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Review of  Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish

Reviewer: Gerhard Schaden
Book Title: Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish
Book Author: Daniel Burgos
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 16.3415

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Date: Thu, 17 Nov 2005 14:43:06 +0100
From: Gerhard Schaden
Subject: Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and
Argentinean Spanish

AUTHOR: Burgos, Daniel
TITLE: Anteriority Marking in British English, Standard German and
Argentinean Spanish
SUBTITLE: An Empirical Examination with Special Emphasis on
Temporal Adverbials
SERIES: Linguistics Edition 37
YEAR: 2003

Gerhard Schaden, Université Paris 8, CNRS-UMR 7023


If not specified otherwise, all indications of pages and chapters refer
to the book by Daniel Burgos; and 'English', 'German' and 'Spanish'
refer to present-day British English, Standard German, and
Argentinean Spanish, respectively.


Burgos' book is an extensive corpus-based study, both synchronic
and diachronic, about the marking of the category ANTERIOR in
British English, Standard German and Argentinean Spanish. 'Anterior'
is defined by Burgos as corresponding roughly to Reichenbach's
(1947) E-R,S configuration (time of the Event preceding the moment
of Reference, which coincides with the moment of Speech), or, in the
author's own words, as ''relat[ing] some situation to a succeeding
reference time, which may or may not be identical with coding time,
and to which the term 'current relevance' may be applied'' (p. 28).

Following to a large extent the typological work of Östen Dahl (1985 &
2000) and Joan Bybee (1985), the author departs from their
framework in not taking the gram or gram-type 'Perfect' as the base of
his inquiry. Burgos prefers to refer to the category 'anterior', which is
not defined in terms of a link to one grammatical form, but is conceived
of as a notional category, which may be encoded by various
grammatical means (tense-marking, different kinds of adverbials,
verbal periphrasis in Spanish).

His initial motivation for this move comes from the fact that, whereas
the English Perfect displays an almost perfect match with the
category 'anterior', in German and Spanish the situation is more
complicated: In Argentinean Spanish, the Perfect does not seem to be
in use any more, at least in the spoken language of younger
speakers, and in German, the Perfect form, having spread to further
contexts, does not show one-to-one correspondence to the category
of anteriors, even if there is considerable overlap. Secondly, in both
Spanish and German, past and present tenses are used to convey
anterior marking (in the sense specified above). Thus, at least in
languages like Spanish and German, the role of adverbials like 'bisher'
(so far) is crucial in order to get a clear-cut anterior meaning
(examples from p. 29):

BISHER habe ich nichts verstanden. (= ANTERIOR; E-R,S)
so far have I nothing understood.
'I haven't understood anything so far.'

Ich habe nichts verstanden. (ANTERIOR?; E-R,S or E,R-S?)
I have nothing understood.
'I haven't understood anything/I didn't understand anything.'

This book is targeted at linguists working on the typology of tense-
aspect systems, as well as those interested in temporal adverbials
and/or verbal periphrases in Romance languages.

Even though the book is written in English, the author assumes his
readers are able to read German. German examples are neither
glossed nor translated, and German quotations -- which contain some
important definitions -- are given without any translation.


The book is divided into 9 chapters, comprising an introduction and a

In the second chapter, the author lists some previous definitions
of 'anteriors' and 'perfects' in order to extract from them the
characterizations there is some agreement on. He also sets out the
limits of anterior vs. non-anterior uses of the present and past tenses,

The third chapter is dedicated to a discussion of the degree of
grammaticalization of the Perfect tenses in the three languages under
discussion, based mainly on morphosyntacic evidence. Burgos
concludes that the Spanish Perfect has reached the highest degree of
grammaticalization among the languages studied, whereas German
shows the lowest degree of grammaticalization of the Perfect.

The fourth chapter introduces and characterizes the temporal
adverbials that will be discussed later on, namely 'up to now, so far,
since, recently, already, just, not yet, lately' and 'in the meantime', as
well as their equivalents in German and Spanish. Data showing their
collocation patterns with present, past and perfect tenses from both
written and oral corpora is provided.

The fifth chapter introduces and characterizes the Spanish
periphrastic constructions which serve to encode anteriors,
namely 'acabar de + Infinitive, llevar (in different configurations), tener
(equally in different configurations)' and 'venir (which also comes with
various different complements)'.

In the sixth chapter, Burgos provides a synchronic description of the
anteriors and their use. He distinguishes four different kinds of
anteriors (taken from the literature on Perfects):

- Anteriors of result ('Our guests have arrived.' = they are here now)
- Anteriors of experience: 'Have you ever broken the law?'
- Anteriors continuing: 'It has been snowing in the village since April.'
- 'Hot news' anteriors: 'The storm has just destroyed 3 buildings.'

The author demonstrates the importance of temporal adverbials
conveying anterior readings, and also provides data on selectional
restrictions for each of those readings with the four different kinds of
Vendlerian classes (Aktionsarten). He provides the possibilities of
encoding for each kind of anterior, as well as the attested frequency in
the corpora.

The seventh chapter provides a diachronic investigation (starting from
the earliest sources for each language), following the same pattern as
in chapter six.

The eighth chapter establishes a typological comparison of the
anterior-marking systems in English, Spanish, and German. According
to the author, the English anterior system is organized around the
Perfect, which has ousted Past and Present anteriority-marking as a
productive source of anteriors. The German system resorts to all three
Perfect, Past and Present in order to mark anteriority, although the
Perfect is claimed to be the only tense that can code all four types of
anteriority. In Argentinean Spanish, anteriority marking is done by Past
and Present tenses, whereas the Perfect is not a productive source
for anteriority marking. Burgos claims that speakers of Argentinean
Spanish who still use the Perfect form use it as an evidentiality-
marker, which, according to him, is the last stage of the
grammaticalization process of a Perfect.


One of the biggest merits of this study is to have taken seriously, and
thoroughly investigated, the role of adverbials in anteriority marking.
As the author shows convincingly, adverbials (together with contextual
cues) are very often the only way of deciding a) if a given sentence
displays an anteriority reading, and b) which anteriority reading it
displays. Scholars working on temporal adverbials -- but not only
those -- will find in this book a rich source of information, and a very
valuable point of departure for further research.

The author's decision to bring together the synchronic and diachronic
perspectives has equally proved to be very enlightening. The precise
description of the synchronic state (with its abundance of sources and
data) sheds light on the historical development, and vice versa.

However, the reader will regret the absence of translations of the
German examples and quotes in his book. This study, given its
intrinsic interest and typological perspective, should have been made
easily accessible to researchers not familiar with German. As it is, they
will have to guess the meaning of examples or crucial definitions
formulated in scholarly German prose, which will considerably diminish
the benefit of reading. Furthermore, the Old English, Old High German
and Middle High German examples would have required more
systematic glosses.

A point I found rather confusing when reading the book was the
discussion on the degrees of grammaticalization in chapter 3, and the
conclusions Burgos draws from it in chapter 8. In the literature I am
aware of (for instance, Meillet 1909, Bybee & Dahl 1989 or Squartini &
Bertinetto 2000, p. 406), an increasing degree of grammaticalization
of a given gram is considered to coincide with an increase in the
frequency of use of this form. Grammaticalization is seen as a
generalization of both meaning and use, a tendency to lose
selectional restrictions and to become obligatory in more and more
contexts (cf. Bybee & Dahl 1989, p. 65). Therefore it came as a
surprise to see the Argentinean Perfect described as the most
advanced form in the process of grammaticalization -- the Argentinean
Perfect being a form which, as Burgos writes, is ''practically 'in danger
of extinction''' (p. 283). This result becomes even more puzzling if one
sees grammaticalization according to a biological metaphor as the
process in which the competitors of the form undergoing
grammaticalization gradually ''die out'' (cf. Keenan & Stabler 2003, pp.
32-33). Therefore, one would expect the German Perfect, which can
take over nearly all uses of the Past tense, to be the most advanced
form among the Perfects under consideration. However, Burgos
considers the German Perfect to be the least advanced form.

Summing up, I think that Burgos' book is worth reading for people
interested in the typology of Perfects (or anteriors), of tense-aspect
systems in general and for those doing research on temporal
adverbials and Romance periphrastic expressions.


Bybee, J. L. (1985): Morphology: A Study of the Relation Between
Form and Meaning. Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Bybee, J. L., Dahl, Ö. (1989): ''The Creation of Tense and Aspect
Systems in the Languages of the World'', in: Studies in Language
13:1, 51-103.

Dahl, Ö. (1985): Tense and Aspect Systems. Oxford: Blackwell

Dahl, Ö. (2000, ed.): Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe.
Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Keenan, E. L., Stabler, E. P. (2003): Bare Grammar. Lectures on
Linguistic Invariants. Stanford: CSLI.

Meillet, A. (1909/1982): ''Sur la disparition des formes simples du
prétérit'', in: Linguistique historique et linguistique générale. Genève:
Slatkine, pp. 149-158.

Reichenbach, H. (1947/1966): Elements of Symbolic Logic. Toronto:

Squartini, M., Bertinetto, P. M. (2000): ''The Simple and Compound
Past in Romance Languages'', in: Dahl (2000), pp. 403-439.

I am a PhD student at the department of linguistics at the University
Paris 8, where I am preparing a thesis about the perfect tenses in
German, French and English. My research interests include the tense-
aspect systems, information structure and focus particles.