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Review of  Mood in the Languages of Europe

Reviewer: Anastasios Tsangalidis
Book Title: Mood in the Languages of Europe
Book Author: Björn Rothstein Rolf Thieroff
Publisher: John Benjamins
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Issue Number: 23.3959

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EDITORS: Björn Rothstein and Rolf Thieroff
TITLE: Mood in the Languages of Europe
SERIES TITLE: Studies in Language Companion Series 120
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins
YEAR: 2010

Anastasios Tsangalidis, Department of Theoretical and Applied Linguistics,
School of English, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki

The volume begins with a very short Preface (signed by both editors) and an
introductory chapter (titled “Moods, moods, moods”, contributed by the second
editor) followed by 33 chapters on Mood in different languages. Most chapters
discuss a single language (though a small number refer to two closely related
languages -- thus a total of 36 languages are described). The languages are
grouped and presented in eight parts, as Germanic, Romance, Celtic, Slavic,
Baltic, Other Indo-European, Finno-Ugric and Other European languages. One might
have expected an introductory (or concluding) section summarizing the features
shared by languages in each group -- and this would also justify the groupings.
As the volume stands, there are only some pertinent generalizations in the
introductory chapter, e.g. when the Germanic languages are identified as a
“group of languages which are in the process of losing their Subjunctive” (p.
6), or when it is noted that in “all Slavic languages plus Georgian ... the
non-indicative mood exists only in the past tense(s)” (p. 21).

Individual contributions are meant to respond to a similar set of questions and
this is often reflected in their structure: unsurprisingly, the questions posed
are virtually identical; however, the ways they are addressed and the line of
argumentation in each case vary considerably. The questions include: the form
and function of non-indicative moods, placing more emphasis on non-imperative
moods; their position in the verbal system and their relationships with other
members of Tense-Aspect-Mood (TAM) systems, in synchronic and in diachronic
terms (though the issues relating to diachrony are not always addressed in great
detail; Hewitt on Breton is quite exceptional in this respect). The typical
structure of most chapters involves a (usually) brief introductory section
presenting factual information about the language to be discussed, often
relating to its history, geographical distribution, estimated number of
speakers, etc., and also a general typological characterization. This is often
followed by a section on verbal morphology and the expression of TAM categories,
focusing then on forms that can be described as moods -- usually starting with
the imperative and concluding with other non-indicative moods. The presentation
of the moods most often (e.g. in most chapters on Romance and Slavic) starts
with the morphological facts and is followed by a section on “meaning and use”
-- but there are exceptions: formal and functional properties are presented
together in, e.g., Irish, Estonian, and most chapters on Germanic languages).
Often this is followed by shorter sections on restrictions on the use of
particular tense-mood combinations and even shorter sections on other means of
expression of modal and related notions, such as the modal auxiliaries in
English and “modal operators” in Basque. The concluding sections in most cases
are extremely useful in that they summarize the main points (which in some cases
tend to be blurred owing to the large number of detailed observations); however,
some chapters have no concluding section at all.

In all cases, detailed examples illustrate the use of the various forms. Many
contributions are explicitly based on traditional descriptions and/or reference
grammars and many authors feel the need to mark any departures from traditional
models of description or established terminology. In keeping with the
descriptive purposes of the volume, there are no formalisms at all and very few
attempts to relate data to the typology (or any more general theory) of mood and

Thieroff’s introduction aims to summarize the data discussed in the individual
contributions (and as such it could perhaps follow them in the form of a
concluding chapter -- in the manner of Hansen & de Haan’s 2009 “Concluding
chapter”) and also to draw a number of significant generalizations, in a
thought-provoking (and at times provocative) manner. Some of these
generalizations will be referred to in the following section.

The volume is clearly a much needed addition to the growing literature on the
typology of TAM systems, especially since Mood has always received the least
attention. This is so not only because linguistics has centered around English
for many years (and, as Bergs & Heine put it (p. 115), “inflectional mood plays
a comparatively minor role in the English language”) but also because the
relationship between (grammatical) Mood and the notional domain of Modality has
always been problematic. Thieroff stresses his position in this respect: “In
contrast to Palmer who claims that modality is a grammatical category ‘which is
similar to aspect, tense, number, gender, etc.’ (Palmer 1986:1), it is mood
which is the category similar to these categories whereas modality is a notional
category”. Yet, Palmer does make a similar distinction and concludes that “The
distinction between mood and modality is then similar to that between tense and
time, gender and sex” (1986: 21). In fact, it is by now quite standard to draw
the distinction along similar lines, e.g. in Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca’s terms:
“modality is the conceptual domain, and mood is its inflectional expression”
(1994: 181).

However, this common assumption does not seem to lead to much agreement when it
comes to any more precise definitions of either mood and modality or any of
their properties and subtypes. Thus, although the working definition of mood
seems to involve morphologically realized distinctions only, many authors make
reference to periphrastic formations as instances of mood, confirming
Jespersen’s (1924: 321) observation about the proliferation of ‘notional moods’
when morphology is not taken as an absolute criterion.

Overall, the difficulty of drawing any general conclusions about Mood is felt at
various points, as it is not always clear how Thieroff’s generalizations can be
supported by the data presented in the contributions. For example, Squartini on
Italian specifically argues that his analysis provides “support to the
traditional view that considers the Subjunctive and the Conditional as moods
opposed to the Indicative” (p. 242) but Thieroff counts Italian as a ‘Western
Conditional’, which, as he argues extensively, is essentially not a valid
instance of Mood but rather a Tense form; on this basis, Italian in the
introductory chapter is classified as having only one non-indicative
non-imperative mood, the Subjunctive (e.g. map 2, p. 10). In contrast, Haberland
on Greek mentions the possibility of treating the combination of the Future
particle with a verb in the Past as a Conditional (and presents its use in
conditional apodoses, in counterfactuals, habituals, inferential and
future-in-the-past -- p. 482); while this approach would seem to fit perfectly
with Thieroff’s view of the ‘Western Conditional’ as a member of the indicative
tense paradigm (and indeed Haberland presents it as such, under “the indicative
pattern”), these data are not taken into account and Greek is presented as a
language lacking all types of conditional. At the same time, although there is
no mention of a Conditional in Bergs & Heine’s chapter on English, English IS
included in the languages with a ‘Western Conditional’ and, moreover, the
‘would’ facts are used to exemplify Thieroff’s argument on the status of western
conditionals (p. 12).

The relationship between modality and evidentiality (also variously discussed in
the literature, e.g. Cornillie 2009; de Haan 2010) is another point on which it
is not clear how the programmatic criteria would seem to work: evidentiality is
explicitly excluded from the mood domain, on the grounds that evidential markers
seem to combine with subjunctive markers in at least South Slavic and Baltic
languages (e.g. Thieroff on pp. 2-3, Lindstedt on p. 419, Holvoet on pp. 426 and
434-5). This combination is regarded as criterial against the recognition of
evidential moods, since their classification as moods would mean that a single
form is simultaneously marked for two different mood categories. This is clearly
reminiscent of arguments often raised (e.g. in Palmer’s various works) against
the recognition of Future as a tense in view of forms that would have to be
considered ‘doubly marked’ (as Future + Present or Future + Past).

It is also hard to maintain both the generalization that “All 36 languages
investigated have an Imperative mood” (p. 27) and the strict definition of mood
as “morphological mood in the narrow sense” (p. 1): clearly languages like
English do not mark the Imperative morphologically (as Bergs & Heine note, the
English Imperative “does not show any inflection as such” and is “often
characterized by a special syntactic configuration”, p. 111). In Breton, Hewitt
does recognize a distinct Imperative, though its formation involves “simply the
stem for 2sg and the normal present endings for 1pl and 2pl” (p. 304). Moreover,
Haase on Basque specifically argues against recognizing the 2pl forms of the
present indicative when used in directives as a distinct imperative, since their
morphology is identical to the indicative and it is only their sentence initial
position that marks the construction as a directive utterance (pp. 637-8).

The Imperative may be problematic for the approach adopted in the volume in view
of more general considerations. Even if one ignores the morphological
complications mentioned above (cf. also Van Olmen 2012), the relationship
between ‘imperative mood’ and ‘imperative sentence’ as well as the
non-imperative uses of imperative forms (briefly mentioned in fn. 3, p. 6) would
need to be explored in greater detail before considering the matter closed.

The reader should also be cautious of the possible lack of generalizations. For
example, there is no generalization about the non-imperative uses of imperatives
in the introductory chapter. However, some common features can be discerned in
individual contributions: Thieroff on German mentions concessive and conditional
uses of the Imperative (p. 153); the conditional interpretation in coordinated
structures is also mentioned in Quer’s chapter on Catalan (p. 224); Hansen on
Russian provides examples of 2sg imperative in conditional protases where “the
imperative is synonymous to the conditional form” (p. 339); similar data (though
restricted to proverbial protases) are reported in Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian
according to Szucsich (p. 406). Obviously the fact that this is not noted as an
observed pattern must not be taken as an indication that the construction is
missing from any other language. I know that similar occurrences are not
uncommon in Greek and I think that Vanhove’s Maltese example (10) glossed as
‘Find(IMP) a small donkey and your feet will touch the ground’ (p. 579)
exemplifies a comparable structure. Similarly, although such uses are not
mentioned in the chapter on English, they are of course known to exist, as in
what Declerck & Reed (2001: 403-405) call “Paratactic conditionals with a
(pseudo-)imperative + and”, exemplified by data like ‘Do that and I’ll punish
you!’ and ‘Help me carry these and I’ll give you a fiver’.

The reader is often reminded that the main purpose of the book is purely
descriptive. There are, nevertheless, some discussions of the typology of
modality and the relevant grammaticalization processes -- with reference to
Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca 1994, and, less frequently, to works such as Palmer
1986 and van der Auwera & Plungian 1998. There are not many references to the
TAM systems of other languages (or to particular data as when comparing the
Dutch “so-called future” to Latin (p. 119), the reanalysis of COMP elements as
IP features in Rumanian as in Modern Greek (p. 252), or the Modern Georgian
“tense and mood series” to “old Greek and other old forms of Indo-European” --
p. 604); areal typology is sometimes mentioned, for example in relation to
Baltic languages and the Balkan Sprachbund.

The relationship between Mood and modality is known to be one of the hardest
questions in the TAM area; not only because of the usual lack of isomorphism
between formal and functional features but also because of the inherent
complexity of Mood: the identification of significant distinctions has always
been controversial, and this volume is not an exception in this respect; e.g.,
the opposition between epistemic-deontic is mentioned on pp. 2-3 but is not
discussed in any detail (though various individual uses are characterized as
signaling one or the other); possibility, necessity and the types discussed in
van der Auwera & Plungian 1998 are generally not related to the moods (though
again both concepts are occasionally referred to, most obviously in the
description of Necessitative and Potential forms, as in what Menz describes as
“the so-called necessitative” in Turkish (p. 590) and in Tommola’s association
of the Potential in standard Finnish with epistemic possibility -- p. 522); the
modality types (as agent-oriented, speaker-oriented, epistemic and subordinating
modality) proposed by Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca 1994 are also occasionally
mentioned; finally, Realis-Irrealis is explicitly relevant to Thieroff’s general
characterization of the one non-indicative mood he posits (conflating the
Western Subjunctive and the Eastern Conditional) and of course this could be
related to more recent developments in the typology of modality.

Readers with little or no experience in the realm of TAM should also be warned
against assuming that all other parts of the TAM area are well-defined and
uncontroversial, and that it is only Mood that needs to be characterized in
equally precise terms. Overall, there is an underlying assumption that presents,
preterits, futures, perfects, imperfects and perfectives are neatly defined and
can therefore be taken for granted in setting up a similar list of Mood
categories. However, there are various well-known complications faced by any
approach to Tense and to Aspect when it comes to setting absolute criteria that
can satisfy both formal and functional considerations. Clearly, this is a
general limitation, and it seems quite unavoidable for a volume of this scope.

The volume is meant to be a reference work offering “a broad empirical overview
of the mood systems in the languages of Europe (as noted in the Preface), rather
than presenting a single characterization of Mood in general or in European
terms. In this sense it does provide the empirical data for any attempt to
generalize on mood and modality in Standard Average European (as, e.g., in van
der Auwera 2011). Most of the points summarized by Thieroff at the end of the
introduction are extremely significant in this respect. Thieroff makes a number
of strong claims in that chapter -- amounting to the conclusion that “the vast
majority of the European languages not only have one non-indicative,
non-imperative mood, but that this mood is one and the same in almost all these
languages. … [T]his mood could well be termed ‘Irrealis’” (p. 18). The validity
of this (and any other) generalization can indeed be checked against the wealth
of data presented (both very detailed and accurately glossed) in individual

More generally, it may appear that little has changed since Bybee, Perkins &
Pagliuca (1994: 181) noted that “much less work has been done on the grammatical
expression of modality than on the grammatical categories of tense and aspect.”
However, this volume, together with Hansen & de Haan 2009, can really be argued
to address precisely this need.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins & William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of Grammar:
Tense, Aspect and Modality in the Languages of the World. Chicago and London:
The University of Chicago Press.

Cornillie, Bert. 2009. Evidentiality and epistemic modality: On the close
relationship between two different categories. Functions of Language 16.1: 44-62.

Declerck, Renaat & Susan Reed. 2001. Conditionals: A Comprehensive Empirical
Analysis. (Topics in English Linguistics 37). Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

Hansen, Björn & Ferdinand De Haan (eds.). 2009. Modals in the Languages of
Europe: A Reference Work. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter.

De Haan, Ferdinand. 2010. Building a Semantic Map: Top-Down versus Bottom-Up
Approaches. Linguistic Discovery 8.1:102-117.

Jespersen, Otto. 1924. The Philosophy of Grammar. London: George Allen and Unwin

Palmer, Frank R. 1986. Mood and Modality. (Cambridge Textbooks in Linguistics).
Cambridge University Press.

van der Auwera, Johan. 2011. Standard Average European. In Bernd Kortmann &
Johan van der Auwera (eds.) The Languages and Linguistics of Europe: A
Comprehensive Guide. Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter [The World of
Linguistics 1], 291-306.

van der Auwera, Johan and Vladimir A. Plungian. 1998. Modality’s Semantic Map.
Linguistic Typology 2: 79-124.

Van Olmen, Daniel. 2012. Review of Rothstein & Thieroff (eds.). 2010. Mood in
the Languages of Europe. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. Studies in
Language 36.1: 225-230.

Anastasios Tsangalidis is currently Associate Professor of Syntax-Semantics at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. His main research interests include TAM categorization and typology and the description and comparison of the relevant categories in English and Greek.