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  • Tense and aspect in the languages of Europe ed. by Östen Dahl
  • Agustinus Gianto
Tense and aspect in the languages of Europe. Ed. by Östen Dahl. (Empirical approaches to language typology 20.) Berlin & New York: Mouton de Gruyter, 2000. Pp. xiii, 846. $275.60.

The twenty-one contributions in this volume were written by members of the working group on tense and aspect in the Typology of Languages of Europe (EURO-TYP) project. The papers reflect the final versions submitted in 1997 with no substantial updates. They represent the topics discussed during the working group’s sessions in 1992–1994. Part 1 (1–305) deals with general and theoretical issues; Parts 2–4 handle the future time reference (307–61), the perfect (364–514), and the progressive (515–719); Part 5 presents several case studies (721–85). Each part contains a general introduction followed by several other papers dealing with more specific issues. There are three questionnaires at the end of the volume: on future time reference (789–99), on the perfect (800–809), and on the progressive aspect (810–18). Each of these consists of a set of questions that serve to elicit forms and constructions from native speakers and another set of questions that are meant to assist the linguist in analyzing the data. The book includes three indexes (827–46): subject, language, and author indexes. Among the merits of the volume is the space given to languages not belonging to the Indo-European family, such as Basque, Finno-Ugric, and Semitic (Maltese), and phenomena of language contact.

The typological perspective adopted in the volume is outlined in a keynote essay by Östen Dahl, ‘The tense-aspect system of European languages in a typological perspective’ (3–25). Basic to his view is the partial or fuller combination of core ‘gram types’: perfective, imperfective, past, and nonpast. Type 1 has only imperfective and perfective, type 2 only past and nonpast. Type 3 is like type 1 with, however, a past-nonpast distinction in the imperfective, and type 4 is like type 1 but with a past-nonpast distinction found in both the imperfective and the perfective. Most of the papers gathered in this volume reflect different endeavors to implement this view.

Somewhat different is the view outlined by Lars Johanson, ‘Viewpoint operators in European languages’ (27–187). His viewpoint categories correspond to various perceptions about situations. In this connection he introduces the notion of terminality to characterize whether an action can be seen as happening within, after, or toward the limits of the situation being predicated. Traditional notions like aspect (completed vs. incompleted situation), actionality/Aktionsart (beginning, course, end of an action), and temporality (past, present, future time reference) are included in what he calls ‘aspectotemporality’. Under the influence of pragmatic factors, morphosyntactic markers of aspectotemporality are said to manipulate lexical items. He also introduces the notion of focality/defocality to specify various pragmatic operations involved. The terminological burdens of this approach run the risk of aggravating the problems concerning tense-aspect. Positively said though, this approach helps to clarify the issues that are already known in the traditional study of tense and aspect. Due to its length and scope, Johanson’s contribution could actually stand as a separate monograph. As a matter of fact, the theoretical perspective and methodology represented there are not clearly echoed in the other contributions in the volume except in Éva Ágnes Csató’s article on Turkic. It is D’s approach above, which is also known from his previous publications on tense-aspect, that has more in common with the other papers.

The other three general articles in the first part deal with specific issues in the study of tenseaspect. Pier Marco Bertinetto and Denis Delfitto, ‘Aspect vs. actionality: Why they should be kept apart’ (189–225), maintain that, whereas actionality (traditionally called Aktionsart) refers to the type of event, such as statives, activities, accomplishments, and achievements, aspect is the specific perspective adopted by the speaker in viewing the event, hence the basic distinction perfective vs. imperfective. In the reviewer’s opinion, the distinction between aspect and Aktionsart may have more appeal...


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