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Review of  At the Same Time...

Reviewer: Cristiano Broccias
Book Title: At the Same Time...
Book Author: Barbara Schmiedtová
Publisher: De Gruyter Mouton
Linguistic Field(s): Psycholinguistics
Language Acquisition
Language Family(ies): Slavic Subgroup
Issue Number: 16.2449

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Date: Sat, 20 Aug 2005 10:26:16 +0200
From: Cristiano Broccias
Subject: At the Same Time: The Expression of Simultaneity in Learner

AUTHOR: Schmiedtová, Barbara
TITLE: At the Same Time
SUBTITLE: The Expression of Simultaneity in Learner Varieties
SERIES: Studies on Language Acquisition 26
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2004

Cristiano Broccias, Faculty of Modern Languages, University of Genoa

This book studies how English and German learners of Czech express
simultaneity, i.e. the partial or total overlap, between two events by way
of explicit means. The monograph comprises nine chapters, which I will now
summarise briefly, and an appendix of "materials", which includes
descriptions of the five stimuli used in the quantitative analysis of this


Chapter 1 (Simultaneity in native speaker and learner language)
This chapter offers a brief overview of the topic to be investigated, i.e.
the explicit expression of simultaneity by adult English and German
learners of Czech. Among the questions Schmiedtová intends to answer are
(1) whether English speakers are better than German learners at using
Czech aspect in the expression of simultaneity (since aspect is encoded
grammatically in both languages, cf. the -ing form in English); (2)
whether English speakers may in fact be misled by their grammatical aspect
(since, although both Czech and English have grammatical aspect, the
morphologically simple form in Czech is usually imperfective. By contrast,
the morphologically simple form in English is taken to be perfective since
the -ing form has an imperfectivising function); (3) how aspect interacts
with other strategies such as the use of temporal adverbials.

Chapter 2 (The notion of simultaneity and its categorization)
Schmiedtová defines simultaneity between two events as involving a "common
subinterval on the time axis. Temporal boundaries need not coincide"
(p.9). Next, she shows that simultaneity can be expressed either
implicitly or explicitly. The latter case can be further subdivided into
explicit marking of simultaneity by way of temporal devices (e.g.
aspectual marking, temporal adverbials) and explicit marking of
simultaneity by way of atemporal devices (e.g. spatial expressions,
perception verbs). In the latter case, the simultaneity interpretation is
context-dependent rather than part of the meaning of the sentence. The
chapter concludes with a short discussion of aspect. Here the author
points out that she subscribes to Klein's (1994) time-relational analysis
of aspect (i.e. both tense and aspect are regarded as relational

Chapter 3 (The expression of simultaneity in English, German and Czech)
This chapter discusses in some detail the various ways in which
simultaneity can be expressed in English, German and Czech. Schmiedtová
first analyzes explicit simultaneity marking by way of temporal devices in
Czech. Czech speakers can use grammatical aspect, i.e. perfective vs.
imperfective aspect - these two aspects are coded through specific
prefixes and suffixes (such as "-va" for imperfectivity and "-nou" for
perfectivity). Simultaneity can be expressed by either combining two
imperfectives (aspectual juxtaposition) or contrasting an imperfective
with a perfective (aspectual contrast). This strategy can be enriched by
the use of other devices such as temporal connectives. Importantly, if two
perfectives are used (i.e. without any additional simultaneity markers), a
sequential reading ensues. The author then shows that the two strategies
available in Czech, i.e. the use of aspectual marking and the use of
temporal lexical items, are also possible in English. By contrast, German
behaves differently because (im)perfective aspect is not grammaticalised.
German relies mainly on lexical devices, i.e. temporal adverbials and
connectives, but also avails itself of nominalisation and periphrastic
constructions. The second part of this chapter discusses explicit
atemporal means for the coding of simultaneity. They include particles,
spatial expressions, verbs of perception and anaphors.

Chapter 4 (Experimental part)
Schmiedtová provides information on how she collected the simultaneity
data to be examined in the following chapters. Schmiedtová used eleven
television commercials which were retold by 40 learners (20 German
speakers and 20 English speakers) and 20 native speakers of Czech. Each
group of learners described the TV commercials (which generally did not
involve any spoken language) both in their native languages (i.e. English
or German) and in Czech. The second part of the chapter describes how the
levels of proficiency of the two learner groups were evaluated. The author
points out that she could not use any standard tests (p.108) so she had to
devise an alternative method to assess the learners' proficiency in Czech.
Her method was based on short warm-up interviews, the use of number
marking and gender agreement between nouns and adjectives in the
retellings, and, finally, the grading of the retellings by four examiners
(one was the author herself). Out of the 20 English learners, 10 were
classified as basic learners, 7 as medium learners, 3 as advanced
learners. Out of the 20 German learners, 3 were classified as basic
learners, 9 as medium learners, 8 as advanced learners.

Chapter 5 (Coding and analysing data)
The author coded her data for eight independent variables, namely (1)
number of learners performing the task first in their mother tongue and
then in Czech (and vice versa), (2) age and number of participants, (3)
gender, (4) stimulus set (only five out of the eleven commercials were
used for the quantitative analysis although all eleven of them were used
for the qualitative analysis), (5) language instruction (i.e. whether the
subjects had received some tutored instruction in Czech), (6) level of
proficiency (the author is aware that, given the low numbers of German
beginners and English advanced learners, results related to these two
groups may not be statistically significant), (7) source language and (8)
knowledge of other Slavic languages. The chapter ends with some discussion
of the dependent variables. For example, Schmiedtová distinguishes the
following types of explicit temporal devices: aspectual marking,
adverbials, phase verbs, prepositional phrases, when-clauses. Aspectual
marking, in turn, is divided into simultaneity (i.e. aspectual contrast
and aspectual juxtaposition) and sequentiality (i.e. two perfective marked
verbs are used). Further, she identifies three patterns for the explicit
expression of simultaneity: (1) the stronger aspectual style (i.e. only
aspectual marking is used to code simultaneity), (2) the adverbial style
(i.e. sequential aspectual marking is not used but temporal adverbials
are), (3) the weaker aspectual style (i.e. aspectual marking is used in
conjunction with other explicit temporal devices).

Chapter 6 (Results: native speakers)
This chapter investigates how simultaneity is expressed by the subjects in
their native languages. Schmiedtová finds that all native speakers prefer
temporal means to atemporal means. In more detail, Czech speakers use more
temporal devices than Germans and Germans use more temporal devices than
English speakers. Further, both Czech speakers and English speakers favour
the weaker aspectual style although the former use the stronger aspectual
style more often than the latter (the difference is statistically
significant). By contrast, Germans only use the adverbial style (since
perfectivity vs. imperfectivity is not grammaticalised in their language).

Chapter 7 (Results: learners)
In this chapter, Schmiedtová presents the results of her investigation
into how English and German learners express simultaneity when retelling
the commercials in Czech. Both groups favour temporal devices, although
not to the same extent as native speakers do. German learners, unlike
English learners, show a tendency to use more temporal devices when
retelling in Czech than in their native language. In this sense,
Schmiedtová regards the German subjects as more target-oriented than the
English subjects. The author then provides a more fine-grained analysis of
the explicit temporal means, first by discussing the behaviour of the two
groups irrespective of their proficiency levels and then by analysing her
findings in terms of their linguistic competence in Czech.

English speakers use aspectual marking much more than German learners and
also more than Czech native speakers. In fact, English speakers mainly
rely on the stronger aspectual style (this contrasts with their behaviour
in their native language, where the weaker aspectual style is preferred).
German learners slightly favour the adverbial style over the weaker
aspectual style, while the stronger aspectual style is used much less
(also in comparison with the English group). Schmiedtová concludes
that "German learners seem to progress towards the target language [...]
whereas English learners seem to depart [from it]." Another difference
between the two groups involves the preferred use of aspectual contrast by
German learners vs. the preferred use of aspectual juxtaposition by
English learners. The two learner groups, however, behave similarly in
that they use aspectual marking more often than they do in their native
languages. Further, both groups mainly use the same type of additional
explicit temporal devices in the weaker aspectual style (i.e. adverbials)
and use fewer multiple combinations of explicit temporal devices compared
to Czech speakers.

Moving on to the analysis of the simultaneity data in relation to the
learners' proficiency levels, Schmiedtová points out that English learners
seldom use explicit atemporal devices. In fact, they do so less and less
as their proficiency level increases. Therefore, the author regards the
use of explicit atemporal means as a "fallback strategy". As to explicit
temporal means, Schmiedtová observed a decrease in the use of the stronger
aspectual style in favour of the weaker aspectual style from beginners to
advanced learners (the stronger aspectual style is by far the favoured
style by beginners. This contrasts with Hendriks's 1999 findings).
Further, aspectual juxtaposition, although preferred over aspectual
contrast at all levels of proficiency (contrary to what is the case both
in English and Czech), decreases from beginners to advanced learners.

Next, Schmiedtová reports her findings as far as German learners are
concerned. She points out that the trend in the use of explicit atemporal
means by German learners is opposite to the one observed for English
speakers: the higher the level of proficiency, the more German learners
rely on explicit atemporal means. She concludes that the use of explicit
atemporal means cannot therefore be regarded as a "fallback strategy"
employed by beginners. By contrast, the use of explicit temporal means
increases with the level of proficiency, as was also the case for English
learners. In more detail, German beginners use only the adverbial style.
This shows that at the basic level of proficiency both English and German
learners are influenced by their native languages. English learners
overuse the stronger aspectual style while German learners overuse the
adverbial style. Intermediate German learners still prefer the adverbial
style but also employ (in equal measure) the stronger aspectual style and
the weaker aspectual style. A similar picture emerges for advanced
learners although advanced learners employ a higher number of different
lexical devices than the intermediate group. Although the results for both
advanced English and advanced German learners are similar, Schmiedtová
observes that the English group is less target-like than the German group
in that they ignore the adverbial style.

Chapter 8 (Some explanatory factors)
The first part of this chapter focuses on the use of Czech aspect by the
two groups of learners. Schmiedtová found that simplex imperfective verbs
are preferred over simplex perfective verbs by both groups at all levels
of proficiency. This is explained by the fact that Czech has more simplex
imperfective verbs than simplex perfective verbs. The two groups differed
however in that German learners used more derived perfective verbs than
English learners and Czech speakers. English learners, on the other hand,
derived both imperfective and perfective verbs equally well. Schmiedtová
concludes that German learners focus on the derivation of aspect by
prefixation while English learners focus on the derivation of aspect by
suffixation. The author explains this contrast on the basis of
her "perceptual saliency hypothesis", i.e. "learners pay attention to
those features in the target language that are located in the same
position as their counterparts in the source language" (p.245). Since
German verbs are often prefixed, it follows that German learners should
pay more attention to the left-side of verbs (i.e. derivation of aspect by
prefixation in Czech). By contrast, since imperfectives in English are
formed by suffixation, we expect English learners to pay more attention to
the right-side of verbs (i.e. derivation of aspect by suffixation in
Czech). This also means that the adverbial style cannot be regarded as the
general device used by all learners of Czech. English learners, at the
basic level, show a positive transfer of the English aspectual opposition.
The use of the adverbial style by German learners should be analysed as a
transfer from their native language. The chapter ends by showing that
neither the type of instruction received (tutored vs. untutored) nor the
knowledge of other Slavic languages influenced the use of aspect marking
by English and German learners.

Chapter 9 (Conclusions)
The last chapter summarises the most important findings of this study and
provides answers to the three questions mentioned in chapter 1 (see
summary above). Schmiedtová concludes that it is easier for English
learners to use Czech aspect at the basic level of proficiency (first
question). However, English learners may be mislead by their native
language at more advanced levels of proficiency in that they overuse the
imperfective aspect and underuse the adverbial style. That is, at more
advanced levels, German learners are more target-like than English
learners (second question). Finally, German learner data show more
interaction between explicit devices for expressing simultaneity.


This book is a welcome contribution to the study of simultaneity, which
has not been the focus of much scholarly attention so far. The author
shows that English and German speakers differ in how they learn to express
simultaneity in Czech and tries to relate this difference to their
respective native languages (via the perceptual saliency hypothesis).

Although this book is a must-read for all those interested in the
expression of simultaneity and, more generally, in language acquisition, I
have one major "formal" concern and various observations regarding the
analyses provided in the book.

Unfortunately, the book does not seem to have been proofread properly.
There are very numerous typos. Sometimes, they are just spelling mistakes
(e.g. "wekaer", p.259, "oveall", p.253, "asepctual", p.228 and so on).
Sometimes, they are un-English expressions (such as the numerous instances
of "like in" instead of "as in", not to mention the use of
German "schreiben" for English "write" on page 33). Sometimes, typos are
of a more serious nature. For example, there are two notes marked as 81 in
the text (p.164 and p.173) so that the reader must always add one to the
number given for each note after the second instance of note 81 (up to the
final note, which is 97 in the text but 98 in the Notes section) to find
the corresponding text at the end of the book. Further, captions are
sometimes incomplete (e.g. Fig.7.8 and Fig.7.11) and there are also
problems with the use of punctuation (e.g. the comma after "Probably only"
on page 1). All in all, one has the impression that the text was prepared
rather hastily and one might feel inclined to recommend that a new edition
be published which amends as many typos as possible.

I must also point out that the content could have been organised in a more
streamlined fashion. For example, the initial discussion of the various
ways in which simultaneity can be expressed is excessively long,
repetitive and sometimes confusing (e.g. the discussion of Aktionsart on
pp.33-34). Some details could have been confined to footnotes. For
example, the author mentions differences between the uses
of "when", "while" and "as" but in the second part of the book she
apparently conflates all cases where a temporal subordinator is employed
under the label of "when-clauses". Since details about "when", "while"
and "as" are not essential to the discussion, they could have been omitted
from the text. (Incidentally, when Schmiedtová mentions "as" and "while"
clauses in English, she states that "as" and "while" clauses require an
imperfective form (p.63). This however is not correct. There are numerous
cases where simultaneity "as" clauses do not employ the -ing form (for a
preliminary analysis see Broccias, to appear)).

As a further illustration of problems involving the organisation and
presentation of the material, consider the claim made on p.165
that "explicit atemporal devices are not combined with explicit temporal
devices in the English data". But, if I followed the author's discussion
correctly, then examples (6.21)-(6.23) on pp.156-157 contradict this claim
since aspect is marked explicitly (e.g. in (6.22) a perfect and an
imperfect were used) and explicit atemporal devices are used as well
(e.g. "there", "she", "back", "his").

This leads me to the more general point of how data are interpreted in
this study. I think that the author should have stressed much more that,
in the case of German beginners and English advanced learners, her data
cannot be taken to be statistically significant (since the number of
learners is only three in both cases). Also, I find it difficult to
understand why the author evaluates the behaviour of both English and
German speakers (see e.g. Fig. 7.5) using statistical tests if some data
is too sparse to yield to statistical analysis. This also applies to the
main conclusions drawn in the book. Since there are only three advanced
English learners and three German beginners, the trends observed (e.g.
absence of the adverbial style in the productions by advanced English
learners) should be treated very cautiously.

Finally, the author might perhaps have devoted more space to the
explanatory part of her study. For example, what factors might explain the
fact that Schmiedtová arrived at conclusions different from those of
Hendriks (1999)? Why does the knowledge of other Slavic languages seem to
have no effect on the learners (one might want to argue that the
perceptual saliency hypothesis should also involve non-native languages)?
Also, the author does not really provide an answer to the question of why
Czech native speakers use aspect marking in combination with other
explicit devices (p.152). Could this be related to the fact that human
languages often code information redundantly? Of course, one cannot expect
the author to answer all these (and related) questions in her monograph.
Still, it might have been useful to stress that they constitute topics for
future investigation.

All in all, Schmiedtová's monograph is an important contribution to both
the study of the expression of simultaneity and language acquisition in
general. It raises many interesting questions and paves the way for future
research which may involve other languages than Czech, English and German.
It is unfortunate, however, that proofreading has been neglected and that,
perhaps, a more streamlined structure has not been adopted.


Broccias, Cristiano. To appear. The construal of simultaneity in English
with special reference to as-clauses. Annual Review of Cognitive
Linguistics 4.

Hendriks, Henriëtte. 1999. The acquisition of temporal reference in first
and second language acquisition: What children already know and adults
still have to learn and vice versa. Psychology of Language and
Communication 3: 41-59.

Klein, Wolfgang. 1994. Time in Language. London: Routledge.


Cristiano Broccias is a Research Fellow in English Language and
Linguistics at the University of Genoa (Italy). He is interested in the
description and cognitive linguistic analysis of English grammar, both
synchronic and diachronic. His publications include a monograph on English
change constructions, "The English Change Network: Forcing Changes into
Schemas", Mouton de Gruyter, 2003.