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The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect


Edited by Robert I. Binnick


Oxford Handbooks in Linguistics

Oxford: University Press, 2012

Hardback. 1089 pages (incl. 110 tables & illustrations). ISBN 978-0195381979. £110.00


Reviewed by Marc Fryd

Université de Poitiers


Editor & Contributors:

Robert I. Binnick is Professor Emeritus of Linguistics, University of Toronto. His main research areas are Mongolian and Altaic languages in general, and the semantics of tense and verbal aspect. He is author of Modern Mongolian (1976) and Time and the Verb (1991).


Edna Andrews, Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, John Beavers, Pier Marco Bertinetto, Robert I. Binnick, Robert Botne, Greg Carlson, Janice Carruthers, Patrick Caudal, Ashwini Deo, Ilse Depraetere, Jean-Pierre Desclés, Ferdinand De Haan, Hana Filip, Monika Fludernik, Victor A. Friedman, Zlatka Guentchéva, Jadranka Gvozdanovic, Galia Hatav, John Hewson, Jacqueline Lecarme, Alessandro Lenci, Jo-Wang Lin, Peter Ludlow, Steve Nicolle, Toshiyuki Ogihara, Monika Rathert, Kylie Richardson, Marie-Eve Ritz, Diana Santos, Louis de Saussure, Yael Sharvit, Mark Steedman, Bertrand Sthioul, Tim Stowell, Henriëtte de Swart, Henk Verkuyl, Mila Vulchanova, Laura Wagner

General presentation of the book:

The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect (hererafter TOHTA) is an edited volume containing 1089 pages, 36 chapters by 40 authors, with separate bibliographies, and a final 42-page general index (names & notions). The book starts with a short preface where Editor Robert I. Binnick stresses the prominence taken by studies on tense and aspect in recent decades and makes a case for a volume which would take stock of “what we know about tense and aspect early in the second decade of the 21st century” [ix]. To this end, he has gathered a team of scholars from a dozen countries, working on a wide range of areas, from computational linguistics to stylistics, and representing a broad spectrum of theoretical approaches (e.g. descriptivism and structuralism, Relevance Theory, Role and Reference Grammar, Segmented Discourse Representation Theory, etc). Each author, says Binnick, was presented with a title and charged with the task of producing a chapter “that represented what they would expect to find under that title in a volume called [TOHTA].”

Following the preface, one finds a 17-page list of Symbols and Abbreviations used throughout the book, a short biographical presentation of the various authors, and lastly a copious 53-page Introduction where Binnick summarises the various contributions.

The book is divided into six parts: Contexts (chapters 13), Perspectives (chapters 416), Tense (chapters 1724), Aspect (chapters 2532), Aspect and Diathesis (chapters 3334), and Modality (chapters 3536).

Here is a summary of the contents of the six sub-parts.

PART I: CONTEXTS tackles Tense and Aspect from three different perspectives which all share an interest in linguistics while pursuing avenues of their own.

Chapter 1, Philosophy of Language [5974], by Peter Ludlow, explores some of the puzzles that surround the analysis of tense in the philosophy of language. He discusses tensers, who “take tense to be an irreducible and real feature of the world,” and detensers, who think “it is a superficial property of language or thought that can be regimented away in terms of other (…) primitives.” Against the latter proponents, the view held by tensers, for instance, is that tense-marked morphologies are understood analogically (e.g. the relation between blurf and blurfed) rather than compositionally. Detensers, on the other hand, take a positional view in terms of operators of the type ‘earlier/later than’ (cf. Reichenbach 1956). The chapter also discusses the notion of ‘presentism’, according to which only the present is real.

Chapter 2, Narratology and Literary Linguistics [75101], by Monika Fludernik provides a review of important contributions to the study of tense and aspect from the perspective of the production of narratives (e.g. Benveniste 1959, Weinrich 1964). Key concepts from these authors are discussed, such as ‘discours/histoire’, ‘Besprechen/Erzälen’(discourse/narration), in relation to the notion of deixis. The chapter also discusses the use of tenses in narratives as a means of foregrounding or backgrounding, and the way in which time-shifting can be produced in a chronology. Some attention is also given to the experimental use of tense and modality in narratives, especially in so-called ‘post-modernist’ fiction.

Chapter 3, Computational Linguistics [102120], by Mark Steedman, considers linguistic contributions to CL (temporal semantics and temporal logic) to lament the fact that ‘information retrieval’ or Q&A (‘question and answering) have made ‘surpringly little use’ of the former. Considering contributions made in the reverse order from CL to linguistic temporal semantics, Steedman makes a case for the positive and fruitful role played by CL, in particular to the logic of change.

PART II: PERSPECTIVES gathers 13 chapters covering a wide range of distinct approaches on tense and aspect.

Chapter 4, Universals and Typology [123154], by Jean-Pierre Desclés & Zlatka Guentchéva, distinguishes between inductive and deductive approaches typology and universals. The authors place the notions of topological interval and open or closed boundaries at the centre of their conceptualisation of aspectuality.

Chapter 5, Morphology [155183], by Ashwini Deo, seeks to lay out the “essential components of a morphologically grounded theory of tense and aspect”, how meaning and markers interface, and what can be said about this from a universal or a typological point of view. Deo discusses the asymmetry in tense systems where the present tense holds a default position as a, sometimes, morphologically unmarked tense, thus forming binary tense systems with the past and or the future. Further sections discuss the contrast of perfective and imperfective, the progressive, and the perfect, as well as the relationship between telicity and perfectivity.

Chapter 6, Syntax [184211], by Tim Stowell, “is concerned with the syntactic properties of tense, and how the theory of syntax should account for them” [184]. Stowell chooses to focus on four key questions: (a) What counts as a tense? (b) Where do tense morphemes occur in syntactic structures? (c) To what extent are the semantic properties of tenses reflected in their syntactic form? (d) What parallels exist between tenses and other types of grammatical categories?

Chapter 7, Markedness [212236], by Edna Andrews, offers a critical assessment of the Prague School concept of Markedness, as initially proposed by Roman Jakobson, and in a selection of notable further developments. Andrews also makes room for inimical views, even wholesale rejection of the concept as “superfluous” (Haspelmath 2006). Andrews critiques several die-hard “myths” prompted by the absence of definitive formulations of markedness, notably the correlation of frequency, whereby the marked member of an opposition is the least frequent. Andrews concludes the chapter with a discussion of the relevance of markedness to the study of aspect in Russian.

Chapter 8, Adverbials [237268], by Monika Rathert, is expectedly restricted to considerations on temporal adverbials. Rathert describes the different types of temporal adverbials, the interactions of temporal adverbials and tense, and lastly tense and adverbials in subordinate clauses. The author offers descriptions combining elements of tense logic and interval representations to address questions of ambiguous temporal reference inherent in natural language. Adverbs for and since –and their German equivalents – feature prominently among the surveyed adverbials.

Chapter 9, Pragmatics [269305], by Patrick Caudal, seeks to tackle the question of how TAM markers are used and interpreted in context: what part of the interpretative content ascribed to tense / aspect forms should pertain to pragmatics as opposed to semantics? How do semantic and pragmatic phenomena interact with one another in the synchrony and diachrony of tense/aspect forms? Caudal makes a case for the relevance of dynamic semantic theories, and more particularly for the Segmented Discourse Representation Theory (SDRT). The main interest of pragmatics, for Caudal, lies in (i) “context-sensitive uses of tense-aspect forms in synchrony”, and (ii) in “the conventionalization of these contextual uses”.

Chapter 10, Discourse and Text [306334], by Janice Carruthers, considers tense and aspect within the context of discourse and text, registering semantic, pragmatic, textual and stylistic functions played there. In a series of case studies, Carruthers applies markedness theory to the use of the present tense to refer to the past. She looks at the sequence of tenses in narratives, and lastly at the interaction of tense and point of view / focalisation.

Chapter 11, Translation [335369], is by Diana Santos. Barring some general considerations, e.g. on translation equivalence and untranslatability, the core of the chapter is a presentation of the author’s Translation Network Model as it applies to the translation of tense and aspect. This involves nodes of semantic properties listing source and target language respective tense and aspect eatures and arrows illustrating sets of strategies adopted by a given translator and / or forming universal constraints in the translation process from source to target language.

Chapter 12, Diachrony and Grammaticalisation [370397], by Steve Nicolle, looks at how tense-aspect systems come about, how particular markers or distinctions arise, and how these change over time. Nicolle considers both primary grammaticalisation –how grammatical markers develop out of lexical material – and secondary grammaticalisation – how already grammaticalised markers acquire further functions.

Chapter 13, Language Contact [398427], by Victor A. Friedman, is essentially concerned with issues pertaining to language contact in the Balkans: bi- and multi-lingualism, the cross-impact of those co-existing multiple linguistic systems, contact-induced (grammatical) change. Friedman offers detailed considerations on a wide range of topics, including aspect neutralisation, the development of ‘be’, ‘have’ and ‘want’ as auxiliaries to mark a whole set of meanings (e.g. futurity, conditionality, resultativity, etc.).

Chapter 14, Creole Languages [428–457], by Donald Winford, first considers Bickerton’s (1984) famous claim that TAM systems in creole languages are the product of a ‘bioprogramme’. Winford, however, takes an opposing view to the innatist explanation of creole-formation and favours an explanation rooted in theories of contact-induced change.

Chapter 15, Primary Language Acquisition [458480], by Laura Wagner, provides an overview of what is known about how children acquire grammatical aspect, lexical aspect and tense. Children, it would appear, tend to favour sets combining past + perfective + telic on the one hand, and present + imperfective + atelic, on the other hand. Children initially have trouble disentangling tense from grammatical aspect, but this is largely resolved by the time they are three years old.

Chapter 16, Second Language Acquisition [481503], by Kathleen Bardovi-Harlig, focusses on the “Aspect Hypothesis” according to which first language learners encode the completion of events before they encode temporal relation between events, i.e. tense, and posits similar learning patterns in L2 adult learners. The author’s research is also centered around what she calls the Four Aspect Hypotheses: (1) learners first use past marking on achievements and accomplishments, later extended to activities and states; (2) in languages encoding the pefective/imperfective distinction, imperfective past appears later than Perfective Past, and imperfective past begins with statives, extending next to activities, then to accomplishments and, finally, achievements; (3) in languages that have progressive aspect, progressive marking appears first with activities, before extending to accomplishments and finally to achievements; and (4) progressive markings are not overextended to statives.

PART III: TENSE gathers eight chapters on a variety of problems and perspectives pertaining to the representation of temporality.

Chapter 17, Tense [507535], by John Hewson, begins with the premiss that “language is a mental phenomenon [that] cannot be adequately described as a physical or behavioural phenomenon”, and thus cannot lend itself to some “abstract algebra” independent of the speaker. In his approach of the concept of “tense”, Hewson makes a powerful case of the theoretical model initially developed by French Linguist Gustave Guillaume. Drawing from a fair range of languages, Hewson diligently demonstrates the relevance of powerful Guillaumean concepts such as “ascending” and “descending” time.

Chapter 18, Remoteness Distinctions [536562], by Robert Botne, addresses the case of languages where varying degrees of remoteness (past or future) from the temporal deictic center can be expressed: some languages (e.g. Lunda – a Bantu language) may thus have up to five future tenses expressing increasing degrees of temporal distance. The chapter discusses the very concept of remoteness, as well as other key notions such as scaling, both encompassed within complex systems.

Chapter 19, Compositionality [563585], by Henk J. Verkuyl, offers an advocate’s view on “compositionality”, a notion which stipulates that the meaning of a linguistic expression is directly correlated to that of its immediate constituents. His plea leads him to provide a refutation of the famous non-compositional ternary system of Reichenbach (1947). Verkuyl then goes on to demonstrate how one can fruitfully apply compositionality to Russian aspect.

Chapter 20, The Surcomposé Past Tense [587610], by Louis De Saussure & Bertrand Sthioul, looks at supercompound tenses combining two past participles, as found in several Germanic or Roman languages, but also in a number of other languages. The authors’ interest in this chapter, however, lies more specifically on examples in French. This syntactic pattern is especially interesting insofar as the presence of two past participles appears to point to two distinct reference points, thus posing a serious challenge to existing theories across the board.

Chapter 21, Bound Tenses [611637], by Galia Hatav, considers the constraints applying to tenses in English and in Hebrew in the case of embedded attitude verbs, e.g. Two years ago, John thought that Myriam [LOVE] him. While the embedded verb in English will show SOT (sequence of tenses), and concord with the past tense of “thought”, Hebrew is a non-SOT language, and “love” will tense-shift to the now of the attitude-holder, and thus be in the present tense.

In Chapter 22, Embedded Tenses [638668], authors Toshiyuki Ogihara & Yael Sharvit, investigate two established theories of embedded tense (the Upper Limit Constraint Theory and the Copy-Based Theory) before making proposals of their own. The data under scrutiny is of the following sub-types: past-under-past or present-under-past / future.

Chapter 23, Tenselessness [669695], by Jo-Wang Lin, is concerned with languages which are devoid of morphological tense markings (e.g. Mandarin, Yucatec Maya, Guaraní …) and resort to aspectual marking to mark temporal distinctions. Lin argues against the null-tense marking hypothesis for such languages, and argues in favour of a complex solution combining such elements as temporal adverbials or explicit discourse anaphora.

Chapter 24, Nominal Tense [696718], by Jacqueline Lecarne considers languages (admittedly not numerous) where temporal information can bear on other items than verbs (e.g. nouns or adjectives). Among the points judged by Lecarne as crucial features the observation that some “tenseless” languages resort to nominal determiners to convey temporal relations, thereby illustrating an analogy between spatial degrees of proximity and temporal remoteness.

PART IV: ASPECT gathers eight chapters illustrative of key categories and constructions pertaining to aspectuality.

Chapter 25, Lexical Aspect [721751], by Hana Filip, sets out to delimit the notion of lexical aspect within the domain of aspect. The chapter discusses tests for the telic/atelic distinction in English. It discusses the notion of lexical aspect with respect to grammatical aspect, aspectual class and aspectual form. It also discuses change and the stative / dynamic distinction and, among other topics, Dowty’s become predicate. Filip also introduces the topic of mereological approaches to aspect, on the grounds that “eventualities are basic ontological entities just like objects, and both their domains are structured by the basic binary relation part-of”.
Chapter 26, Verbal Aspect [752
780], by Henriëtte de Swart, covers successively a number of criteria which a principled account of verbal aspect needs to take into account. The chapter starts with examples illustrating varying degrees of definiteness in the VP to show, after Verkuyl (1972), that lexical aspect is a misnomer and that the semantics of the VP contributes to the aspectual character of the sentence as a whole. The author adopts a cross-linguistic perspective on the perfective / imperfective contrast, or on the progressive and the perfect (exx. in French, Russian, English, Mandarin Chinese). As regards compositionality, de Swart favours a layered representation of the type [Tense [Aspect [Aspectual class]]]. Attention is also given to the interaction of grammatical aspect with measurement adverbials, as well as to negation and frequency.

Chapter 27, Perfective and Imperfective Aspect [781802], by Jadranka Gvozdanovic, is concerned with the grammatical opposition of Perfective vs Imperfective aspect in Czech, Russian and Bulgarian, and to a lesser extent other languages. Like other authors in this section, and elsewhere in the volume, Gvozdanovic reviews the notions of lexical vs grammatical aspect but she is especially concerned with how they correlate in Slavonic languages with a string of affixes. Aspect is posited to operate by virtue of a layered pattern of phenomena, with semantic compositionality at each of the separate layers: lexical aspect at the level of verbs and arguments, grammatical aspect inasmuch as licensed by lexical-aspect classes and temporal quantifiers, and lastly tense.

Chapter 28, Progressive and Continuous Aspect [803827], by Christian Mair, concerns those languages whose grammars provide for a “language-particular morphological category that signals that an event is dynamic over the event frame” [803]. Some attention is paid to “borderline” cases where a given semantically progressive expression is considered by Mair to be only “weakly” grammaticalised, and so optional, for instance in regional use, e.g. German Er ist am / beim Arbeiten. As Mair notes, the progressive is rarer in the world’s languages than the perfective / imperfective distinction (itself present in over 40% of them). The chapter also offers insightful observations about the increasing degree of compatibility of statives with the progressive in English, with the added observation that novel pragmatic overtones may “piggyback” (this reviewer’s formulation!) on the initial aspectual meaning to convey, for instance, attenuative connotations, e.g. Were you wanting to come visit…?

Chapter 29, Habitual and Generic Aspect [828851], by Greg Carlson, broaches the question of habituality and, more particularly, whether this notion qualifies as an aspect. The chapter investigates the morphology of habituality across languages. Attention is given to contexts facilitating the expression of habituality, such as “circumstantial” contexts, i.e. “discourse in which a type of setting is first introduced, and then sequences of events that typically occur within that setting are enumerated, often in the habitual” (e.g. Our family used to meet every year for the holidays followed by a string of events that typically occurred within that setting: We arrived before Christmas. We would enjoy a family dinner. We then opened gifts…) Some attention is also paid to statives, to the meanings of habitual aspect, and the chapter concludes with a discussion of the notion of gnomic imperfectivity, a category encompassing habits, universal laws, rules, customs, etc.

Chapter 30, Habituality, Pluractionality, and Imperfectivity [852880], by Pier Marco Bertinetto and Alessandro Lenci, seeks to arrive at a better understanding of habituality, and especially of its iterative component. Following Newman (1980), the authors use the term of “pluractionality” in reference to events which consist of more than one sub-event occurring in one and the same situation. Pluractionality may be broken down into “event-external p.” (e.g. swim daily in the lake,) and “event-internal p.” (e.g. knock insistently at the door). The first category alone, however, lends itself to the expression of both habituality and iterativity. Bertinetto and Lenci’s interest lies in the first category, with a view to distinguishing habituality from iterativity. One key criterion laid out by this very dense contribution, is that “habitual sentences, unlike iterative ones, are intrinsically characterizing: they attribute a defining property to the intended referent(s)” [860]. Like Carlson (chap. 29), the authors apprehend habituality within the scope of the notion of gnomic imperfectivity.

Chapter 31, Perfect Tense and Aspect [881907], by Marie-Eve Ritz, reviews theories of the Present Perfect in English and, marginally, in other languages. The author notes that although the PP has often turned into a past perfective, this evolution has not affected the English PP. According to Lindstedt (2000 : 371) “When a perfect can be used as a narrative tense … it has ceased to be a perfect”. Ritz offers a discussion of the semantics of the Perfect (i.e. is it a tense, an aspect, or both?) and introduces the reader to formal approaches of the Perfect, more specifically with a view to representing the form as the expression of a ‘Perfect State’ (also called consequent s.) Ritz further offers a (formal) discussion of the pragmatics of the perfect. A change of approach is operated in the final stages of the chapter, where Ritz considers semantic change affecting the Perfect in Australian English, whereby the narrative functions hitherto disallowed are shown to be quite productive. After pertinently quoting Slobin (1994 : 124): “the hallmark of the perfect is its Janus-like attention to both past process and present circumstance”, Ritz concludes the chapter with her view of “changeability” in meaning as the likely essence of the Perfect, and therefore as the reason why the form “continues to be a challenge to tense-aspect theories” [904].

Chapter 32, Resultative Constructions [908933], by John Beavers, is a description of constructions of the type: John hammered the metal flat. The term "resultative" in such a context is borrowed from Halliday (1967), who thus opposed two types of attributes, the “resultative” just seen, and the ‘depictive,’ as in “John hammered the metal naked”, the latter attribute describing “not a result, but a state that holds of some participant (here John) during the event” [908]. Beavers proceeds with a presentation of the various types of resultatives (e.g. adjectival, prepositional, or determiner phrases), and follows with a discussion of the (semantic) composition of the event so predicated, dwelling on notions such as causation and change-of-state, telicity, durativity. The key, says Beaver, is event composition, an issue that is given in-depth attention throughout the chapter.

PART V: ASPECT AND DIATHESIS. This part comprises two chapters, dedicated to how aspect interacts with Voice and Case.

Chapter 33, Voice [937959], by Mila Dimitrova-Vulchanova, is concerned with the relationship of aspect with voice and, to a lesser extent, with tense, with a selection of data quasi-exclusively from Bulgarian. Basing her observations on Verkuyl’s compositional theory (Verkuyl 1993), the author discusses how voice may be affected by aspect (e.g. resultatives) and causatives. She describes the constructionist and the lexicalist approaches. Among the various points raised figures whether diathetic alternation may generate new aspectual value.

Chapter 34, Case [961985], by Kylie Richardson, is a survey of the interaction of case and aspect based on facts collected in a wide range of language families (e.g. Slavic, Germanic, Uralic, Indic) and two more isolated languages from Papua New Guinea and Australia.

Stimulating observations are made to demonstrate how different case markings affecting an element in the verb phrase may yield radically different aspectual interpretations (e.g. exx. 6-7, from Finnish: (a) Juna pysähtyi asema-lle vs (b) Juna pysähtyi asema-lla, where both mean The train stopped at the station, but with (a) implying that this is the end of the line, while (b) implies that the station was a passing point) [966]. Richardson’case for the relevance of case in the study of aspect is convincingly put across in a wealth of examples.

PART VI: MODALITY. This final part includes two chapters. The first one concerns the interaction of temporality with modal verbs in English, while the second and final chapter is concerned with how evidentiality and mirativity overlap with tense and aspect. 

Chapter 35, Time in Sentences with Modal Verbs [989–1019], by Ilse Depraetere, looks at “the ways in which temporal information is communicated in sentences with modal verbs” [989]. The author’s interest is explicitly circumscribed to a set of English modals: can, could, may, might. The reader is reminded of well-established notions such as the fact that “epistemic modality has scope over a complete proposition, while root modality has scope over the predicate” [992]. Quoting from the literature, Depraetere also notes how root modal could followed by an infitive perfect licenses a simultaneity reading with predications expressing a homogeneous (i.e. unbounded) situation (e.g. What’s hard for us to understand in retrospect is how anyone could have thought otherwise). A similar level of aspectual homogeneity –thus allowing a simultaneity reading– is obtained with a progressive phrase (e.g. be writing a letter), but refused with an heterogeneous (i.e. bounded) predication (e.g. write a letter), which forces a non-simultaneity reading.

Chapter 36, Evidentiality and Mirativity [10201046], by Ferdinand de Haan, closes the volume with an exploration of how evidentiality and mirativity manifest themselves in various languages. The approach adopted by the author is in keeping with the functional-typological tradition. Formerly restricted to a string of non-Western languages, evidentiality is now recognised to play a role in Western languages, albeit via typologically differents sets of markers (e.g. temporal, aspectual, modal, lexical...). The chapter presents key notions such as first-hand or second-hand evidentials. Mirativity – the grammaticalised expression of unexpectedness – receives specific attention, and is shown to justify consideration in its own right, alongside evidentiality.



The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect (TOHTA) is a significant contribution to the Oxford Handbooks series, now rich of several hundred volumes, some nineteen of which concern the field of linguistics. TOHTA stands in good company among neighbours addressing topics as varied as Linguistic Minimalism, Linguistic Fieldwork, or Language and Law, to name but a few. In the wealth of material published by OUP, Handbooks follow a specific editorial line, thus formulated:


Oxford Handbooks offer authoritative and up-to-date surveys of original research in a particular subject area. Specially commissioned essays from leading figures in the discipline give critical examinations of the progress and direction of debates, as well as a foundation for future research. Oxford Handbooks provide scholars and graduate students with compelling new perspectives upon a wide range of subjects in the humanities and social sciences [publisher’s website].

Hands-on contact with TOHTA proves in every respect a gratifying experience. Excellent typesetting, adequate font size, pleasantly contrasting black ink on heavy weight white paper, stitched pages and solid binding: this is a volume conceived to be easy on the weary eyes of seasoned scholars and sturdy enough to withstand the repeated perusals of students one may wish to be visited upon it.

Personal preferences will no doubt vary, but the editor’s choice of independent bibliographies attached to their respective chapters, on the one hand, but of a single final index of names and notions, on the other, strikes this reviewer as a better choice than the comprehensive bibliography adopted by other editors of the series, e.g. The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization edited by H. Narrog & B. Heine.

Unsurprisingly, in a volume so carefully edited, the number of typos is very limited. The following two instances alone have come to the attention of this reviewer in the course of a detailed consultation of the book: “That is that the kind of changes that…” / “…the idea seems to have been arisen more than once” [111]. More frustrating, but fortunately rare, are instances of clumsy, uncolloquial, or even frankly dodgy examples (e.g. Chap. 30: Pendant l’année passée, Jean visitait sa mère rarement / souvent, [855]). Admittedly, the question of how genuine linguistic examples need to be has long been divisive, and colorless green ideas will likely go on sleeping – furiously or otherwise – for some time yet… In this respect, TOHTA is no exception, and concern with the authenticity of linguistic samples chosen for scrutiny is not throughout paramount. In the same vein, acceptability judgments may on occasion reflect an anachronistically narrow prescriptive view of the language, e.g. when Chap. 30 (again!) stars *Little Mary was crying for 10 minutes (which, though marked as a present-day development of the progressive, does not strike this reviewer as especially objectionable; see COCA: I was crying for half the weekend).

As quoted above, Editor Robert I. Binnick’s purpose in commissioning this volume was to establish “what we know about tense and aspect early in the second decade of the 21st century”, and it is this reviewer’s rôle to wonder here whether these ambitious objectives were met.

One observation to be made, as a starting point, is that the linguistic scales in the volume are perhaps unduly tilted in favour of the English language. Not just because English, as today’s lingua franca, has inherited the function of a default language wherein to couch one’s universal reasonings, but also, and more surprisingly in TOHTA, because considerations paid to English far outweigh – in numerical importance – those bearing on other languages (e.g. compare the paltry 21 entries referring to Spanish in the final index, with the bountiful 132 entries devoted to English). In this respect, one may question the judiciousness of a chapter such as 35 – notwithstanding its own merits – whose horizon does not expand beyond modality in the English language, a bias unatoned by any pledge to apply the findings of this case study to other languages.

A second observation must bear on the varying degree of ambition respectively illustrated by the successive chapters. Thus, chapter 2, Narratology and Literary Linguistics, provides a convincing text-book introduction to the topic of narratology and tense / aspect but fails to make a case for the buoyancy of the domain for present-day research, as transpires from the paucity of references dated beyond the turn of the century in the chapter’s bibliography.

With TOHTA in hand, it appears that the constraint of maintaining a balance between the didactic and the exploratory may have been somewhat liberally interpreted by some, in favour of one or the other. That said, and in spite of any (limited!) reservations previously expressed, the volume is a tribute to the mastery and dedication of editor R.I. Binnick, and TOHTA’s team of contributors. It deserves a place of choice in university libraries and on scholars’ bookshelves.


Benveniste, E. « Les relations de temps dans le verbe français » (1959). In Problèmes de linguistique générale, I. Paris : Gallimard, 1966 : 237-250.

Binnick, Robert I. Modern Mongolian. Oxford: University Press, 1976.

Binnick, Robert I. Time and the Verb. Oxford: University Press, 1991.

Halliday, M.A.K. “Notes on transitivity and theme”. Journal of Linguistics 3 (1967) : 37-81.

Lindstedt, L. “The Perfect—aspectual, temporal, and evidential”. In Ö. Dahl (ed.), Tense and Aspect in the Languages of Europe (Empirical Approaches to Language Typology, 20-6). Amsterdam: De Gruyter, 2000 : 365-383.

Narrog, H. & Heine, B. (eds.) The Oxford Handbook of Grammaticalization. Oxford: University Press, 2011.

Reichenbach, Hans. Elements of symbolic Logic. London: Macmillan, 1947.

Reichenbach, Hans. The Direction of Time. University of California Press, 1956.

Slobin, D.I. “Talking perfectly: Discourse origins of the present perfect”. In W.Pagliuca (ed.), Perspectives on Grammaticalization. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 1994 : 119-133.

Verkuyl, H.J. On the compositional Nature of the Aspects. Dordrecht: Reidel, 1972.

Verkuyl, H.J. A Theory of Aspectuality: The Interaction between temporal and atemporal Structure. Cambridge: University Press, 1993.

Weinrich, H. Le temps : Le récit et le commentaire. Paris : Seuil, 1964.



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