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Review of  Temps et aspect: de la grammaire au lexique.

Reviewer: Emmanuelle Labeau
Book Title: Temps et aspect: de la grammaire au lexique.
Book Author: Céline Benninger Véronique Lagae Anne Carlier
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Semantics
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 14.175

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Date: Mon, 13 Jan 2003 08:57:39 +0000
From: Emmanuelle Labeau
Subject: Review of Lagae, Carlier, and Benninger (eds) (2002), Temps et ...

Lagae, Véronique, Carlier, Anne, and Céline Benninger (eds) (2002) "Temps et aspect: de la grammaire au lexique". Rodopi, paperback ISBN 90-420-1133-5, vii + 215 pp, Cahiers Chronos 10.

Emmanuelle Labeau , Aston University, Birmingham (UK)

This volume is the tenth of the well-known Cahiers Chronos series that has become in recent years a reference in the study of temporal reference within the French-speaking linguistic community. Most of the studies collated here were presented at the third Chronos Colloquium in Valenciennes (1998) although three (Carlier's, Flaux' and Lagae's) were presented at the fourth in Nice in 2000. The present volume offers a reflection on the role of grammar and lexicon in the expression of time and aspect across languages.

To start with, Dany Amiot asks whether or not the verbal prefix re- carries an aspectual value. On the basis of the Guillaumean definition, she expects an aspectual prefix always to indicate an iteration, the scope of which affects the verb. Her examples, taken from the "Trésor de la Langue française", lead her to conclude that, if indeed re- implies repetition, this iteration can affect other constituents than the process, as shown by movement verbs such as 'reconduire' where the iteration modifies the relation of localisation between the arguments of the verb.
Delphine Battistelli and Jean-Pierre Desclées then use the formalism of the "Grammaire applicative et cognitive" (Desclées 1990) to analyze a series of semi-auxiliaries: 'se mettre à, commencer à, cesser de, finir de, être en train de, continuer à'. After a brief presentation of the methodology, they formalise the concept of 'aspect' and 'modalité d'action' (expressed by the pre-verbs). This representation implies a hierarchy between aspect and 'modalité d'action'. They draw conclusions relating to inferences triggered by 'modalités' that rely on different types of knowledge: aspectual constraints linked with the types of verbs and temporal relations such as anteriority, succession or simultaneity.
Anne Carlier tackles a more general topic: she studies the aspectual properties of the French passive. Observing that passive clauses tend to focus on the result of a process or its iteration, she suggests that semantic changes come from the fact that 'être' makes the periphrastic passive stative. She then analyses the impact of tense on the interpretation of the passive and suggests a hierarchy: the aspectual value of the passive is within the scope of the aspect carried by tenses.
We are back to the lexicon with Nelly Flaux, who devotes her contribution to the relation between time and what she calls 'idéalités concrètes', in other words, concrete entities that are not perceived by senses. First, she attempts to specify this category of nouns: (i) they imply a predication ('une sonate de Beethoven' implies a sonata written by Beethoven); (ii) the complement cannot express possession (it is not a sonata that belongs to Beethoven) and (iii) they are not ambiguous with 'même' and 'autre' (compare 'la même sonate' and 'le même vélo' that can be understood as the same object or as the same type). The main point she emphasises is that 'idéalités concrètes' enjoy a unique relationship with time, with which they are linked, unlike concrete objects, and more precisely virtually linked unlike abstractions. She concludes with a grammatical description.
Geneviève Girard's paper shifts the language focus, with her consideration of the English structure 'be + -ing'. She starts by recalling two main ways of interpreting this as a certain presentation of the process or as a subjective interpretation of the utterer, a position held by French enunciativists. She sets herself the goal of reconciling the two approaches by trying to identify a possible link between imperfectivity and the value of comment. She comes to the conclusion that the coherence of the periphrastic form comes from the fact that it provokes a referential discrepancy between the verb and the meaning intended by the utterer, either because the process does not reach its final limit or because it only evokes an interpretation.
A Russian corpus is the source for date for Alina Israeli's study of verbs of motion prefixed by u-, vy-, po-, pri- and ot-. To achieve her aims she adds to the parameters of deixis (the speaker's perception of their position) and of point of view, the concept of focus, which can focus on the source, the goal, the figure or its relevance. Thanks to this approach, she is able to identify semantic differences between u-, vy- and po- and two functions for ot-.
Laurence José sketches a study of temporal complements in French, involving units such as 'an, mois, semaine', that locate a verbal phrase. She explores two main questions: (i) why can only some of those units be used without an introductory preposition and (ii) would there be other non-segmental indications allowing these to serve as a reference point? On the basis of a distributional analysis, she suggests that the dependence from the VP is indicated by other markers than prepositions, such as contrastive reference marking.
As for Carlier, the passive is the focus of Véronique Lagae' s study; she focuses on two ways of expressing the passive in French: periphrastic passive (être + PP) and in particular the pronominal passive, asking whether the two forms are complementary. She starts with some properties of the pronominal passive: use of this is restricted to verbs with a direct object; it prevents the presence of an agent, its subject is mostly inanimate and in the third person. She then explores the complementarily of the two passives on the basis of two hypotheses: the difference between particular and generic, and accomplishment. If she concludes the existence of opposite trends in the forms, she acknowledges that binary oppositions do not suffice to explain the forms.
Gérard Mélis also comes back to a point already tackled in the volume by Girard, the '-ing' form. He tries to identify an invariant under the two readings of what he calls the periphrastic form that can indicate non-accomplishment or a mixture of anaphora and modality that he subsumes under the tag 'lecture dénominative'. Whilst some factors favour one interpretation rather than the other, Mélis concludes that the form possesses two fundamental properties: the ability to locate and an operation of identification between either the points of actualisation or the notions involved in the discursive situation Like Israeli, Denis Paillard devotes his attention to Russian Pre-verbs and offers a classification for some 20 of these, that transform imperfective verbal bases into perfective VP. That classification shows regularities independent of the semantics of the preverbs. First preverbs are separated into 'catégorisants; and 'événements'. The former refer to a reconstruction of the VP from external properties, whilst the latter subordinate the VP to the preverb. Then the combination of the prefix and verb semantics shows three possibilities: juxtaposition, reconstruction or 'graft' with which the traditional interpretation of the prefixes can be associated.
The lexicon is the focus of the last two chapters. Katia Paykin aims to show that, unlike meteorological verbs, meteorological nouns do not need to be understood as events. She suggests a triangular classification of those nouns according to the categories of events (eg. 'éclair' - flash of lightning), substances (eg. 'rosée' - dew) or states (eg. 'chaleur' - heat).
Finally, Hélène de Penanros works on a definition of 'lors de' contrasted with 'à l'occasion de', where the event is predominant and 'au moment où', where time is primordial. 'Lors de' introduces an event placed in time, seen as a whole, that is used as a reference point for another event.

As stated in the presentation, the book aims to open up avenues for reflection on some ways of expressing temporal reference and aspect from the most grammatical to the most lexical from the VP with the passive (Carlier, Lagae), the progressive tense (Girard, Mélis), semi-auxiliaries (Battistelli and Desclées), prefixes (Amiot, Israeli, Paillard), temporal complements (José, de Penanros) and nouns (Flaux, Paykin). However, to the reader's surprise, the chapters do not follow that logical order and they appear in alphabetical order of the contributors' surnames (maybe a bug at some point of the editorial process?). This results in related studies being separated. Despite that structural quirk, the book manages nonetheless to meet its purpose and offers both topical variety and thematic unity (which is not always the case in volumes based on conference papers).
Variety shows first in the theoretical assumptions. Most of the contributions are mainly based on French traditions (Guillaume, Culioli) although Anglo-Saxon inspired formalism also appears (Battistelli and Desclées) as does a fusion of traditions (Girard). This variety appears also in the topics: while some contributions choose to focus on very precise points (eg. the semantic nuances of three related prepositions by de Penanros), others offer a wider overview of a subject , as in the well-informed overview by Carlier on the passive. Finally, contrasting French with English and Russian provides a judicious illustration of the general theme: difference between lexical and grammatical coding of aspect on the one hand, variety of grammatical coding on the other hand. Complementarity also shows in the fact that each contribution is related to at least one other either to focus on different aspects of the topic (eg. Girard and Melis for the -ing form or Carlier and Lagae for the passive) or to tackle it from a different angle, like when Paillard gives a general classification of Russian preverbs whilst Israeli focuses on some specific cases.

It is of course possible to take issue with some minor points of the discussion: for example the fact that 'rebriller' would indicate not a distinct occurrence of 'briller' but only the continuation of a past situation in Amiot's paper; or de Penanros' etymological 'proof' that meteorological nouns do not come from verbs); and it is even more debatable in the case of judgments on created examples (eg. do sentences such as 'when you vote Thatcher, you vote for the Conservatives / you are voting against the NHS' really prove that the -ing form expresses subjectivity as Girard assumes?). However, on th whole, contributions are very clearly designed and the reasoning easy to follow; a special mention here for Battistelli and Desclées who manage to present clearly and simply the notions on which their fairly complex formalism is based. To conclude, in spite of a debatable structure, this volume offers, as it claims, interesting insights into the whole question of how time and aspect are expressed in languages. A good knowledge of both French and English is required to read the book, as Russian examples are the only ones to be usefully glossed and then translated.

Emmanuelle Labeau is a lecturer in French in the School of Languages and European Studies of Aston University (Birmingham). Her PhD dissertation "The Acquisition of French past tenses by tutored Anglophone advanced learners: is aspect enough?" was accepted in 2002. She is more generally interested in time and aspect of the French past tenses. Together with Pierre Larrivée, she has organised so far two workshops on related topics that have led to two publication. i