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Review of  Tiempos compuestos y formas verbales complejas

Reviewer: Lewis Chadwick Howe
Book Title: Tiempos compuestos y formas verbales complejas
Book Author: Ángeles Carrasco Gutiérrez
Publisher: Iberoamericana / Vervuert Verlag
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): None
Issue Number: 21.330

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EDITOR: Carrasco Gutiérrez, Ángeles
TITLE: Tiempos compuestos y formas verbales complejas
PUBLISHER: Iberoamericana Editorial Vervuert
YEAR: 2008

Chad Howe, University of Georgia


This collection of papers, written both in Spanish and English, is a
comprehensive treatment of issues related to the form and function of
periphrastic verb forms primarily, though not exclusively, in Romance languages.
The editor of this volume, Ángeles Carrasco Gutiérrez, brings together a dozen
papers that offer both theoretical and descriptive treatments of the role of
complex tenses in natural language. The broad scope of the collection along with
its extensive bibliography make it an appealing resource for students and
scholars looking for an introduction to this literature, though some background
in generative treatments of syntax and semantics certainly helps in navigating
the more formal analyses. As a statement of our understanding of complex verb
constructions, this volume succeeds in accomplishing its primary objectives of
considering relevant problems in the field and developing thought-provoking

To begin, I describe a few central features of the volume. First, though it is
intended to treat a variety of phenomena that are generally considered to fall
within the purview of periphrastic verb forms, the discussion is largely skewed
towards issues related to (present) perfect constructions in Spanish and
English. Other constructions examined include the periphrastic 'go' future in
Spanish (see e.g. the article by Ana María Bravo) and the past perfect (or
''Passé Surcomposé'') in Northern Italian (see e.g. the chapter by Cecilia
Poletto). Another feature of the volume is the alternation between formal
(mainly generative) and functional approaches to the study of tense and aspect.
The contributions on the formal end of the spectrum primarily adopt the
neo-Reichenbachian treatment of tenses as discrete indices whose different
configurations describe the distribution of temporal forms, though it is the
proposed departures from Reichenbach's analysis that prove to be the most
compelling aspects of these papers (see e.g. the chapter by Zagona). The
functionalist studies offer a more nuanced view of periphrastic verb forms in
synchrony and diachrony (see e.g. the paper by Octavio de Toledo y Huerta &
Rodríguez Molina). Finally, each chapter provides a convenient exposition of
relevant category and form labels.

The volume is divided into four parts: (i) a general introduction to the
''Romance 'invention''' (i.e. complex verb forms); (ii) formal approaches to tense
and aspect in complex structures; (iii) ''paradigmatic oppositions'' between
forms; and (iv) other complex verb forms. Following a brief preface in which
Carrasco Gutiérrez offers orientation to the volume, the first section consists
of two papers, one by the editor herself and the other by Bruno Camus
Bergareche. These two papers provide the reader with an introduction to the type
of theoretical and descriptive issues that will underlie all of the subsequent
analyses. In the first of the two papers, Carrasco Gutiérrez presents a broad
and thorough overview of the semantic and syntactic issues that are prominent in
the literature on complex verb forms. Here, we find the first of many references
to the Reichenbachian system for describing tenses, which, as Carrasco Gutiérrez
points out, has gone through considerable revision and extension to accommodate
increasingly succinct descriptions of the semantic features of temporal and
aspectual forms. The latter part of this first chapter addresses the syntactic
representation of complex verb forms, focusing primarily on laying out the
arguments for the view that ''the predicative content of verb forms can be
reflected in the syntactic structure'' (p. 42; translation mine). The paper by
Bruno Camus Bergareche complements the previous one in that it addresses the
more descriptive, philological side of the volume's profile. Focusing primarily
on periphrastic perfects, this paper builds on the previous chapter's formal
approach by offering a detailed inventory of distributional properties of
complex verb forms across Romance, specifically with respect to morphosyntactic
properties associated with auxiliaries and participles (and the interaction
between them) and to properties of meaning, invoking the inventory of perfect
'types' proposed by Comrie (1976). The observations presented in this chapter
are summarized in several tables that illustrate the cross-linguistic situation
of the features associated with these forms.

Initiating the second section of the volume is a paper by Tim Stowell that asks
the question: ''What part of the (English) perfect encodes 'pastness'?'' He starts
his answer by entertaining three distinct hypotheses related to the
morphosyntactic components of a perfect - i.e. past encoding (i) as a function
of the present tense auxiliary ('have'), (ii) as a function of the past
participle, or (iii) as a function of the verbal periphrasis as a whole. After
systematically dismissing the first two options, Stowell opts for the third
explanation arguing that there are two possible explanations under this approach
that arise as a result of one's assumptions about the existence of and interplay
between distinct tense projections in the syntax. In his conclusions, Stowell
advocates for an analysis of perfects that, analogous to the syntactic
properties of the simple past, involves the licensing of “a covert past-shifting
tense occurring in a higher T or t'' (118). Next, Karen Zagona continues the
discussion of perfects by addressing the variety of meanings commonly attributed
to this form cross-linguistically (see again Comrie 1976). Zagona's approach,
however, is novel in that instead of accepting the Reichenbachian description of
perfects as representing a simple precedent relationship between the (R)eference
time and the (E)vent time, she argues for a compositional treatment of perfect
meanings that follows from a semantic description that assumes only that R and E
form a unit in which the latter serves as an external bound for the former. All
other instantiations of the relationship between R and E that produce the
different meanings of the perfect can be attributed to factors external to the
semantics of the form, for example overt adverbial modification (cf. Kiparsky
2002). The final article in this section, written originally in English by
Sabine Iatridou, Elena Anagnostopoulou, and Roumyana Izvorski and translated by
Carrasco Gutiérrez, makes its third appearance in print, having been published
originally in Kenstowicz (2001) and again in Alexiadou, Rathert, and von Stechow
(2003). This paper focuses on an issue that has been at the core of the semantic
literature on perfects, namely the distinction between Existential/Universal (or
Experiential/Continuative) readings and their representation in the form and
meaning of perfect constructions cross-linguistically. The authors address a
number of open questions concerning, for instance, (i) whether or not the time
of utterance is included by assertion as part of the interval of evaluation of a
perfect, (ii) the availability of the Universal perfect in cases without overt
adverbial modification, and (iii) the semantic properties of perfects as a
function of the morphosyntactic features of language-specific constructions.

In section III, discussion shifts to functional distinctions between sets of
complex verb forms in Spanish. The first two papers continue the discussion of
the perfect, this time providing extended comparison to the ''pretérito perfecto
simple'' ('simple past'). María Martínez-Atienza offers an overview of these two
forms across the Romance languages starting with their origins in Latin. She
notes that the development of these two forms has not been parallel across
varieties of Romance, echoing Harris' (1982) proposal for discrete 'stages' of
evolution of periphrastic pasts. In her discussion, Martínez-Atienza
concentrates on two instantiations of the opposition between simple and
periphrastic past forms: one that is essentially temporal (e.g., in French and
Catalan) and another that is aspectual (e.g., in Portuguese and Mexican
Spanish). Next, the analysis by Ilpo Kempas takes a more micro-level view of the
situation described by Harris (1982) and focuses on the simple/periphrastic past
alternation in two specific varieties of Spanish, specifically Peninsular (León,
Zaragoza, Madrid, and Andalucía) and Argentinean (Santiago del Estero).
According to the literature cited by Kempas, the latter variety, along with
other, geographically contiguous dialects, demonstrates innovative uses of the
periphrastic past in its potential to make reference to discrete, 'pre-today'
events, a function largely absent from the Peninsular situation in which the
perfect is claimed to have developed a salient 'today'-past usage (see, e.g.,
Schwenter 1994). In order to test this claim empirically, Kempas presents the
results of a sentence completion task intended to demonstrate the acceptability
of different temporal adverbials (e.g., ''ayer'' 'yesterday') with the perfect,
suggesting that the Argentinean respondents are generally more accepting of
'pre-today' reference with the periphrastic past than their Peninsular counterparts.

The second set of papers in the third section of the volume address issues of
diachronic and synchronic relevance concerning the somewhat enigmatic opposition
in contemporary Spanish between the ''pretérito pluscuamperfecto'' (as in ''había
cantado'') and the ''pretérito anterior'' (as in ''hubo cantado''). Both are roughly
similar to the English past perfect 'had sung' but distinct, among other
reasons, in that the former displays imperfective morphology on the auxiliary
''había'' while the auxiliary for the latter is perfective. The chapter by Álvaro
S. Octavio de Toledo y Huerta and Javier Rodríguez Molina is an extensive
examination of the status of the perfective form - e.g. ''hubo cantado'' - as a
productive structure in the modern grammar. Their approach assumes that there is
indeed a semantic distinction between this form and the more common imperfective
one and, moreover, that a proper treatment of the synchronic distribution of
forms like ''hubo cantado'' must include a detailed picture of their development
in diachrony. More concretely, their analysis of the historical evidence reveals
a gradual pattern of specialization such that in modern varieties this structure
is found primarily in temporal complements introduced by subordinators like
''cuando'' 'when' or ''luego'' 'then'.

The analysis by Luis García Fernández concentrates on the synchronic profile of
the ''hubo cantado'' form, noting that in addition to its opposition with the
''pretérito pluscuamperfecto'' (e.g. ''había cantado'') it also contrasts with the
simple perfective past (e.g. ''canté'' 'I sang'). This three-way contrast, he
maintains, is subject to considerable temporal and aspectual nuance that is not
adequately explained by existing grammars. Working primarily in a
neo-Reichenbachian framework, García Fernández argues that despite some
aspectual overlap vis-à-vis the ''pretérito pluscuamperfecto,'' with which it
shares the ability to express perfective meaning, the distribution of the
''pretérito anterior'' patterns - at least semantically - more like the simple
past. This claim is based on a series of observations that illustrate the
inability of these two forms to express meanings that are aspectually
imperfective, a function reserved exclusively for the ''pretérito pluscuamperfecto.''

The final section of the volume is comprised of three papers ranging across a
variety of different temporal, aspectual, and modal constructions in Romance and
representing various analytic perspectives. Continuing the neo-Reichenbachian
approach echoed throughout the volume, Ana María Bravo provides a summary of the
distribution of the periphrastic 'go' future in Spanish - e.g., ''voy a comer''
'(I) am going to eat'. She outlines two primary points of overlap between the
Spanish 'go' future and other forms of verbal periphrasis treated in the volume.
The first is that the meaning of this form, like its periphrastic past
counterparts, is primarily aspectual, namely ''prospective,'' giving rise to a
number of contextually induced interpretations. Second, Bravo observes that any
temporal meanings that are available with the periphrastic future are available
only in the presence of an explicit modifier, reiterating her claim concerning
the parallelisms with periphrastic past forms like the ''pretérito perfecto
compuesto.'' The contribution by Hamida Demirdache and Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria
addresses the treatment of temporal interpretations of modal verbs in English
and Spanish. Their analysis is based on the minimalist framework developed in
Demirdache and Uribe-Etxebarria (1997) that assumes that functional heads, such
as T(ense), Asp(ect), and M(odal), each introduce a temporal argument into the
syntax which is then interpreted with respect to other temporal arguments via
ordering relations (e.g., precedence or simultaneity). Following the proposal by
Condoravdi (2002), Demirdache and Uribe-Etxebarria demonstrate that the temporal
structures of modals in both English and Spanish are subject to the same
restrictions, mainly related to issues of movement, and moreover that
distinctions between modals in the two languages can be attributed to temporal
features of the Tense projection in Spanish. The paper by Cecilia Poletto
completes the volume with a discussion of issues related to the syntactic
representation of aspect in varieties of Northern Italian (Veneto). The first
section of her paper is devoted to structures that display Terminative or
Completive aspect, which is expressed by the auxiliary in the ''Passé Surcomposé''
(i.e. periphrastic perfective past) or by temporal prepositions in the case of
phrasal verbs. In the latter sections, Poletto explains that the syntactic
representation of Continuous/Progressive aspect is more complex in that it
requires two functional projections necessitating multiple instances of movement.


Taken as a whole, the volume represents a wealth of information on issues
concerning structural and distributional properties of complex verb forms. The
clear neo-Reichenbachian perspective assumed by most of the formal analyses
relates them to a wide range of literature on the syntax and semantics of tense
and aspect cross-linguistically. Indeed, though most of the papers focus
specifically on complex structures in Spanish and English, the appeal and
applicability of these approaches is quite broad. Complementing the selection of
formal analyses are the papers that focus on synchronic and diachronic
distributional patterns of language-specific structures. This is perhaps the
volume's most salient accomplishment: offering a thorough review of relevant
theoretical and functional topics central to our emergent understanding of the
structures that codify temporal properties in natural language.

The papers in this collection each offer not only authoritative assessment of
open questions in the literature but also innovative and compelling answers. The
organization of the volume, however, partially obscures the collective force of
these advancements by failing to provide a cohesive overview that situates each
chapter in the context of the most current developments in the literature. Also,
on both the formal and functional ends of the analytical spectrum, there are a
number of perspectives that are not represented - e.g., current treatments of
tense and aspect in dynamic theories of semantics or typological approaches to
oppositions in the temporal/aspectual domain. While this omission does not
detract from the specific implications of any given analysis, it nevertheless
leaves the reader with the task of determining where to located the 'frontiers'
of this field of inquiry.

As a final, methodological note, the papers in the volume make only sparse use
of 'naturally'-occurring (i.e. corpus) data, with some exceptions. While most of
the analytical traditions assumed by the authors rely principally on constructed
examples as empirical evidence, the broad focus of the volume would suggest that
more attention be provided to language and dialect-specific instantiations of
and deviations from the proposed accounts. The inclusion of this type of data
would enhance the explanatory potential of these proposals.

In sum, despite a general vagueness about the intended group effect of the
individual papers, this collection stands as an invaluable resource for
researchers involved in the study of complex verb forms, both in the Romance
languages and beyond. Readers new to this field should find this volume to be a
useful and accessible guide in navigating current issues concerning the
cross-linguistic expression of tense, aspect, and verbal periphrasis.


Alexiadou, Artemis, Monika Rathert, and Armin von Stechow (eds.). 2003. Perfect
Explorations. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Condoravdi, Cleo. 2002. Temporal interpretations of modals. Modals for the
present and the past. The Construction of meaning, ed. by David Beaver, Luis D.
Casillas Martínez, Brady Z. Clark and Stefan Kaufmann, 59-87. Stanford: CSLI

Demirdache, Hamida and Myrium Uribe-Etxebarria. 1997. The syntax of temporal
relations: a uniform approach to tense and aspect. Proceedings of the Sixteenth
West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics, ed. by Emily Curtis, James Lyle,
and Gabriel Webster, 145-159. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Harris, Martin. 1982. The ''past simple'' and ''present perfect'' in Romance. In
Studies in the Romance verb, ed. by Martin Harris and Nigel Vincent, 42-70.
London: Croom Helm.

Kenstowicz, Michael (ed.). 2001. Ken Hale: A Life in Language. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.

Kiparsky, Paul. 2002. Event structure and the perfect. The construction of
meaning, ed. by David Beaver, Luis D. Casillas Martínez, Brady Z. Clark and
Stefan Kaufmann, 113-135. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Schwenter, Scott A. 1994. The Grammaticalization of an Anterior in Progress:
Evidence from a Peninsular Dialect. Studies in Language 18.71-111.

Dr. Howe is an Assistant Professor in Romance Languages and the Linguistics Program at the University of Georgia. His interests include morphosyntactic variation in the Romance languages and theories of semantic change.

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