LINGUIST List 24.620

Sun Feb 03 2013

Review: Historical Ling.; Morphology: Buchwald-Wargenau (2012)

Editor for this issue: Joseph Salmons <>

Date: 10-Jan-2013
From: Sonja Zeman <>
Subject: Die doppelten Perfektbildungen im Deutschen
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Book announced at

AUTHOR: Isabel Buchwald-WargenauTITLE: Die doppelten Perfektbildungen im DeutschenSUBTITLE: Eine diachrone Untersuchung [Double Forms of the Perfect Tense]SERIES TITLE: De Gruyter Studia Linguistica Germanica 115PUBLISHER: De Gruyter MoutonYEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Sonja Zeman, University of Munich

SUMMARYDouble Perfect Forms (also termed “supercompound/surcomposé past tense forms”;henceforth “DPFs”) are forms composed of an inflected auxiliary, a pastparticiple, and an additional past participle auxiliary. These have often beenconsidered peripheral, but more recently DPFs have attracted increasingcrosslinguistic attention (cf. Litvinov/Radčenko 1998; Thieroff 2004; Ammann2007; Poletto 2009; Saussure/Sthioul 2012). Furthermore, DPFs are regarded asclosely related to the crosslinguistic rise of perfect forms and the 'decay ofpreterit' (cf. Abraham 1999), and are thus linked to broader, yet unsolveddiachronic questions.

Because DPFs are infrequent in texts, the major methodological problem inprevious studies has been a lack of data, especially historically. Thisresearch gap takes center stage in Buchwald-Wargenau's diachronicinvestigation of German DPFs. The study is based on a specifically compiledcorpus -- outlined in Chapter 1 -- covering texts from 1350 to contemporaryGerman, including texts from the so far unpublished “Szeged-Kassel-Corpus”(1650-2000) collected by Vilmos Ágel and Mathilde Hennig. This is noteworthysince those texts are classified with respect to their affinity to the medialopposition of “language of proximity” vs. “language of distance”(“Nähesprache” vs. “Distanzsprache”, cf. Koch/Oesterreicher 1985; Ágel/Hennig(eds.) 2006) and provide a foundation for addressing register variation inDPFs. Based on this new data, the study focuses on three issues: i) thediachronic development of DPFs, ii) the meaning of DPFs, and iii) the textualuse of DPFs with a particular eye on “language of proximity” (p. 3).

With respect to the meaning of DPFs, two main hypotheses are taken as a pointof departure. Based on general considerations on aspectuality and temporality,which rely mainly on functional accounts by Comrie, Bybee et al., and Leiss,Chapter 2 contrasts temporal and aspectual approaches of DPFs. The formerrepresents the predominant view within the descriptive tradition on GermanDPFs and assumes the temporal meaning of “past perfect” and “past pastperfect” (“Vorvorvergangenheit”) as the main function of DPFs. After acritical evaluation of this view, Buchwald-Wargenau discusses theaspect-hypothesis, which, in contrast, regards an additional aspectual featureas the main characteristic of DPFs (cf. Rödel 2007; Topalović 2010).Buchwald-Wargenau abandons the “either (tense) or (aspect) question”(“Entweder (Tempus)-Oder (Aspekt)-Frage”; p. 214) and supports her main thesisthat DPFs have to be captured by interaction of aspectual and temporalmeanings.

This thesis results from an empirical diachronic analysis outlined in chapters3 and 4. Chapter 3 discusses the factors triggering the rise of DPFs. Itrevises the hypothesis that the development of DPFs is directly linked to'decay of preterit in Upper German' (“Oberdeutscher Präteritumschwund”). Inthis respect, DPFs are considered to replace the pluperfect which is also seenas being lost due its preterit auxiliary. However, Buchwald-Wargenau’sempirical findings contradict the description of the rise of DPFs as aconsequence of a causal 'pull-chain' (p. 76). In order to show that thediachronic development of DPFs does not match the course of preterit decay,the following arguments are advanced:

> Double PLUPERFECT forms are already documented in 15th century texts. Thiscontradicts the thesis that DPFs are the consequence of a presumed 'decay ofpluperfect' (p. 64).

> The pluperfect is documented in 17th and 19th century texts alongside DoublePluperfect Forms; given also the latter’s low frequency, this has to be takenas evidence that a systematic compensation of the pluperfect is out of thequestion (p. 68).

> Early examples of DPFs (14th and 16th century) are also documented in MiddleGerman. This can be interpreted as evidence that the DPFs were not restrictedto Upper German (p. 70).

The empirical results thus favor Rödel's 2007 hypothesis (p. 83f.) that therise of DPFs is not directly linked to the 'decay of preterit' but resultsfrom the instability of the German perfect and the general reorganization ofthe verbal categories as the older system of verbal aspect dissolves (cf.Leiss 1992). In order to test this hypothesis, Chapter 4 offers a detailedcorpus analysis of the textual distribution of DPFs, focusing on the followingparameters: opposition main clause vs. subordinate clause, serializationwithin the verbal complex, lexical aspect of the full verb. The results areclassified according to time period (15th to 21th century) and auxiliary('have' vs. 'be'). While for the early centuries only a small range ofexamples (5 to 13 DPFs) is presented, more evidence is found in the 17thcentury (90 DPFs, 18 within the dimension of proximity) and the 20/21thcentury (200 DPFs). The latter is also systematically investigated withrespect to the dimension of “proximity” and “distance” (106). The analysisleads Buchwald-Wargenau to draw the following conclusions:

> In contrast to the general development of perfect constructions, early DPFsshow no formal restrictions with respect to embedding under modal verbs andlexical aspect (p. 161).

> DPFs are prototypically used to denote the textual relation “event --consequence/result” or the temporal sequence of individual events (i.e.“relative” use in Buchwald-Wargenau’s term) (p. 162).

> An “absolute reading” (i.e. without a past reference point given in thecontext) is already attested for the early occurrences of the DPFs (p. 163).

> There is no striking difference with respect to the opposition of auxiliary'be' vs. 'have' (p. 184f.).

Contrasting the overall analysis to those DPFs documented in texts which showan affinity to the language of “proximity”, Buchwald-Wargenau draws attentionto two striking differences: DPFs within the dimension of “proximity” tend tobe used in main clauses (p. 159) and occur more frequently with presentauxiliaries (158). All other investigated parameters, by contrast, seem toremain unaffected by the opposition “language of proximity” vs. “language ofdistance”.

The question of the original basic meaning of the DPFs is addressed in Chapter5. Based on a differentiation between “relative” and “absolute” uses, theindividual occurrences of the DPFs in the corpus are examined with respect totheir temporal and aspectual values. The analysis suggests that aspectual andtemporal meanings of the DPFs have to be regarded as semantic componentsintricately intertwined. In contrast to Rödel 2007 and Topalović 2010, whoassume a process of grammaticalization from a predominantly aspectual verbalcategory to a tense form, Buchwald-Wargenau argues that primary temporalmeanings can be attested already for the very early DPFs (pp. 194f., 203).Rejecting a general “Grundbedeutung” (‘basic meaning’, p. 203), she thusfavors a two-component-analysis whereby the actual meaning of the form has tobe derived from the particular context.

EVALUATIONThis volume’s great merit indisputably lies in the new empirical data, takingalso into account the historical dimension and diastratic variation, i.e. theregional distribution of DPFs and the distinction between “language ofproximity” and “language of distance”. Most notably, the appendix containingthe whole audit trail will be of great value for subsequent studies. In thisrespect, the volume speaks to the interests of linguists concerned withgrammaticalization and language change as well as sociolinguistics. Concerningthe theoretical aims set at the beginning of the investigation, some criticalremarks are still in order, addressing the three main aspects of the study:

First, with respect to the diachronic development of DPFs, the empiricalanalysis shows convincingly that the rise of DPFs is only indirectly linked tothe 'decay of preterite'. The attested coexistence of pluperfect and DPFswithin the same sentences show in this respect that DPFs cannot be assumed tocompensate for the pluperfect. The question of what distinguishes the semanticstructures of the pluperfect and DPFs, however, is left open. In order toexamine to what extent DPFs may be analyzed as a strategy to compensate theloss of aspectual markers (p. 94f.), the degree of grammaticalization of theperfect construction and the aspectual value of the ‘ge’-prefix in the 15thcentury are taken into account, however without leading to clear conclusions(p. 104). This seems unsurprising given that the aspect system is only arelict system in Middle High German. Instead, the earlier restructuringprocesses in the temporal domain are neglected. A look at the diachronicdevelopment of perfect constructions and their oscillation between temporaland aspectual values, however, would have been necessary background forintegrating the rise of DPFs in the general reorganization of the verbalsystem, as well as for the evaluation of the grammaticalization of complextense forms.

Second, rejecting a unified “Grundbedeutung”, Buchwald-Wargenau argues for atwo-component-analysis which integrates aspectual and temporal values wherebythe particular meaning has to be derived from the actual context. Regardingthe biphasicness of perfect constructions, semantic ambiguity betweenaspectual and temporal values seems unsurprising (cf. also Saussure/Sthioul2012: 592). This is also pointed out by Rödel 2007, who claims that DPFs -- inhis analysis an extension mechanism which operates upon a perfect construction-- has to be seen as a “combination of temporal and aspectual meaning” (Rödel2007: 178). A similar proposal is put forward by Poletto 2009 (not cited inBuchwald-Wargenau), who sees the characteristic meaning of the DPFs in an“additional aspectual feature” (Poletto 2009: 48). Since similar ambiguityholds for the pluperfect in the older stages of German (cf. Zeman 2010), theassumption of a linear grammaticalization process from aspect to tense seemsunlikely for complex tense forms.

Third, concerning register variation of DPFs, the methodological approach(i.e. taking all tense forms as “proximate” which are documented in textsvalidated as “language of proximity”) seems questionable as it does notexplain the most striking result, namely the complementary distribution ofDouble Perfect Forms vs. Double Pluperfect Forms in 20th/21th century texts(146f.). This result is conspicuously analogous to the empirical findings inZeman 2010, showing that the main factor triggering the textual distributionin Middle High German is not linked to the multi-factor dimension of “oral”vs. “written” resp. “language of proximity” vs. “language of distance”, but todifferent discourse modes (cf. Smith 2003). A short glance at DPFs in theappendix reveals that the same explanation also seems to hold for thedistribution of early DPFs in the 15th century: the Double PLUPERFECT Formsare used in narrative, the Double PERFECT Forms in reportive discourse mode,where the latter has a natural affinity to the “dimension of proximity” but isnot linked to it directly (cf. Zeman 2010). In this respect, the short glanceat the appendix also reveals that Buchwald-Wargenau’s data can be of greatvalue for further investigations of DPFs.

Overall, the book fills an important research gap as DPFs have not beenempirically investigated diachronically until now. As the main methodologicaldifficulty has been the rarity of examples of DPFs, the supply of empiricaldata is not to be underestimated for its value to further studies. In sum, thevolume thus cannot solve the general puzzles linked with DPFs, but it offers awide range of material for addressing them in subsequent investigations.

REFERENCESAbraham, Werner. 1999. Preterite Decay as a European Areal Phenomenon. InFolia Linguistica 33/1, 11--18.

Ágel, Vilmos / Hennig, Mathilde. Eds. 2006. Grammatik aus Nähe und Distanz.Theorie und Praxis am Beispiel von Nähetexten 1650-2000. Tübingen: Niemeyer.

Ammann, Andreas. 2007. The fate of ‘redundant’ verbal forms -- Double perfectconstructions in the languages of Europe. In Sprachtypologie undUniversalienforschung 60/3, 186--204.

Koch, Peter / Oesterreicher, Wulf. 1985. Sprache der Nähe -- Sprache derDistanz. Mündlichkeit und Schriftlichkeit im Spannungsfeld von Sprachtheorieund Sprachgeschichte. In Romanistisches Jahrbuch 36, 15--43.

Leiss, Elisabeth. 1992. Die Verbalkategorien des Deutschen: Ein Beitrag zurTheorie der sprachlichen Kategorisierung. Berlin / New York: de Gruyter[Studia Linguistica Germanica; 31].

Litvinov, Viktor P. / Radčenko, Vladimir I. 1998. Doppelte Perfektbildungen inder deutschen Literatursprache. Tübingen: Stauffenburg [Studien zur deutschenGrammatik; 55].

Poletto, Cecilia. 2009. Double auxiliaries, anteriority and terminativity. InJournal of Comparative Germanic Linguistics 12/1, 31--48.

Rödel, Michael. 2007. Doppelte Perfektbildungen und die Organisation vonTempus im Deutschen. Tübingen: Stauffenburg [Studien zur deutschen Grammatik;74].

Saussure, Louis de / Sthioul, Bertrand. 2012. The Surcomposé Past Tense. InBinnick, Robert I. (ed.), The Oxford handbook of tense and aspect. Oxford /New York: Oxford University Press, 586--610.

Smith, Carlota. 2003. Modes of discourse. The local structure of texts.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press [Cambridge studies in linguistics; 103].

Thieroff, Rolf. 2004. Inherent verb categories and categorizations in Europeanlanguages. In Thieroff, Rolf / Ballweg, Joachim (eds.), Tense and aspectsystems in European languages. Tübingen: Niemeyer, 3--45.

Topalović, Elvira. 2010. Perfekt II und Plusquamperfekt II: Zur historischenKontinuität doppelter Perfektbildungen im Deutschen. In Moulin, Claudine /Ravida, Fausto / Ruge, Nikolaus (eds.), Sprache in der Stadt. Akten der 25.Tagung des Internationalen Arbeitskreises Historische Stadtsprachenforschung,Luxemburg 11.-13. Oktober 2007. Heidelberg: Winter, 165--199.

Zeman, Sonja. 2010. Tempus und “Mündlichkeit” im Mittelhochdeutschen. ZurInterdependenz grammatischer Perspektivensetzung und “HistorischerMündlichkeit” im mittelhochdeutschen Tempussystem. Berlin / New York: deGruyter [Studia Linguistica Germanica; 102].

ABOUT THE REVIEWERSonja Zeman is assistant professor in the German Linguistics department at LMUMunich. Her research interests include grammaticalization and language change,verbal categories, tense semantics, orality, and narrativity. Currently, sheis working on phenomena of perspectivization from a diachronic perspective.

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