Most people modify their ways of speaking, writing, texting, and e-mailing, and so on, according to the people with whom they are communicating. This fascinating book asks why we 'accommodate' to others in this way, and explores the various social consequences arising from it.
Review of Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish
Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 14:43:06 +0100 From: Gerhard Schaden Subject: Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish
AUTHOR: Burgos, Daniel TITLE: Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish SUBTITLE: An Empirical Examination with Special Emphasis on Temporal Adverbials SERIES: Linguistics Edition 37 PUBLISHER: Lincom GmbH YEAR: 2003
Gerhard Schaden, Université Paris 8, CNRS-UMR 7023
If not specified otherwise, all indications of pages and chapters refer to the book by Daniel Burgos; and 'English', 'German' and 'Spanish' refer to present-day British English, Standard German, and Argentinean Spanish, respectively.
Burgos' book is an extensive corpus-based study, both synchronic and diachronic, about the marking of the category ANTERIOR in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish. 'Anterior' is defined by Burgos as corresponding roughly to Reichenbach's (1947) E-R,S configuration (time of the Event preceding the moment of Reference, which coincides with the moment of Speech), or, in the author's own words, as ''relat[ing] some situation to a succeeding reference time, which may or may not be identical with coding time, and to which the term 'current relevance' may be applied'' (p. 28).
Following to a large extent the typological work of Östen Dahl (1985 & 2000) and Joan Bybee (1985), the author departs from their framework in not taking the gram or gram-type 'Perfect' as the base of his inquiry. Burgos prefers to refer to the category 'anterior', which is not defined in terms of a link to one grammatical form, but is conceived of as a notional category, which may be encoded by various grammatical means (tense-marking, different kinds of adverbials, verbal periphrasis in Spanish).
His initial motivation for this move comes from the fact that, whereas the English Perfect displays an almost perfect match with the category 'anterior', in German and Spanish the situation is more complicated: In Argentinean Spanish, the Perfect does not seem to be in use any more, at least in the spoken language of younger speakers, and in German, the Perfect form, having spread to further contexts, does not show one-to-one correspondence to the category of anteriors, even if there is considerable overlap. Secondly, in both Spanish and German, past and present tenses are used to convey anterior marking (in the sense specified above). Thus, at least in languages like Spanish and German, the role of adverbials like 'bisher' (so far) is crucial in order to get a clear-cut anterior meaning (examples from p. 29):
BISHER habe ich nichts verstanden. (= ANTERIOR; E-R,S) so far have I nothing understood. 'I haven't understood anything so far.'
Ich habe nichts verstanden. (ANTERIOR?; E-R,S or E,R-S?) I have nothing understood. 'I haven't understood anything/I didn't understand anything.'
This book is targeted at linguists working on the typology of tense- aspect systems, as well as those interested in temporal adverbials and/or verbal periphrases in Romance languages.
Even though the book is written in English, the author assumes his readers are able to read German. German examples are neither glossed nor translated, and German quotations -- which contain some important definitions -- are given without any translation.
The book is divided into 9 chapters, comprising an introduction and a conclusion.
In the second chapter, the author lists some previous definitions of 'anteriors' and 'perfects' in order to extract from them the characterizations there is some agreement on. He also sets out the limits of anterior vs. non-anterior uses of the present and past tenses, respectively.
The third chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the degree of grammaticalization of the Perfect tenses in the three languages under discussion, based mainly on morphosyntacic evidence. Burgos concludes that the Spanish Perfect has reached the highest degree of grammaticalization among the languages studied, whereas German shows the lowest degree of grammaticalization of the Perfect.
The fourth chapter introduces and characterizes the temporal adverbials that will be discussed later on, namely 'up to now, so far, since, recently, already, just, not yet, lately' and 'in the meantime', as well as their equivalents in German and Spanish. Data showing their collocation patterns with present, past and perfect tenses from both written and oral corpora is provided.
The fifth chapter introduces and characterizes the Spanish periphrastic constructions which serve to encode anteriors, namely 'acabar de + Infinitive, llevar (in different configurations), tener (equally in different configurations)' and 'venir (which also comes with various different complements)'.
In the sixth chapter, Burgos provides a synchronic description of the anteriors and their use. He distinguishes four different kinds of anteriors (taken from the literature on Perfects):
- Anteriors of result ('Our guests have arrived.' = they are here now) - Anteriors of experience: 'Have you ever broken the law?' - Anteriors continuing: 'It has been snowing in the village since April.' - 'Hot news' anteriors: 'The storm has just destroyed 3 buildings.'
The author demonstrates the importance of temporal adverbials conveying anterior readings, and also provides data on selectional restrictions for each of those readings with the four different kinds of Vendlerian classes (Aktionsarten). He provides the possibilities of encoding for each kind of anterior, as well as the attested frequency in the corpora.
The seventh chapter provides a diachronic investigation (starting from the earliest sources for each language), following the same pattern as in chapter six.
The eighth chapter establishes a typological comparison of the anterior-marking systems in English, Spanish, and German. According to the author, the English anterior system is organized around the Perfect, which has ousted Past and Present anteriority-marking as a productive source of anteriors. The German system resorts to all three Perfect, Past and Present in order to mark anteriority, although the Perfect is claimed to be the only tense that can code all four types of anteriority. In Argentinean Spanish, anteriority marking is done by Past and Present tenses, whereas the Perfect is not a productive source for anteriority marking. Burgos claims that speakers of Argentinean Spanish who still use the Perfect form use it as an evidentiality- marker, which, according to him, is the last stage of the grammaticalization process of a Perfect.
One of the biggest merits of this study is to have taken seriously, and thoroughly investigated, the role of adverbials in anteriority marking. As the author shows convincingly, adverbials (together with contextual cues) are very often the only way of deciding a) if a given sentence displays an anteriority reading, and b) which anteriority reading it displays. Scholars working on temporal adverbials -- but not only those -- will find in this book a rich source of information, and a very valuable point of departure for further research.
The author's decision to bring together the synchronic and diachronic perspectives has equally proved to be very enlightening. The precise description of the synchronic state (with its abundance of sources and data) sheds light on the historical development, and vice versa.
However, the reader will regret the absence of translations of the German examples and quotes in his book. This study, given its intrinsic interest and typological perspective, should have been made easily accessible to researchers not familiar with German. As it is, they will have to guess the meaning of examples or crucial definitions formulated in scholarly German prose, which will considerably diminish the benefit of reading. Furthermore, the Old English, Old High German and Middle High German examples would have required more systematic glosses.
A point I found rather confusing when reading the book was the discussion on the degrees of grammaticalization in chapter 3, and the conclusions Burgos draws from it in chapter 8. In the literature I am aware of (for instance, Meillet 1909, Bybee & Dahl 1989 or Squartini & Bertinetto 2000, p. 406), an increasing degree of grammaticalization of a given gram is considered to coincide with an increase in the frequency of use of this form. Grammaticalization is seen as a generalization of both meaning and use, a tendency to lose selectional restrictions and to become obligatory in more and more contexts (cf. Bybee & Dahl 1989, p. 65). Therefore it came as a surprise to see the Argentinean Perfect described as the most advanced form in the process of grammaticalization -- the Argentinean Perfect being a form which, as Burgos writes, is ''practically 'in danger of extinction''' (p. 283). This result becomes even more puzzling if one sees grammaticalization according to a biological metaphor as the process in which the competitors of the form undergoing grammaticalization gradually ''die out'' (cf. Keenan & Stabler 2003, pp. 32-33). Therefore, one would expect the German Perfect, which can take over nearly all uses of the Past tense, to be the most advanced form among the Perfects under consideration. However, Burgos considers the German Perfect to be the least advanced form.
Summing up, I think that Burgos' book is worth reading for people interested in the typology of Perfects (or anteriors), of tense-aspect systems in general and for those doing research on temporal adverbials and Romance periphrastic expressions.
Bybee, J. L. (1985): Morphology: A Study of the Relation Between Form and Meaning. Amsterdam: Benjamins.
Bybee, J. L., Dahl, Ö. (1989): ''The Creation of Tense and Aspect Systems in the Languages of the World'', in: Studies in Language 13:1, 51-103.
Dahl, Ö. (1985): Tense and Aspect Systems. Oxford: Blackwell
Dahl, Ö. (2000, ed.): Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Keenan, E. L., Stabler, E. P. (2003): Bare Grammar. Lectures on Linguistic Invariants. Stanford: CSLI.
Meillet, A. (1909/1982): ''Sur la disparition des formes simples du prétérit'', in: Linguistique historique et linguistique générale. Genève: Slatkine, pp. 149-158.
Reichenbach, H. (1947/1966): Elements of Symbolic Logic. Toronto: Collier-MacMillan.
Squartini, M., Bertinetto, P. M. (2000): ''The Simple and Compound Past in Romance Languages'', in: Dahl (2000), pp. 403-439.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
I am a PhD student at the department of linguistics at the University Paris 8, where I am preparing a thesis about the perfect tenses in German, French and English. My research interests include the tense- aspect systems, information structure and focus particles.