LINGUIST List 23.2360

Thu May 17 2012

Review: Linguistic Theories; Morphology; Syntax: Musan & Rathert (2011)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <jsalmonslinguistlist.org>



Date: 17-May-2012
From: Celeste Rodriguez Louro <celeste.rodriguezlourouwa.edu.au>
Subject: Tense across Languages
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Announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/22/22-4854.html

EDITORS: Musan, Renate and Monika RathertTITLE: Tense across LanguagesSERIES TITLE: Linguistische Arbeiten 541PUBLISHER: De GruyterYEAR: 2011

Celeste Rodríguez Louro, University of Western Australia

SUMMARY"Tense across languages" offers a fresh look at the multifaceted category oftense 'from different perspectives, across languages as well as acrossphenomena' (page 1). This diversity is clearly reflected in the volume'stripartite 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 offerformal semantic and typological treatments of tense in distinct structural,geographical and methodological contexts. The breadth and depth of thediscussions presented in the volume make this work an exacting addition toprevious 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" workshoporganized for the annual meeting of the Deutsche Gesellschaft fürSprachwissenschaft at Bamberg University in February 2008 -- begins with ato-the-point introduction by Musan and Rathert and is then presented to thereader in three parts. In Part A, "Tense, Mood and Modality", Eva-MariaRemberger deals with "Tense and Volitionality", Magdalena Schwager investigates"Imperatives and Tense" and Anastasia Giannakidou discusses "(Non)veridicalityand Mood Choice in relation to the Subjunctive, Polarity and Time". Part B,"Understudied Tense Phenomena and Typological Variation", features work byCheng-Fu Chen who deals with "Use and Temporal Interpretation of the RukaiFuture Tense", Julia Landgraf and her study of "Tense in the Scottish GaelicVerbal System" and Michael Rödel, who explores "New Perspectives on DoublePerfect Constructions in German". The volume concludes with Part C, "Tense inTenseless Languages and Sequence-of-Tense Phenomena", and includes work by MariaBittner - "Time and Modality without Tenses or Modals" -- , Katharina Haude andher treatment of "Tense Marking on Dependent Nominals in Movima", JudithTonhauser and her examination of the "Paraguayan Guaraní Future Marker -ta", andHamida Demirdache and Oana Lungu who tackle "Zero-Tense versus IndexicalConstruals of the Present in French L1".

The three chapters in Part A revolve around the polyfunctionality of verbs andtheir potential to express tense and modality (e.g., in HE WILL RUN the verbphrase encodes a future event [tense] as well as the likelihood that this eventwill transpire [epistemic modality]). In the first paper, Eva-Maria Rembergerinvestigates—adopting a compositional analysis—different kinds of shiftphenomena related to tense in general and to the time-relational organization ofvolitional modal constructions in particular. The latter constructions arelargely represented by the modal verb WANT (in various languages), whichdisplays a set of properties that clearly sets it apart from other modal verbs.Amongst the many special characteristics of WANT, Remberger focuses on itspotential to grammaticalise as modals evolve into markers of futurity (Bybee etal. 1994: 310-311; Heine & Kuteva 2002). This process, the author remarks, takesplace in Romanian, Greek and English with the evidential representation of WANTrestricted to specific time-relational configurations in German. The secondpaper of Part A, by Magdalena Schwager, investigates the relationship betweenImperatives and Tense, referring from the outset to the multifunctionality ofimperatives (including the speech acts of giving advice, expressing wishes orcurses, and giving permission) and claiming that 'a standard semantics forimperatives has not yet been established' (page 37). The argument that ensues --based partly on Schwager's 2006 dissertation -- is that a satisfactory semanticaccount of imperatives needs to explicitly represent temporality at the level ofrecursive semantics since imperatives used to give advice and express wishes areflexible in their temporal orientation (i.e., unlike commands, they are notstrictly future-oriented). This future orientation is further compromised in thepresence of quantificational adverbials. Schwager thus proposes a generalanalysis including modalised propositions that is able to account forinteraction with temporal adverbials, temporal qualification, and German presentperfect morphology. Relying mostly on German and English for illustration,Schwager also argues her points by mentioning Dutch and North American Indianlanguages such as Cheyenne. The last paper in Part A is by Anastasia Giannakidouand explores the lexical parameters determining the choice of the subjunctive inGreek. Giannakidou argues that sensitivity to nonveridicality is grammaticallyexpressed 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 beexpected. Conversely, in languages like Greek, mood selection, mood triggeringand NPI licensing are likely.

The three contributions in Part B tackle typological variation concerningunderexplored tense phenomena. This section opens with Cheng-Fu Chen's treatmentof the future tense in Rukai, an Austronesian language spoken in the southernand southeastern areas of Taiwan, including the Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Taitungcounties. The Rukai tribe is made up of three branches, together speaking sixdialects and Chen focuses on the Budai dialect. Chen analyzes the interaction ofthe Rukai future marker with negation, aspectual markers and modals to arguethat 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 temporalrelation of posteriority that involves a given reference time (Reichenbach 1947)and that -- in embedded constructions -- where the reference time may or may notbe anchored to the speech time, the future behaves like a relative tense (Comrie1985). The Rukai future also occurs with morphologically realised modals, whichserves to specify finer modal distinctions, with the future establishing a meretemporal relation. Chen suggests a compositional analysis since Rukai providesempirical support for a separation between future and modality in the domain ofmorphosyntax. Julia Landgraf, in the second chapter in Part B, tackles tense inthe Scottish Gaelic verbal system. Unlike other languages and with the exceptionof the copula/auxiliary configuration, Scottish Gaelic does not feature a simplepresent tense and the present progressive (employed in a strictly progressivesense) and the future tense are used to express present time. Interestingly, thefuture tense is also used with a habitual or historical present time referencevalue (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), theopposite is true of Scottish Gaelic where the future tense expresses presenttime. In the last section Landgraf tackles the three main modal verb categoriesin Scottish Gaelic: the independent, dependent and relative forms. The dependentform is only used when particles indicating specific polarity types are present.Interestingly, rather than tense, it is the distinction between dependence andindependence that is marked morphologically on the verb. The last chapter ofPart B by Michael Rödel examines double perfect constructions in German, whichhe labels 'a typical phenomenon of the substandard' (page 127). Rödel suggeststhat a compositional temporal analysis cannot account for these constructions,adding that, instead, aspect plays a crucial role. Rödel ponders theadvisability of posing two different double perfect categories: constructionswith GEHABT and constructions with GEWESEN. The author also asks whether Germanmight need more than a single category for the perfect in line with theHABEN-perfect/resultative division already posited by some linguists.

Part C features four chapters on tenseless languages and sequence-of-tensephenomena. The first chapter by Maria Bittner tackles time and modality in theabsence of tenses or modals, or in the author's words 'anaphoric tenses andanaphoric modals', asking what semantic universals are. The comparative analysisdraws on English (a language that marks verbs for tense) and Kalaallisut (atenseless language spoken in Greenland that marks verbs for illocutionary mood).Bittner contends that -- despite the absence of grammaticalised tense inKalaallisut -- the language uses mood to express temporal relations akin tothose encoded via grammaticalised tense in English. Formal compositionalsemantics 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 ondependent nominals in the endangered, unclassified Bolivian language Movima.Movima is shown to display what, from a functional perspective, Nordlinger andSadler (2004) label 'nominal tense marking'. That is, relevant semanticdistinctions -- including non-past, recent past and past -- are expressed not bymarking on the verb but, crucially, by prenominal articles. Based on this, Haudecontends that the function of the article has moved from merely indicating thelocation and existence of the nominal referent to signaling the relation betweenthe event time and the time of speaking. The third chapter in Part C, by JudithTonhauser, examines the future marker -ta in the variety of Guaraní spoken inParaguay, adopting a formal semantic and cross-linguistic perspective. The maincontention in this paper is that Paraguayan Guaraní -ta expresses future timereference in present and past contexts and that it is compatible with the modalnuances of intention and prediction. A cross-linguistic comparison using Englishand St'át'imcets (spoken in British Columbia, Canada) is offered at the end. Thecomparison between English WILL/WOULD and St'át'imcets KELH reveals that themeaning of Guaraní -ta is the most restrictive (unlike WILL/WOULD, -ta expressesfuture time reference and is only compatible with intention and prediction;unlike KELH, -ta only has universal quantificational force). Part C -- and thevolume -- finishes with Hamida Demirdache's and Oana Lungu's examination of theopposition between zero tense and indexical construals of the present in L1French. Based on findings from an experimental study conducted in Nantes with 14five 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. Theauthors' contentions are supported by scopal analysis of tense in relativeclauses and by the 'observation of isomorphism'; that is, the claim thatchildren show a strong bias for surface scope interpretations.

EVALUATIONIn line with the editors' aim to explore tense 'from different perspectives,across languages as well as across phenomena' (page 1), the volume offers awealth of innovative treatments in relation to unexplored grammatical topics('nominal tense' in Movima) as well as structures previously dealt with in theliterature but for which fresh approaches were sorely needed (double perfectconstructions in German). The editors bring together valuable innovativetreatments of crucial semantic and typological issues in the study of tense,pointing out how this research helps understand cross-linguistic variation andthrow 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 variousrelevant issues. However, the organization of the volume partially obscures thegeneral strength of the work. For example, as noted by the majority of theauthors themselves, modality is generally irreversibly linked to tense (cf. thefuture and epistemic readings of English WILL mentioned above). While only PartA 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 attentioncould also have been paid to formatting, both typographical (e.g., missingclosing parenthesis in the last paragraph of page 59, after 'resist embedding')and regarding consistency in referencing style (e.g., Heine and Kuteva 2002appears as Heine and Kuteva 2000 on page 22).

On a (final) methodological note and despite the inclusion of a wide array ofstructural phenomena common in spontaneous, everyday language -- with someexceptions -- 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 experimentaldata 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?; howmany 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 alternativeway to view this, however, is to acknowledge that variety in the use ofdifferent types of data allows us to understand diverse tense phenomena indiverse contexts across languages, turning potential criticism into a major asset.

All in all, despite the issues raised above, scholars and students interested inthe semantics and typology of tense should find the volume of great interest.The original work compiled here offers an exciting addition to previous semanticand typological treatments of tense (and modality) cross linguistically. Bothempirically and theoretically, "Tense across languages" opens up many avenuesfor further research. Indeed, much remains to be charted and the present volumeis a valuable contribution in the right direction.

REFERENCESBybee, Joan & Östen Dahl. 1989. The creation of tense and aspect systems in thelanguages 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 theworld. 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 incross-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 ofFrankfurt/Main: Ph.D. Dissertation.

Wolfson, Nessa. 1982. The conversational historical present in American Englishnarrative. Dordrecht: Foris.

ABOUT THE REVIEWERCeleste Rodríguez Louro is Assistant Professor of Linguistics at theUniversity of Western Australia. Her interests include synchronic anddiachronic morphosyntactic and discourse-pragmatic variation and change inRomance and English, grammaticalisation, and language attitudes.

Page Updated: 17-May-2012