrie 1976, although his comments are not
presented in the light of parameterized UG. His "parameter" is based
on whether or not a system's simple inflectional forms exclude the
progressive. He writes,
"In some languages, the distinction between progressive and
nonprogressive meaning by means of progressive and nonprogressive
forms is obligatory, whereas in others the use of the specifically
progressive forms is optional, i.e., the nonprogressive form does not
exclude progressive meaning. English [together with Brazilian
Portuguese, p. 34] belongs to the first type, so that Progressive and
non-Progressive are not in general interchangeable, nor can any one of
these in general be replaced by the other; in Spanish and Italian, on
the other hand, it is normally possible to replace the Progressive by
other forms, without implying nonprogressive meaning." (Comrie, 1976: 33).

The notion of defaulting can be found scattered in various places.
Chatterjee, 1988, "Aspect and Meaning in Slavic and Indic", touches on
latent aspect, e.g., pp.82ff, p.116. Several comments in a work such
as Forsyth, 1970, "A Grammar of Aspect", might also be interpreted is
such light.

Elizabeth Cowper, 1992, "Inner Tense and the Realization of Aspect,"
ms., paper presented at McGill U., Montreal: she proposes something
along the lines of Comrie, but explicitly as claim for UG.
"the Hungarian simple best rendered by the English past
progressive, while the English simple past must be the
Hungarian perfective form. This difference in the interpretation of
accomplishments extends throughout the tense system, so that the
Hungarian simple present is best translated by the English present
progressive, and the Hungarian future is best translated by the
English future progressive. The simple tenses must always be
translated by a Hungarian perfective.
Suppose that there were a parameter, having to do with the default
interpretation of temporal structures. Suppose that whenever
possible, Hungarian represents a temporal structure as extending over
an interval of time, while English does exactly the opposite: it
represents a temporal structure as a point in time whenever possible."
Cowper: p.11 of ms.

Notice now that this differs from Smith in positing a binary
parameter, i.e., minus "neutral" in Smith's system. This raises
several questions.
First, the binary claim is stronger, and methodologically we should
prefer to pursue the stronger claim. (I should add that the binary
claim appears sound in cross-linguistic perspective; and further, that
the unmarked parameter appears to be that of the English system, ie.,
perfective, and that the imperfective is largely confined to Europe
and Algonquian and Athapaskan systems; moreover, tenseless languages
almost universally default for the perfective, hence the mistaken
"aspectual" analysis of e.g, Biblical Hebrew, Mohawk, creoles,
Mandarin, etc.)
Second, what is the basis for the Neutral?? This speaks to the issue
of what a "default" is. It is not clear, but it appears that
"neutral" is invoked where a parameter setting appears defeasible;
but this is what one expects from defaulting: that it can overridden.
Since this is the crux, it deserves careful consideration.

Cowper's work introduces other factors that could improve the
theoretical footing of this line of inquiry. First is the strategy
dubbed "strictly compositional", adapted as follows,
"Instead of treating constructions atomically, i.e., not making any
connection between the lexical representations of the morphemes
involved and the meaning of the construction as a whole, assign
representations for each of the morphemes involved so that the
meanings of the constructions follow automatically, *by simple
composition*, from the meanings of the morphemes making them up."
adapted from Cowper, 1991, "A Compositional Analysis of English
Tense," Proceedings of the 1991 Annual Conference of the Canadian
Linguistic Association, 53-64, p. 53.

in line with strict compositionality, we require explicit
morphological and syntactic structures off of which tense-aspect is
read "compositionally". Cowper hitches her work to GB-style syntax.
So to answer the reviewer's second question, we are led to a
d-structure vs s-structure approach. I should hasten to add that
pragmatic effects induced by ordering require s-structure (.e.g., a
question of ordering with participles in Greek came up on the Bib-Greek
discussion group: temporal ordering with participles appears to be affected
by relative linear ordering.)

the parameter of aspect, to answer the reviewer's first question, is
limited to "viewpoint" or grammatical aspect. But parameters are
required to handle low-level variation, especially over lexical
representations: e.g., verbs of cognition, verbs of motion, and their
interaction with the tense and aspect. Usage could be parameterized
as well, eg., narrative usage, performatives.

work in this line of investigation should now pay explicit attention
to issues of grammaticalization and change through time. proposals
are more highly valued if they can account for the material, e.g., in
Bybee et al, 1994, The Evolution of Grammar. issues of lexical
decomposition will probably play a major role in bringing this project
in line with the facts of grammaticalization and "pathways."

(I would be grateful for references to aspectual default earlier than
Comrie 1976. Liz Cowper can be contacted at
For the important line of inquiry opened up by Bybee and associates:
Bybee could be contacted at I would also be
grateful for any book reviews of Smith 1991 and/or Bybee et al 1994.)
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