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Review of  From Words to Discourse:Trends in Spanish Semantics and Pragmatics

Reviewer: Andrea Faulstich
Book Title: From Words to Discourse:Trends in Spanish Semantics and Pragmatics
Book Author: Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach
Publisher: Elsevier Ltd
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Subject Language(s): Spanish
Issue Number: 14.790

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Date: Tue, 18 Mar 2003 23:33:24 +0100
From: Andrea Faulstich
Subject: From Words to Discourse: Trends in Spanish Semantics and Pragmatics

Gutiérrez-Rexach, Javier, ed. (2002) From Words to Discourse: Trends in
Spanish Semantics and Pragmatics. Elsevier Science Ltd, Current Research
in the Semantics/Pragmatics Interface 10.

Andrea Faulstich, unaffiliated scholar

The book contains an introduction and 16 papers exploring problems and
perspectives in the semantics and pragmatics of Spanish from a variety of
theoretical viewpoints. The overall purpose of the volume is to test the
predictive power of theoretical approaches in the semantics-pragmatics
interface by empirical data of an individual language.

The introduction by Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach gives an overview of the
book's organization and its main topics. The following three papers by
Gennari, Cipria and Laca deal with the tense and aspectual properties of
the Spanish verbal system. Silvia Gennari ("Spanish Past and Future
Tenses: Less (Semantics) Is More") examines different interpretations of
Spanish simple future and PRETÉRITO and accounts for the difficulties of
describing and explaining such different readings in terms of semantics
only. On the basis of aktionsart properties she distinguishes between
stative sentences and eventive sentences considering their implications
for the non-future reading of simple future and the non-completion
reading of PRETÉRITO. She argues that stative sentences, due to their
pragmatic dimension of being true at a larger interval of time, trigger
overlapping readings ("superinterval implication"). In a more detailed
analysis of PRETÉRITO and its (non-) completion reading Gennari explains
that the completion reading on the one hand arises with
accomplishment-achievement sentences entailing the resulting status of
the relevant action, and on the other hand with activities and states as
a result of the pragmatic end-point inference. As she furthermore argues,
such completion reading of stative and eventive sentences, usually
contrasting duration or open-end readings suggested by the use of the
IMPERFECTO, can be cancelled by the superinterval implication inherent to
stative sentences or by the speaker's explicit rectification of his/her
assertion in eventive sentences. With regard to the non-future readings
of simple future she points out that the simple future necessitates a
realistic or factual conversational background (CB), i.e., that they are
not acceptable in non-realistic hypothetical contexts. Alicia Cipria
("Tensed Complements of Perception Verbs: Issues in Their Temporal
Interpretation") explores the semantics and pragmatics of past tense
complements of perception verbs such as VER "to see", OÍR "to hear",
PALPAR "feel by touch" and OLER "to smell". Contrasting traditional
accounts of this verb category Cipria maintains that the supposed
requirement of simultaneity in complex clauses with a main perception
verb is not always valid for PRETÉRITO complements which may allow a
"backward shifted" reading when they are embedded under a past main verb
of perception. With regard to IMPERFECTO complements embedded under past
main verbs of perception Cipria infers that the simultaneity requirement
may be outweighed by the interaction of aspect, aktionsart and
pragmatics, and that the sensory contexts of perception can more
accurately be described in terms of evidentiality and actual occurrence,
regardless of tense specification and aktionsart effects. The
contribution by Brenda Laca ("Spanish 'Aspectual' Periphrases: Ordering
Constraints and the Distinction Between Situation and Viewpoint Aspect")
is dedicated to the relationship between differences in ordering
constraints of Spanish "aspectual" periphrases and the semantic and
syntactic status of such constructions as expressions of lexical or
syntactic aspectual categories. Contrary to the research findings by
Cinque (1998, 1999, 2000) Laca correlates ordering possibilities with a
semantic distinction between situation aspect and viewpoint aspect as
discussed by Smith (1991) and offers an account of aspectual periphrases
that is based on the differentiation between extrinsic and intrinsic
ordering constraints, as known in the field of morphology where these
categories are used to distinguish between inflectional and derivational

The next four papers by Rosales Sequeiros, Alonso-Ovalle, Aliaga / de
Bustos and Mejías-Bikandi deal with the interpretation of infinitives,
imperatives and the subjunctive in Spanish. Xosé Rosales Sequeiros
("Non-declarative Sentences in Spanish: The Case of the Infinitive")
examines the semantics and pragmatics of imperative uses of the
infinitive in Spanish within a revised theoretical framework of relevance
theory as proposed by Wilson and Sperber (1988). Starting from the well
known fact that infinitival constructions in Spanish (as well as in other
Romance and non-Romance languages) convey the same sense as the
imperative the author tries to analyze whether this equivalence is
semantic or pragmatic, i.e., whether infinitives are semantically
ambiguous between "possibility" (infinitive) and "potentiality" or
"desirability" (imperative) or whether they merely encode "possibility"
and are then pragmatically interpreted as imperatives. The analysis shows
that Spanish infinitives can convey an imperative import when contextual
factors (e.g. when used at cashpoints, in manuals, in hospitals) support
such imperative reading. This would suggest that the imperative dimension
of Spanish infinitives is not semantic but rather pragmatic in nature.
Furthermore, the author points out that, in contrast to what has been
found out about Spanish infinitives, English infinitives do not encode
such "procedural instructions" for the addressee to seek potentiality or
desirability readings from the context. The paper of Luis Alonso-Ovalle
("Aspect and Situations: A Situation semantics Account of the Semantic
Variability of Spanish 'AL-Clauses'") examines the semantic variability
of Spanish AL-Clauses, i.e., of infinitives in adjunct clauses headed by
the prepositional complementizer AL, on the basis of the Kratzerian
situation semantics (Kratzer: 1989, 1990). Francisco Aliaga and Eduardo
de Bustos ("Mental Spaces and Epistemic Attitudes: On the Spanish
Subjunctive/Indicative alternation") account for the
indicative/subjunctive alternation in Spanish, revising the respective
approach by Mejías-Bikandi (1996). Essentially, they argue for the
inclusion of an epistemic attitudes model into the theory of mental
spaces whereas Errapel Mejías-Bikandi ("Space Accessibility and the
Pragmatic Status of Propositions") proposes an amendment of his 1996's
approach in the light of the Information Structure framework elaborated
by Lambrecht (1994). Basically, he claims that mood in Spanish is a
grammatical marker of the pragmatic status of a proposition, i.e.,
indicative and subjunctive are correlated with the pragmatic status
(presupposition and activation) of a proposition within a mental space.

The following four papers by Escandell-Vidal / Leonetti, Zuber,
Gutiérrez-Rexach and Gutiérrez-Rexach / Schwenter are devoted to the
exploration of semantic aspects of predicates, modifiers, demonstratives,
polarity expressions and deixis in Spanish. Victoria Escandell-Vidal
and Manuel Leonetti ("Coercion and the Stage/Individual Distinction")
examine the distinction between "individual-level predicates" (ILPs) and
"stage-level predicates" (SLPs) and explore the syntactic environments in
which ILP appears where SLP would be expected without rendering the
sentence ungrammatical. The authors provide a systematic account of this
unexpected and exceptional shift arguing that the reinterpretation of
ILPs as SLPs can be explained in terms of coercion. Richard Zuber's
paper ("Some Spanish Quantifier Modifiers") analyzes Spanish quantifier
modifiers within the framework of a generalized quantifier theory. The
author studies noun phrases modified by connectors such as SALVO,
EXCEPTO, ADEMÁS, APARTE DE accounting for the categorial polyvalence of
such connectors and their behaviour in declarative sentences and in
interrogative sentences. The contribution of Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach
("Demonstratives in Context") examines the semantics of Spanish
demonstratives as contextually restricted determiner and generalized
quantifier functions. The author gives an overview over current theories
of demonstratives and provides a detailed characterization of Spanish
demonstratives exploring the interactions between demonstratives and
other deictic (spatial and temporal) elements, figurative deixis,
discourse deixis and the interpretation of cases in which more than one
demonstrative occur. Basically, it is argued that contextual restriction
has to be seen as a dynamic process reacting to discourse information,
background shifts and changes of the intentions of the discourse
participants. The paper of Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach and Scot Schwenter
("Propositional NPIs and the Scalar Nature of Polarity") offers an
analysis of the specific semantic and pragmatic implications
propositional NPIs ("negative polarity items") transmit to the sentence
in which they appear. Special attention is paid to the propositional NPI
QUE DIGAMOS. The authors argue that this is a scalar NPI conveying an
attenuating instead of an emphatic meaning.

Further three contributions by Bosque, García Córdoba and Macià deal with
the integration of semantic and pragmatic import into the theory of
Logical Form as a level of linguistic representation. Ignacio Bosque
("Degree Quantification and Modal Operators in Spanish") discusses
aspects of modality in the grammar of Spanish and offers a way of
integrating the modal properties of some degree quantifiers and
quasi-quantifiers into the restrictive concept of grammar proposed by the
generative approach to the syntax-semantics-pragmatics interface. Namely,
he examines degree quantifiers denoting "excess" (DEMASIADO(S),
DESMESURADO, EXCESIVO and their respective adverbs) and their interaction
with modal structures. The author identifies "excess" as a modal concept
which, as such, introduces an intensional context, i.e., "a reference
framework by which the quantified elements are filtered through a
propositional assessment" (p. 286), and provides a syntactic (Logical
Form) translation of this idea. Rosa J. García Córdoba ("The Shifted
Reading of the Spanish Past Tenses as Dependent on Presupposition
Accomodation") analyzes the interpretation of indicative simple past
tenses (PRETÉRITO and COPRETÉRITO or IMPERFECTO) in verbal complement
clauses in Mexican Spanish. The respective Logical Form representations
follow and at the same time revise Stowell's approach to the analysis of
tenses as temporal predicates. The contribution by Josep Macià ("On the
Interaction of Syntax-Semantics-Pragmatics: A Case Study") offers a
revision of binding theory elaborating an alternative to the principles
(B) and (C) of the Standard Binding Theory in which these principles are
semantic principles.

The concluding two papers by Colantoni and Vann / Busquets / Koike study
aspects of linguistic variation promted by pragmatic factors. Laura
Colantoni ("Clitic Doubling, Null Objects and Clitic Climbing in the
Spanish of Corrientes") explores the phenomena of clitic doubling (CD),
null objects (NO) and clitic climbing (CC) in the Spanish of Corrientes
(Argentina) in the light of discourse-pragmatic factors such as the
degree of animacy of the respective referent, topicalization /
focalization and emphasis. Furthermore, she suggests the consideration of
two extra-linguistic factors for future research: sex and the contact
with Guaraní. Robert E. Vann, Joan Busquets and Dale A. Koike ("Spanish
NO, SÍ: A Particle of Politeness") analyze discourse structures in which
the combination of NO, SÍ occurs. The analysis is based on conversations
between a linguistic researcher and Spanish speakers in Barcelona dealing
with the topic of language use. On the basis of the identified discourse
structures, the authors explore the pragmatic functions the NO, SÍ
particle can assume (e.g. explanation, correction, acceptance).

The papers presented in this volume comprise a variety of novel or newly
tested research approaches to different aspects of the semantics and
pragmatics of Spanish. All papers are well written and the book as a
whole is well-structured grouping papers according to five main topics /
linguistic sub-disciplines. The volume is of course highly interesting to
anyone working in the field of Spanish Linguistics. As several
contributions provide cross-linguistic references the edition will also
be of interest to scholars and students in the field of General and
Romance Linguistics. Altogether, the papers contained in this book
illustrate the difficulties of theory forming in the semantics-pragmatics
interface. At the same time, and this is the overall merit of the
edition, they offer a valuable contribution to the consolidation,
revision and/or rejection of existing theoretical frameworks on the basis
of empirical data of an individual language. Given the variety of
theoretical approaches presented in this edition a detailed evaluation of
single contributions must of course be left to the respective specialized
fields of linguistic research.

Cinque, G. (1998): "'Restructuring' and the Order of Aspectual and Root
Modal Heads." Univ. of Venice Working Papers in Linguistics 8.

Cinque, G. (1999): Adverbs and Functional Heads. New York: Oxford
University Press.

Cinque, G. 2000): "Restructuring" and Functional Structure. Ms.,
University of Venice.

Kratzer, A. (1989): "An Investigation of the Lumps of Thought." In:
Linguistics and Philosophy 12, 607-653.

Kratzer, A. (1990): "How Specific is a Fact?" In: Proceedings of the 1990
Conference on Theories of Partial Information. Center for Cognitive
Science and College of Liberal Arts at the University of Texas at Austin.

Lambrecht, K. (1994): Information Structure and Sentence Form. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.

Mejías-Bikandi, E. (1996): "Space Accessibility and Mood in Spanish." In:
Spaces, Worlds and Grammar. Ed. by Fauconnier, G. and E. Sweetser,
Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 157-178.

Smith, C.S. (1991): The Parameter of Aspect. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Stowell, T. (1993): "Syntax of Tense.". Ms., UCLA.

Wilson, D. / D. Sperber (1988): "Mood and the Analysis of Non-declarative
Sentences." In: Human Agency: Language, Duty and Value. Ed. by Dancy, J.,
Moravcsik, J. and C. Taylor, Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press,

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Andrea Faulstich, economist and translator, received her PhD in Romance Linguistics from the University of Potsdam in 2001 and is currently working as a financial and legal translator.

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