Review of Tense, Mood and Aspect
|EDITORS: de Saussure, Luis; Moeschler, Jacques; Puskas, Genoveva
TITLE: Tense, Mood and Aspect
SUBTITLE: Theoretical and Descriptive Issues
SERIES TITLE: Cahiers Chronos 17
Eleni Staraki, University of Chicago
This book is the new volume of the collection ''Cahiers Chronos''. The selected
papers presented at 6th Chronos Colloquium, University of Geneva, September 2004
deal with theoretical issues in the crosslinguistic study of tense, aspect and
mood. A short introduction containing an overview of the volume content and
structure is followed by thirteen papers.
Co Vet's paper ''The descriptive inadequacy of Reichenbach's tense system: A new
proposal'' introduces a new proposal for the organization of temporal
representations. By a set of detailed and original criticisms he puts forward a
new account of tense without the defects of the classical Reichenbach system.
More precisely, Reichenbach proposes three main perspective points. In contrast,
Vet proposes two main perspective points to the tense system and provides
morphological evidence from French. This is because the reference point R,
according to Vet, cannot be placed in the future in the same way as it can be
placed at a present or a past time. Furthermore, he introduces the Phasal Aspect
in order to describe the meaning of some of the tenses like the Composed Past
and the Periphrastic Future from French. This newly proposed system obviates the
representation of Reichenbach's system ambiguity and deals with the fact that
the Future of the Future is not attested in natural languages.
Hans Smessaert in his ''The evaluation of aspectual distance, speed and progress''
discusses the evaluation of adverbial expressions that belong to the realm of
the imperfective aspect (internal structure of events and states). His
conclusions yield from a study of Dutch adverbial expressions like nog niet (not
yet) / al (already) / nog (still) / niet meer (no longer). The analysis is as
follows: (1) the basic aspectual analysis, (2) the evaluation of aspectual
distance, (3) the evaluation of aspectual speed and progress and (4) the
evaluation of aspectual distance, speed and progress. He proposes a dynamic
semantics of these temporal inferences based on a basic polarity grid and he
generalizes on the distinction between positive and negative polarity of
In his paper ''The grammaticalization of tense markers: A pragmatic reanalysis'',
Steve Nicolle discusses movement verbs that become tense markers through the
process of grammaticalization. In contrast with the general view that those
verbs undergo both structural and semantic change, he illustrates examples from
English and Digo (a Bantu language spoken in East Africa) which, although they
derive from verbs of movement and behave syntactically as tense markers, have
not undergone structural change. He presents the case of 'go in' structures like
'go and V'. He argues that the verb becomes closely linked to the following
modifying verb by losing its inflexional properties and becoming a verbal
suffix. Then, the verb's meaning related to the physical movement refers to time
and events. He ends his article by pointing out that all deictic movement verbs
help anchor a situation with respect to the deictic center. Nevertheless, in the
constructions he describes the secondary function has now become primary, and
this is an example of subjectification rather than semantic change that
In the paper ''Aspectual interactions between predicates and their external
arguments in French'', Maria Asnes brings forward for consideration the case that
not only internal but also external arguments can interact with the aspect of
their predicates. She extends Krifka's definition (1998) of homomorphism to the
domain of the external arguments and presents her version of it. Her claim is
based on the fact that iterativity, which is also a property of external
arguments, creates a sort of homomorphism. This will yield to aspectual
interactions between the predicate and the external argument. She later on
provides eight feature configurations where an external argument triggers an
iterative homomorphism and thus participate in aspectual composition.
Interestingly, her account for aspectual interactions is applicable both to
nominal and verbal constituents.
In the paper ''Alors as a possible temporal connective in discourse'' Anne Le
Draoulec and Myriam Bras address the question of the temporal properties of the
French 'alors' within the framework of DRT (Discourse Representation Theory).
More specifically, they put forward the hypothesis that the position of 'alors'
plays a crucial role on what temporal properties this item will acquire.
Moreover, they illustrate their hypothesis with examples of 'alors' in initial,
internal and final positions and they show that when in initial position 'alors'
implies a dependency link, while when in internal or final position it does not
force a dependency link. This is because in this position 'alors' depends on
semantic-pragmatic context and they argue that then it can't be considered a
In the paper ''The power of prepositions: Is he sleeping now or usually?'' Tijana
Asic argues that a temporal reading can also yield from an adjunct that,
although not an eventuality by default, is understood as a kind of temporal
interval. Specifically, she presents the interesting case of two spatial
prepositions in Serbian which have temporal interpretations. She illustrates
this with examples of the semantic distribution of 'po' and 'na', as follows:
'po' is used with continues substances (static or in motion) and 'na' is used
with static discrete object(s). However, both are also used to express temporal
relations. In the case of 'po', the temporal relation is external and there is
no physical contact, whereas in the case of 'na', a physical contact is implied.
Furthermore, she presents examples of two space and time markers from Kikuyu, a
Bantu language, that reinforce her arguments for prepositions that affect the
interpretation of the tense in a sentence.
In the paper ''On the dual nature of the Catalan present perfect'' Hortènsia
Curell and Mercè Coll present their study on the double value (temporal and
aspectual) of the Catalan present perfect and propose a unified account of the
different readings of the present perfect. Their study is based on a corpus
analysis of nine contemporary plays written in Catalan and shows that the
existential and the resultative reading of the present perfect is correlated
with the kind of predicate: telic predicate for the resultative readings and
atelic predicate for the existential readings. Nevertheless, the corpus also
contains tokens of telic predicates triggering an existential reading and atelic
predicates triggering a resultative reading. The ambiguity is resolved by
accounting for contextual information that constrains the interpretation of the
present perfect in Catalan.
In the paper ''Epistemic modality and questions in dialogue. The case of Italian
interrogative constructions in the subjunctive mood'' Andrea Rocci posits an
analysis on interrogative construction 'che' + subjunctive in Italian. He
targets three interesting questions and unfolds his argumentation to the
following main points. First, that the meaning of the 'che' + subjunctive
construction is not derivable compositionally. Second, the construction inherits
properties of generic constructions such as yes/no questions and subjunctive
constructions. Finally, that the meaning of the 'che' + subjunctive construction
is associated both with restrictions on the common ground of the conversation
and inferential discourse relations. This account serves as a 'case study'
regarding the investigation of questions interacting with epistemic modality.
However, at the same time, he introduces an elaboration of the Congruity Theory
and to the notion of pragmatic predicates developed within this framework.
In the paper ''In the mood of desire and hope: remarks on the German subjunctive,
the verb second phenomenon, the nature of volitional predicates and speculations
on illocution'' Andrè Meinunger presents an analysis of the German subjunctive
focusing on the nature of the volitional predicates and the role that illocution
plays on the verb second (V2) phenomenon. He first discusses the kind of
predicates licensing the V2 and continues in a detailed and thorough
presentation of the relation that holds between volitional predicates and the V2
phenomenon in German. Finally, he takes on the role of assertion(ality) or
assertivity plays on V2 in German. He argues against those proposals that accept
assertion to play the crucial role and instead, he suggests that there is
something weaker than assertion. Nevertheless, he maintains that the use of V2
has to do with an attitude of the speaker and not of a third individual.
In the article ''Dutch equivalents of the German past conjunctive: zou +
infinitive and the modal preterit'' Linde Roels, Tanja Mortelmans and Johan van
der Auwera make a comparison of the German 'würde' + infinitve and Dutch 'zou' +
infinitive constructions used to express conjunctive. They give an overview of
the contexts in which the 'modal' constructions appear and conclude that it is
impossible to equate the German conjunctive with the Dutch 'zou' + infinitive.
Furthermore, the German conjunctive cannot be equated with the Dutch (modal)
preterit nor with the 'zou'-form. In German the conjunctive marker is obligatory
present in irrealis and indirectness contexts. In contrast, Dutch relies more on
the contextual information provided. Their arguments are based on a corpus survey.
In the article ''Slavic verb prefixes are resultative'', Boban Arsenijević takes
on the status of Slavic verb prefixes. More specifically, verb prefixes in
Slavic languages are related to the phenomenon of grammatical aspect
(imperfective vs. perfective); for example, when a prefix is attached to an
imperfective verb then the verbs becomes perfective. He develops an analysis in
which all event-modifying prefixes in Slavic languages are resultative and
rejects the Goal-Source Asymmetry at the aspectual level. Furthermore, he
assumes that all those prefixes are agreement markers.
Sophia Delidaki in her paper ''The acquisition of aspect in child Greek: A
production experiment'' addresses the question of ''Aspect before Tense
Hypothesis'' (AFH) (Antinucci and Miller 1976, Bloom, Lifter & Hafitz 1980,
Smith 1980 & 1991) in Greek and presents an experimental study about the
acquisition of aspect in child Greek. Interestingly, in the experiment she
tested both Greek children and adults illustrating the contrast in choice for
tense and aspect. Based mainly on Bronckart & Sinclair's (1973) study of tense
and aspect with French speaking children, she applies the research methods to
Greek and comes up with an interesting conclusion. First, the predicate's
lexical aspect (telic/atelic) influences the choice of both tense and
grammatical aspect. Second, duration influences children's choice when the verb
is atelic. Third, frequency seems to influence younger children in their choice
of tense. Finally, the adult speakers of Greek present the same pattern that is
characterized as the AFH in language acquisition. More precisely, adults combine
perfective morphology and past tense with telic verbs and imperfective
morphology and present tense with atelic verbs, as children do.
In the paper ''The Thai cla: a marker of tense or modality?'' Jiranthara Srioutai
presents her analysis on the Thai marker 'cla' and proposes that this item
should be analyzed as a modal marker rather than a temporal one. In a detailed
analysis she points out the marker's epistemic and temporal properties pointing
out it's optional presence in the structure. Following up on the conclusion of
Rangkupan (2000) she updates the research by making clear the semantic
contribution of 'cla' and illustrates a Discourse Representation Theory (see
Kamp & Reyle 1993) analysis of the marker.
All in all, the present volume's papers are an excellent reference on tense,
aspect and modality, and at the same time a valuable reader. The papers draw
from three focal points: tense, aspect and mood. Nevertheless, they are not
organized in a systematic fashion. As such, readers can choose to read articles
associated with their specific interests: Papers by Vet, Nicolle, Le Draoulec &
Bras, Curell & Coll and Shrioutai for tense; papers by Smessaert, Asnes and
Delidaki for aspect; Rocci's and Meinunger's papers for mood. However, the asset
of the volume's papers is the extension of research for tense, aspect and mood
to other grammatical categories, for example, Asnes' paper for aspectual
interactions between predicates, Le Draoulec & Bras' article for the temporal
properties of Frech ''Alors'', the paper by Asic presenting the temporal reading
of prepositions, the paper by Rocci showing an analysis on Italian interrogative
construction ''che'', and, finally, the relation of subjunctive mood in German and
the nature of volitional predicates.
In general, papers illustrate new hypotheses that have been put forward or they
update old accounts. Each paper is well organized, ending with a summary and/or
a conclusion, which makes it easy to read. In general, the volume's papers are
rich with examples and/or data drawn from corpora thus making it a valuable and
useful reference for linguists and/or graduate students. The in-depth analysis
in each of the articles greatly advances our knowledge of tense, aspect and
mood. To sum up, this volume is once again an inspiring collection of articles
that will promote new ideas and advances in the Tense, Aspect and Modality
domain of research.
Antinucci, F. and R. Miller (1976) How Children Talk about What Happened.
_Journal of Child Language_ 3, 167-189.
Bloom, L., Lifter, K. and Hafitz, J. (1980) Semantics of Verbs and the
Development of Verb Inflection in Child Language. _Language_ 56 (2), 386-412.
Bronckart, J.P. and Sinclair, H. (1973) Time, Tense and Aspect. _Cognition_ 2
Kamp, H. and Reyle, U. (1993). _From Discourse to Logic_. Kluwer, Dordrecht.
Krifka, M. (1998). The origins of telicity. In S. Rothstein, ed., _Events and
Grammar_. Dordrecht: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Reichenbach, H. (1947) _Elements of Symbolic Logic_, MacMillan, New York.
Rangkupan, S. (2000) _Characteristics of Psychological Perspective in Thai
Narrative Discourse_. Ph.D. Dissertation. University of Buffalo, The State
University of New York.
Smith, C. (1980) The Acquisition of Time Talk: Relations Between Child and Adult
Grammars. _Journal of Child Language_ 7, 263-278.
Smith, C. (1991) _The Parameter of Aspect_. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Eleni Staraki is a 3rd year PhD student in the Department of Linguistics,
University of Chicago. Her field of research covers the tense-aspect properties
of free relatives in Greek.