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Review of  Crosslinguistic Views on Tense, Aspect and Modality

Reviewer: Raquel Meister Ko Freitag
Book Title: Crosslinguistic Views on Tense, Aspect and Modality
Book Author: Bart Hollerbrandse Angeliek Van Hout Co Vet
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): Chinese, Mandarin
Greek, Modern
Issue Number: 16.1544

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Date: Thu, 12 May 2005 14:09:49 -0300
From: Raquel Freitag
Subject: Crosslinguistic Views on Tense, Aspect and Modality

EDITORS: Hollebrandse, Bart; van Hout, Angeliek; Vet, Co
SERIES TITLE: Cahiers Chronos 13
TITLE: Crosslinguistic Views on Tense, Aspect and Modality
YEAR: 2005

Raquel Freitag, Federal University of Santa Catarina

This book is a new volume in the collection "Cahiers Chronos". It is
composed by papers presented at 5th Chronos Conference (University of
Groningen, The Netherlands, 2002). A short introduction containing an
overview of the volume content and structure is followed by seventeen
papers which are categorized into three sections: tense, aspect and
modality. The editors' introduction alerts the reader to the fact that the
ordering is "somewhat arbitrary given that some of papers across these
rigid boundaries, as they discuss the interplay of tense and aspect or
tense and modality" (p. i).


In "Description of past events in Germany" Ten Cate discusses the
phenomenon so-called 'Präeteritumschwund', the decline in the use of the
preterit tense (simple past) to describe states-of-affairs, which took
place before the time of speech. This form is token over by perfect tense.
The phenomenon is not restrict to the present and preterit, but also
affects the pluperfect. It is possible because there are contexts in which
the pluperfect functions as a preterit as well. Following Reichenbach's
theory (1947) (S = speech time; R = reference time; E = event time)
Thieroff (1992) observes that the pluperfect tense is ambiguous because
the temporal adverbs relate the E as well as R. Ten Cate examines the
hypothesis that the R has disappeared in the German temporal system.

(1) a. Er war gestern abgereist
'He had departed yesterday'

Following Comrie (1985), in the reading in which the temporal adverb is
related to E, a perfect or pluperfect would be adequate, as well.

(1) b. Er is gestern abgereist
'He has departed yesterday'
(1) c. Er reiste gestern ab
'He departed yesterday'

In the alternative reading in which R is fixed by the temporal adverb, the
use of pluperfect is obligatory.

(1) d. Eine Stunde bevor ich ihn gestern suchte, war er abgereist
'One hour before I looked for him yesterday he had departed'

Ten Cate rejects the hypothesis because if R is absent the ambiguity
between preterit and pluperfect would be impossible. He concludes that one
of the start factors for 'Präeteritumschwund' is the historical tendency
to prefer analytic instead of synthetic verb forms.

In "The absolute and the relative present tense with future time reference
in English and German", Beheydt purposes show the different uses of the
present tense in two cognate Germanic languages. Her study is based in a
corpus of English novels and their translations in Dutch. The present
tense with absolute future time reference, as in (2) -- present simple --
and (3) -- present progressive -- locates a situation at some time later
than the temporal zero-point.

a. Either we 'do' business with Skolling or we 'go' bankrupt
b. Of we 'doen' zaken met Solling of we 'gaan' failliet

a. Actually he's publishing his memoirs. The Peverell Press 'are bringing'
them out next spring.
b. Hij zijn memoires publiceren. Peverell Press 'brengt' ze uit in het

But, the present tense forms may also have relative future reference time,
as in (4). The present tense expresses a simultaneity relation with
another future time point.

a. The book is in production [...], and Stilgoe won't want to break the
contract if it 'means' publicly explaining why.
b. Het boek is al in productie [...] en Stilgoezal geen contractbreuk
willen plegen als hij vervolgens in het openbaar 'moet' uitleggen waarom.

Beheydt argues these two presents are distinguished. They are different
temporal structures. The absolute present tense is motivated by the wish
to represent a situation as a present fact, whereas the relative present
tense represents a situation in a post-present temporal domain. Finally
they have a different distribution -- the relative present tense never
occurs in independent clauses, the absolute present tense mostly does.

De Cuyper' paper "Noun phrases and temporal information in Dutch" treats
the relation between the temporal interpretation of nominal phrases and
verbal phrases. She examines the importance of situation time of the verb
to determine the situation time of the noun.

The author shows that Musan's proposal (1997) -- the quantification over
individual triggers temporal independence and quantification over stages
triggers temporal dependence -- do not predicts the right. Not just any
stage of a individual can be taken into account in order to make temporal
(in) dependence on the verb possible, but only certain specific ones.

She finalizes concluding that her paper offers further evidence to the
legitimate of Carlson's (1977) distinction between stages, individuals and

Hollebrandse's paper "Sequence of tense: new insights form crosslinguistic
comparisons" analyses the behavior of tense in complement clauses and
relative clauses. Sequence of tense is the case in which an event in a
main clause overlaps in the time with the event of its complement clause
and a simple past morpheme, as in (5) linguistically expresses both events.

(5) John said that he was ill

Non-sequence of tense is the case in which the simultaneity between main
and embedded clauses is expressed by using a present tense in the embedded
clause, as Japanese in (6).

(6) Taroo-wa Hanako-ga byooki-da-to it-ta
'Taro said that Hanako was sick (at the time)'

Hollebrandse focuses on the distinction of sequence/non-sequence of tense
in the languages. There are two important factors to the interpretation of
tense in embedded event: complementation and imperfectivity. The author
proposes a classification of languages in four types:

- Type A (English, Dutch) for which both the imperfectivity and
complementation requirement are necessary;
- Type B (Japanese) for which neither of them holds;
- Type C (Polish, Russian) for which only complementation requirement
- Type D (Italian?) for which only the imperfectivity requirement holds.
For this type, Hollebrandse notes that the data are still unclear.

In "Tense in indirect speech and thought: some proposed modifications"
Vandelanotte provides a corpus study explaining relative and absolute
tense in indirect speech of thought. Tenses in these constructions are
fundamentally different from tenses in a 'non-reported' clause. She argues
the fact that 'original speaker' or Sayer/Cognizant (Declerck 1991) in
indirect speech or thought is important for a correct understanding of
tense in speech or thought reports (e.g. the original speaker is tied to
the deictic center separated from the reporting speaker).

(7) John said he would be late

(8) He said I am gay but that's not true

In (7) 'would' expresses the future in the Sayer/Cognizant's past. But in
(8) the present expressed by 'am' is intensionally the Sayer/Cognizant and
not the Speaker's.

Vandelanotte suggests the addition of a second Sayer/Cognizant timer-line
in Declerck's framework (1991).


In his paper "Point of time" Arozio compares the imperfective paste tense
form Imperfetto and present tense in Italian, considering the durative
nature. He argues if we attempt to the distribution of durative adverbials
in Italian, we capture some interesting tense proprieties of languages.
Given the pattern of distribution of the durative temporal adverbials,
Imperfetto and Presente verb forms are the morphological spell-out of two
special tenses introducing point of time (cf. Heim 1994). Since Imperfetto
and Presente introduce points of time they do not combine with per- and in-
adverbial, given that these adverbials require the time introduced for
these tenses to have some length.

(9) ?? Mario era malato per due giorni
'Mario was-IMP sick for two days'

On other hand, Imperfetto and Presente do combine with da- adverbials
since these adverbials introduce an extended new interval abutting the
reference time.

(10) Mario era malato da due giorni
'Mario was-IMP sick for two days'

The author concludes by suggesting crosslinguistic comparisons in further
investigation of the points of time accounts.

Asnes's paper "Incompatibility between telicity and homogeneity in French"
discusses the paradox 'homogeneous object-DPs vs. telic VPs', dealing with
(apparent) counterexamples the claim that telicity entails heterogeneity
and atelicity homogeneity. She analyses French quantifiers
plusiers 'several', quelques 'some' and X N au plus 'at least x N'.

The paradox is that while a VP composed of a homogeneous V and of a
heterogeneous object is interpreted as telic, there are cases where a VP
may be telic although the combinations of the verb and the object has a
homogeneous reading.

a. Jean a dessiné plusiers/quelques cercles en une heure
'John drew several/some circles in an hour'
b. Jean a lu trois livres au plus en deux mois
'John read at most three books in two months'

a. Jean a dessiné trois circle en une heure
'John drew three circles in an hour'
b. Jean a lu au moins trois livres en deux moins
'John read at least three book in two months'

The VPs in both (11) and (12) are telic because they are compatible with
the time-span adverbials. The telic VPs in (11), as opposed to those in
(12), are said to possess the subinterval property under the influence of
their homogeneous object, and to satisfy the criterion of divisibility. It
John drew some circles in an hour, it may be also true that he drew some
circles in half an hour. This case, Asnes argues, should not be considered
as a paradox given that DPs such as plusiers, quelques and X N au plus
have a heterogeneous reference; they do not really satisfy the criteria of
divisibility and cumulativity. And, the telicity of the situation denoted
by VPs is implied by the quantifier's heterogeneity.

In "Degree scales and aspect" Caudal proposes a more detailed and
principled account of the interaction between scalar expressions and
adverbs. The term 'scalar expressions' includes degree modifier (Paradis
1971) and adverbial particles. At least two different levels of
situational aspect information should be distinguished: 'stage' composed
by expressions that give information about the stage structure of the
eventuality, and 'scalar structure' composed by scalar expressions. The
author suggests a third level, a mixed category that combines the feature
[+stage] and [+scalar].

In Reichenbach's framework (1947) the Past Progressive (PPROG) of English
and the Imparfait (IMP) of French report an eventuality E that temporally
contains the reference time R. Molendijk's paper "The imparfait of French
and the past progressive of English" shows that the IMP has a much largest
distribution then PPROG.

a. Quand Pierre entra, 9 heures donnaient.
b. When Peter came in, the clock was striking 9.
c. Quand Pierr entra, 1 heure sonnairt.
d. ?? When Peter came in, the clock was striking 1.

IMP occurs in frequentative contexts (as in 13 a,c IMP is independent of
the number of strikes of the clock), contrary to what can be said about
PPROG (it seems natural if the clock strikes more than once). PPROG cannot
be used to express perfect simultaneity if R is an instant since it is
durative. Other property of PPROG is that the reference time of the PPROG-
sentences must be explicitly mentioned. These facts Molendjik argues can
be explained by claiming that IMP-sentences simply state the eventuality
is true at R, whereas the use of PPROG implies that the eventuality is not
simply true at R but also ongoing at this moment of time.

In "Morphological and telicity aspect with accomplishment VPs in Greek"
for the necessity to separate the two aspectual domains,
predicational/telicity aspect and grammatical/viewpoint aspect in Greek.
The grammatical aspectual distinction perfective/imperfective is
morphologically encoded in the verb, while the verb and its object
complement determine the lexical aspectual distinction.

She shows that the complement of verbs of creation (write, build) and
verbs of consumption (eat, drink) that can be appear bare in Greek can
affect the aspectual interpretation of VP in Greek.

(14) a.
I Maria troi portokali
the Maria eats orange.ACC
'Maria eats/is eating an orange'

a' I Maria troi ena portokali
the Maria eats an orange.ACC.
'Maria eats/is eating an orange'

I Maria grafi gramma ston Yanni
the Maria writes letter.ACC to-the Yanni
'Maria writes/is writing a letter to Yanni'

b' I Maria grafi ena gramma ston Yanni
the Maria writes a letter.ACC to-the Yanni
'Maria writes/is writing a letter to Yanni'

(14) c.
I Maria xtizi spiti fetos
the Maria builds house.ACC this year
'Maria builds/ is building a house this year'

c' I Maria xtizi ena spiti stin eksoxi
the Maria builds a house.ACC in-the-country
'Maria builds/ is building a house in the country'

Sioupi concludes that (a)telicity and (non)delimitedness are not
synonymous in Greek: (a)telicity depends on the determiner (a VP which
consists of a DP argument with an indefinite determiner is interpreted as
telic, while if the same VP has as its object a bare singular count name
it is atelic); (non)delimitedness is determined by perfective/imperfective
distinction aspect (the eventuality in imperfective aspect is non-
delimited, while in perfective aspect is delimited, independently of DP

Verkuyl's paper "How (in-) sensitive is tense to aspectual information?"
focuses two questions:

(i) How to deal with the opposition between grammatical aspect
(perfective/imperfective) and lexical aspect (Aktionsart)?
(ii) Whether or not aspectual information penetrates into the tense system
and if so, how deeply?

About the question (i) Verkuyl observes that the distinction
perfective/imperfective in Slavic languages do not have a direct
counterpart in Germanic or Romance languages. In these languages (Germanic
and Romance) grammatical aspect marking is conflated with the tense
marking and the tenses seem also to carry some aspectual meanings. He also
discusses the traditional association between the telicity (T =
terminative aspect) and the perfectivity (pfv). There are empirical
evidences from English, French and Polish that T is not equal pfv. And to
response the question (ii) Verkuyl's point is that the tense is
insensitive to aspect (lexical and grammatical).

In "The aspectual readings of the progressive form in Brazilian
Portuguese" Wachowitz observes the progressive form in Brazilian
Portuguese (BP). This construction is formed with auxiliary 'estar' and
the present participle of main verbs + '-ndo'. Differently of English --
in which progressive cannot be combined with stative verbs --, in BP the
progressive form is applied to all verbs.

a. João está sabendo quatro lições de francês.
b. * John is knowing four French lessons.
c. A árvore está vivendo.
d. * The tree is living.

When the progressive in BP is associated at stative verbs, it expresses a
permanent state-of-affairs interpretation. And with non-stative verbs, the
BP progressive can carry not only episodic but also habitual reading.

Based on Verkuyl's aspectual calculus, Wachowitz purposes that at level of
inner aspectuality '-ndo' introduces durativity; adverbials or context
determine episodic vs. habitual readings at level of outer aspectuality.

The last paper on aspectual domain, Xiao & McEnery's "Situation aspect: a
two-level approach" analyses English and Chinese corpora. The authors
propose a two-stage approach in which the situational aspect is determined
firstly in the sentence, based on the verb class (six classes of
situational aspect are distinguished: activities, semelfactives,
accomplishments, achievements, individual-level states and stage-level
states). At second level the aspectual value of sentence is modified by
arguments, by adjuncts and by viewpoint.

The data-corpora evidence points that the situational aspect is to a great
extent language independent, whereas viewpoint aspect is very language


In the paper "Mood choice and sentence interpretation in Spanish" Ahern
treats the alternation between indicative and subjunctive mood in Spanish.

(16) María te há dicho que {está/estés} preparado.
a. Maria has told that you are ready (indicative).
b. Mariahas told you to be ready (subjunctive).

The principal questions are what the features this group of predicates in
Spanish has in common that can license the appearance of other one of the
verbal moods in their argument clauses and what effects of mood choice on
the interpretation of the sentence.

She concludes that the choice of moods is an expression of propositional
attitude, which puts a restriction on the undetermined meaning of the
predicate of the main clause.

Declerck's paper "The relation between temporal and modal uses of
indicative verb forms" points that the use of past tense in English is
governed by the some mechanism as that a non-modal ones. He describes
three mechanisms that trigger a modal reading in English.
(i) Shift of domain from one absolute sector to other;

(17) I didn't realize that the man {was/is} not be trusted.

(ii) Shift of temporal focus;

(18) The stranger doesn't understand English.

(iii) Shift of temporal perspective;

a. That morning Hamlet decides to kill his father (past time treated as if
it were present)
b. I hear you have promoted (pre-present time treated as if it were
c. Next time I want to be informed at once if there is a problem. (post-
present time treated as if it were present)

The third shift gives rise to non-factual, epistemic (tentative) or
contrafactual readings. The author concludes that the same mechanisms
underlie the modal and temporal uses of tense and he shows that the future
tense is not a separate mood, but a tense with modal implications.

In "On the nature of the epistemic readings of the Italian modal verbs:
the relationship between propositionality and inferential discourse
relations" Rocci discusses the epistemic readings of the Italian modal
verbs dovere 'must' and potere 'may'/'can'. The uses of modal verb potere
in personal constructions are related with a generic/alethic reading,
whereas the uses of modal verb dovere (doxastic-evidential) are
consequences of the non-propositional states of this modal.

Finally, the purpose of Werner's "The temporal interpretation of some
modal sentences in English (involving a future/epistemic alternation)" is
to capture the difference between the future and epistemic/present
readings of modals. The author suggests that the temporal interpretation
of modals is the result of the interaction between general interpretation
and the modal base.

While not all of papers follow the same semantic theory, the papers in
this volume are an interesting and valuable contribution towards a tense-
aspect-modality description of languages.


Declerck, R. (1991). Tense in English. Its structure and use in discourse,
London: Routledge.

Heim, I. (1994). Comments on Abusch's theory of tense, manuscript, MIT.

Musan, R. (1997). On the temporal interpretation of noun phrases, New
York/London: Garland.

Reichenbach, H. (1947). Elements of symbolic logic, New York: Macmillan.

Thieroff, R. (1992). Das finite Verb in Deutschen: Tempus -- Modus --
Distanz, Tübingen: Narr.


Raquel Freitag is a linguistics student at the Federal University of Santa
Catarina, Brazil. Her field of research (Ph. D. dissertation in progress)
covers the tense-aspect-modality of Preterito Imperfeito (imperfective
past) in a functional approach of spoken Portuguese in the South of

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