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Review of  Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax

Reviewer: Alexandra Galani
Book Title: Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax
Book Author: Alessandra Giorgi Fabio Pianesi
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Language Family(ies): Germanic
Issue Number: 14.2340

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Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2003 02:18:21 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Tense and Aspect: From Semantics to Morphosyntax

Giorgi, Alessandra and Fabio, Pianesi (1997) Tense and Aspect: From
Semantics to Morphosyntax, Oxford University Press, Oxford Studies in
Comparative Syntax.

Alexandra Galani, Department of Language and Linguistic Science,
University of York, England.


This book investigates the interpretation of tense and aspect on the
basis of the interaction between morphosyntax and semantics. The authors
adopt Chomsky's (1995) minimalist framework in an attempt to provide
theoretical explanations for the variety of the morphosyntactic
distribution and interpretation of tense and aspect in the Romance and
Germanic languages. Specifically, the authors are interested in answering
the following questions: how the semantics are expressed in morphemes,
how this interface is governed, how children acquire the temporal and
aspectual system of a language and how language variation is interpreted.
They pay attention to issues concerning morphology and word order as well
as issues related to tense, aspect, and sequence of tense. The
Reichenbachian (1947) approach to semantics also plays an important role
to the ideas they are developing.

The book is divided into six chapters in addition to the introduction
(pp.xiii-xv), appendixes of the symbols used (pp.xi-xii), author
(pp.304-307) and subject (pp.308-319) indexes which are also available.


A fairly clear introduction of the general aim of the book and the
framework followed, are given in the introduction.

Chapter 1: The Syntactic and Semantic Background

The first chapter is devoted to the syntactic and semantic background
under which this work is formulated. The authors briefly sketch the
Split-Infl hypothesis, Chomsky's minimalist approach, they make a short
reference to phrase structure, syncretic categories, the feature
scattering principle, sentential operators, temporal entities and events.
They present some arguments in favour of the referential approach to the
representation of tenses and they also pay attention to syncretic and
hybrid categories.

Chapter 2: On the Italian, Latin, and Portuguese Temporal Systems

In the second chapter, the authors look at the Italian, Latin and
Portuguese temporal systems. They also discuss the assignment of
nominative case, whereas the etymology of the Latin pluperfect and future
perfect is looked at in the appendix. The aim is to provide evidence for
the neo-Reichebachian theory of tense they are arguing for. The
comparison of the above systems shows that their account correctly
predicts the presence or the absence of auxiliaries even in languages
which differ minimally from each other in relation to the way tenses are
morphologically spelled-out.

Chapter 3: The Present Perfect in Germanic and Romance

In this chapter, Giorgi and Pianesi expand their theory to the present
perfect in the Germanic and Romance languages. Some of the main issues
discussed here, are the following: the morphosyntax of the English verbal
system, the present perfect in Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic,
German and Dutch, the position of negation, English modals, the present
perfect puzzle, the simple past and the present perfect in Italian. The
second part of this chapter deals with the semantics of the present
perfect; notion of consequent state, compositional semantics for
synthetic and analytic perfects, argumental status of temporal
adverbials. In the final section of the chapter, the present perfect in
Spanish, Catalan and Portuguese is discussed. A short reference to the
present perfect in Catanese and Vicentino is made in the appendix. They
highly argue in favour of the existence of temporal arguments in the
thematic grid of predicates they are proposing.

Chapter 4: The Present and Imperfect in Germanic and Romance

The theory is applied to the present tense in the Romance and Germanic
languages as well as to the present-in-the-past interpretation of
embedded predicates. They claim that punctuality is the property of
anchoring events. The focus of this chapter lies on aspectual facts. The
main issues relate to the structure of events, notion of punctuality,
properties of the speech event, present tense, perfectivity and Italian

Chapter 5: On the Semantics and Morphosyntax of the Italian Subjunctive

In the fifth chapter, the semantics of subjunctive, mood and modality,
mood in subordinate clauses, factive predicates, the morphosyntax of the
Italian subjunctive, syncretic categories, the feature scattering
principle and conditionals are the main topics of discussion.

Chapter 6: The Double Accessibility Reading in Italian and English

In the final chapter, the double accessibility reading and the property
of the present tense in embedded clauses, are discussed. Evidence for the
claims made, is drawn from Italian and English.


As a whole, the book is well-organised and coherent. The theoretical
points are generally well-supported and illustrated by good
exemplification throughout the book. There are few cases where a closer
look to and some additional discussion of some of the examples are
necessary for the reader's better understanding. A general problem of
most of the examples is that the glosses are either not provided or they
are not particularly detailed.

The chapters are generally well-organised and equally presented.
Nevertheless, the length of the third chapter in addition to the variety
of issues covered makes the comprehension fairly hard. At several points,
and especially in short sections- the discussion could have been
expanded/implemented. As it stands, it gives a feeling of incompletiness
and the discussion does not seem to be linked to the remaining sections.
The frequent concluding remarks are particularly welcomed.

Alternative analyses are also highlighted in some cases where possible,
although complete and detailed arguments are not offered.

Cross-referencing is well managed, there are no major misprints, the
subject and author indexes are complete. Only a couple of symbols
abbreviations (for example, CHL) are missing from the symbols appendix.

I would want this review to be based on the arguments the authors are
making for the data presented. Driving away from any personal beliefs, I
believe that this book provides useful arguments for the
morphosyntactic-semantic interface of tense and aspect.


Chomsky, N. (1995). The minimalist programme. MIT Press, Cambridge,
Reichenbach, H. (1947). Elements of symbolic language. MacMillan, New

ABOUT THE REVIEWER Alexandra Galani is a PhD student at the Department of Language and Linguistic Science at the University of York, UK. She is currently working on the morphosyntax of tense and aspect in Modern Greek within the theoretical framework of Distributed Morphology.