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EDITORS: Musan, Renate and Monika Rathert TITLE: Tense across Languages SERIES TITLE: Linguistische Arbeiten 541 PUBLISHER: De Gruyter YEAR: 2011
Celeste Rodríguez Louro, University of Western Australia
SUMMARY “Tense across languages” offers a fresh look at the multifaceted category of tense ‘from different perspectives, across languages as well as across phenomena’ (page 1). This diversity is clearly reflected in the volume’s tripartite concern with tense as it relates to mood and modality (Part A), typological variation (Part B), and tenseless languages (Part C). To this end, editors Renate Musan and Monika Rathert bring together ten papers that offer formal semantic and typological treatments of tense in distinct structural, geographical and methodological contexts. The breadth and depth of the discussions presented in the volume make this work an exacting addition to previous treatments on the semantics and typology of tense (e.g., Comrie 1985; Dahl 1985; Bybee & Dahl 1989; Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca 1994; Klein 1994).
The volume -- based on talks presented at the “Tense across languages” workshop organized for the annual meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Sprachwissenschaft at Bamberg University in February 2008 -- begins with a to-the-point introduction by Musan and Rathert and is then presented to the reader in three parts. In Part A, “Tense, Mood and Modality”, Eva-Maria Remberger deals with “Tense and Volitionality”, Magdalena Schwager investigates “Imperatives and Tense” and Anastasia Giannakidou discusses “(Non)veridicality and Mood Choice in relation to the Subjunctive, Polarity and Time”. Part B, “Understudied Tense Phenomena and Typological Variation”, features work by Cheng-Fu Chen who deals with “Use and Temporal Interpretation of the Rukai Future Tense”, Julia Landgraf and her study of “Tense in the Scottish Gaelic Verbal System” and Michael Rödel, who explores “New Perspectives on Double Perfect Constructions in German”. The volume concludes with Part C, “Tense in Tenseless Languages and Sequence-of-Tense Phenomena”, and includes work by Maria Bittner – “Time and Modality without Tenses or Modals” -- , Katharina Haude and her treatment of “Tense Marking on Dependent Nominals in Movima”, Judith Tonhauser and her examination of the “Paraguayan Guaraní Future Marker -ta”, and Hamida Demirdache and Oana Lungu who tackle “Zero-Tense versus Indexical Construals of the Present in French L1”.
The three chapters in Part A revolve around the polyfunctionality of verbs and their potential to express tense and modality (e.g., in HE WILL RUN the verb phrase encodes a future event [tense] as well as the likelihood that this event will transpire [epistemic modality]). In the first paper, Eva-Maria Remberger investigates—adopting a compositional analysis—different kinds of shift phenomena related to tense in general and to the time-relational organization of volitional modal constructions in particular. The latter constructions are largely represented by the modal verb WANT (in various languages), which displays a set of properties that clearly sets it apart from other modal verbs. Amongst the many special characteristics of WANT, Remberger focuses on its potential to grammaticalise as modals evolve into markers of futurity (Bybee et al. 1994: 310-311; Heine & Kuteva 2002). This process, the author remarks, takes place in Romanian, Greek and English with the evidential representation of WANT restricted to specific time-relational configurations in German. The second paper of Part A, by Magdalena Schwager, investigates the relationship between Imperatives and Tense, referring from the outset to the multifunctionality of imperatives (including the speech acts of giving advice, expressing wishes or curses, and giving permission) and claiming that ‘a standard semantics for imperatives has not yet been established’ (page 37). The argument that ensues -- based partly on Schwager’s 2006 dissertation -- is that a satisfactory semantic account of imperatives needs to explicitly represent temporality at the level of recursive semantics since imperatives used to give advice and express wishes are flexible in their temporal orientation (i.e., unlike commands, they are not strictly future-oriented). This future orientation is further compromised in the presence of quantificational adverbials. Schwager thus proposes a general analysis including modalised propositions that is able to account for interaction with temporal adverbials, temporal qualification, and German present perfect morphology. Relying mostly on German and English for illustration, Schwager also argues her points by mentioning Dutch and North American Indian languages such as Cheyenne. The last paper in Part A is by Anastasia Giannakidou and explores the lexical parameters determining the choice of the subjunctive in Greek. Giannakidou argues that sensitivity to nonveridicality is grammatically expressed via mood selection, mood triggering and NPI (negative polarity item) licensing. The relationship between these is presented as an implicational one: if, like English, a language has no mood distinctions, NPI licensing is to be expected. Conversely, in languages like Greek, mood selection, mood triggering and NPI licensing are likely.
The three contributions in Part B tackle typological variation concerning underexplored tense phenomena. This section opens with Cheng-Fu Chen’s treatment of the future tense in Rukai, an Austronesian language spoken in the southern and southeastern areas of Taiwan, including the Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Taitung counties. The Rukai tribe is made up of three branches, together speaking six dialects and Chen focuses on the Budai dialect. Chen analyzes the interaction of the Rukai future marker with negation, aspectual markers and modals to argue that the future marker in a future/non-future system can be a real tense. Indeed, Chen’s position is that the Rukai future conveys an intrinsic temporal relation of posteriority that involves a given reference time (Reichenbach 1947) and that -- in embedded constructions -- where the reference time may or may not be anchored to the speech time, the future behaves like a relative tense (Comrie 1985). The Rukai future also occurs with morphologically realised modals, which serves to specify finer modal distinctions, with the future establishing a mere temporal relation. Chen suggests a compositional analysis since Rukai provides empirical support for a separation between future and modality in the domain of morphosyntax. Julia Landgraf, in the second chapter in Part B, tackles tense in the Scottish Gaelic verbal system. Unlike other languages and with the exception of the copula/auxiliary configuration, Scottish Gaelic does not feature a simple present tense and the present progressive (employed in a strictly progressive sense) and the future tense are used to express present time. Interestingly, the future tense is also used with a habitual or historical present time reference value (cf. Wolfson 1982 on the use of the historical present in narratives). Given this, while the present tense is used in languages like English, French, Spanish and German to encode futurity (e.g., John ARRIVES tomorrow at 10pm), the opposite is true of Scottish Gaelic where the future tense expresses present time. In the last section Landgraf tackles the three main modal verb categories in Scottish Gaelic: the independent, dependent and relative forms. The dependent form is only used when particles indicating specific polarity types are present. Interestingly, rather than tense, it is the distinction between dependence and independence that is marked morphologically on the verb. The last chapter of Part B by Michael Rödel examines double perfect constructions in German, which he labels ‘a typical phenomenon of the substandard’ (page 127). Rödel suggests that a compositional temporal analysis cannot account for these constructions, adding that, instead, aspect plays a crucial role. Rödel ponders the advisability of posing two different double perfect categories: constructions with GEHABT and constructions with GEWESEN. The author also asks whether German might need more than a single category for the perfect in line with the HABEN-perfect/resultative division already posited by some linguists.
Part C features four chapters on tenseless languages and sequence-of-tense phenomena. The first chapter by Maria Bittner tackles time and modality in the absence of tenses or modals, or in the author’s words ‘anaphoric tenses and anaphoric modals’, asking what semantic universals are. The comparative analysis draws on English (a language that marks verbs for tense) and Kalaallisut (a tenseless language spoken in Greenland that marks verbs for illocutionary mood). Bittner contends that -- despite the absence of grammaticalised tense in Kalaallisut -- the language uses mood to express temporal relations akin to those encoded via grammaticalised tense in English. Formal compositional semantics is presented in support for the relevant structures in both languages. The second paper in Part C is by Katharina Haude who deals with tense marking on dependent nominals in the endangered, unclassified Bolivian language Movima. Movima is shown to display what, from a functional perspective, Nordlinger and Sadler (2004) label ‘nominal tense marking’. That is, relevant semantic distinctions -- including non-past, recent past and past -- are expressed not by marking on the verb but, crucially, by prenominal articles. Based on this, Haude contends that the function of the article has moved from merely indicating the location and existence of the nominal referent to signaling the relation between the event time and the time of speaking. The third chapter in Part C, by Judith Tonhauser, examines the future marker -ta in the variety of Guaraní spoken in Paraguay, adopting a formal semantic and cross-linguistic perspective. The main contention in this paper is that Paraguayan Guaraní -ta expresses future time reference in present and past contexts and that it is compatible with the modal nuances of intention and prediction. A cross-linguistic comparison using English and St’át’imcets (spoken in British Columbia, Canada) is offered at the end. The comparison between English WILL/WOULD and St’át’imcets KELH reveals that the meaning of Guaraní -ta is the most restrictive (unlike WILL/WOULD, -ta expresses future time reference and is only compatible with intention and prediction; unlike KELH, -ta only has universal quantificational force). Part C -- and the volume -- finishes with Hamida Demirdache’s and Oana Lungu’s examination of the opposition between zero tense and indexical construals of the present in L1 French. Based on findings from an experimental study conducted in Nantes with 14 five to seven year-old monolingual French children, the authors argue that -- like adult Japanese speakers (Ogihara 1996) and unlike adult French speakers -- French children have an indexical present and a tenseless or zero present. The authors’ contentions are supported by scopal analysis of tense in relative clauses and by the ‘observation of isomorphism’; that is, the claim that children show a strong bias for surface scope interpretations.
EVALUATION In line with the editors’ aim to explore tense ‘from different perspectives, across languages as well as across phenomena’ (page 1), the volume offers a wealth of innovative treatments in relation to unexplored grammatical topics (‘nominal tense’ in Movima) as well as structures previously dealt with in the literature but for which fresh approaches were sorely needed (double perfect constructions in German). The editors bring together valuable innovative treatments of crucial semantic and typological issues in the study of tense, pointing out how this research helps understand cross-linguistic variation and throw light on aspects of human cognition.
The papers in this collection offer expert review of the relevant literature, critical assessment of previous work and original ways to tackle the various relevant issues. However, the organization of the volume partially obscures the general strength of the work. For example, as noted by the majority of the authors themselves, modality is generally irreversibly linked to tense (cf. the future and epistemic readings of English WILL mentioned above). While only Part A is named such that it explicitly deals with the relationship between “Tense, Mood and Modality”, other chapters in the book also relate to this general topic (e.g., Bittner’s treatment of time and modality in Part C).Closer attention could also have been paid to formatting, both typographical (e.g., missing closing parenthesis in the last paragraph of page 59, after ‘resist embedding’) and regarding consistency in referencing style (e.g., Heine and Kuteva 2002 appears as Heine and Kuteva 2000 on page 22).
On a (final) methodological note and despite the inclusion of a wide array of structural phenomena common in spontaneous, everyday language -- with some exceptions -- the research reported on here makes little use of naturalistic, interactional data (e.g., Landgraf’s data are created by the author and ‘approved’ by native Gaelic speakers; Demirdache and Lungu rely on experimental data with children). When corpora are exploited (cf. Tonhauser’s chapter), little information is provided on the nature of the data (i.e., what kinds of ‘texts’ were used to create the corpus?; how many speakers were recorded?; how many words does the corpus consist of?). As a result, claims about ‘what is (im)possible’ in language (page 229) should be treated with care. An alternative way to view this, however, is to acknowledge that variety in the use of different types of data allows us to understand diverse tense phenomena in diverse contexts across languages, turning potential criticism into a major asset.
All in all, despite the issues raised above, scholars and students interested in the semantics and typology of tense should find the volume of great interest. The original work compiled here offers an exciting addition to previous semantic and typological treatments of tense (and modality) cross linguistically. Both empirically and theoretically, “Tense across languages” opens up many avenues for further research. Indeed, much remains to be charted and the present volume is a valuable contribution in the right direction.
REFERENCES Bybee, Joan & Östen Dahl. 1989. The creation of tense and aspect systems in the languages of the world. Studies in Language 13(1): 51-103.
Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins & William Pagliuca. 1994. The evolution of grammar: The grammaticalization of tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Comrie, Bernard. 1985. Tense. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and aspect systems. New York: Basil Blackwell.
Heine, Bernd & Tania Kuteva. 2002. World lexicon of grammaticalization. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Klein, Wolfgang. 1994. Time in language. London and New York: Routledge.
Nordlinger, Rachel & Louisa Sadler. 2004. Nominal tense marking in cross-linguistic perspective. Language 80: 776-806.
Ogihara, Toshiyuki. 1996. Tense, attitudes and scope. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Reichenbach, Hans. 1947. Elements of symbolic logic. New York: Macmillan.
Schwager, Magdalena. 2006. Interpreting imperatives. University of Frankfurt/Main: Ph.D. Dissertation.
Wolfson, Nessa. 1982. The conversational historical present in American English narrative. Dordrecht: Foris.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Celeste Rodríguez Louro is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the
University of Western Australia. Her interests include synchronic and
diachronic morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic variation and change in
Romance and English, grammaticalisation, and language attitudes.