CALLE

Centre for Applied Linguistics & Language Education

Syntactic Hierarchy

I’ve mentioned syntactic hierarchy in previous posts and in several papers I’ve written and received some inquiries on the subject.  First, let me point out that I’m a linguist and as such sometimes get a bit technical in my discussions of English.  It’s a curse of being part of a technical/academic field – if you don’t use enough technical language (that is, the language of your chosen field) then your peers and colleagues won’t give your work due credence, however if you uselanguage that is too technical you run the risk of alienating or confusing lay readers.  Because this blog is essentially a mix between language education and linguistics, it leaves me often walking a fine line.  Sometimes technical terms are necessary, and in discussing this topic – syntactic hierarchy, it’s one of those times.  That said, I will do my best to explain this (honestly very simple concept) in the least technical terms possible…

 

Syntactic Hierarchy

First, this article on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Syntactic_hierarchy has nothing to do with syntactic hierarchy.  I’m honestly not sure what the author’s point is with the wiki entry as it seems to be little more than a cluster of terminology and references to the concept of syntax in general.  Google tossed out a few more hits for syntactic hierarchy, but most are simply reprints of the Wikipedia article or a collage of syntax and hierarchy.  There are a few other references to syntactic hierarchy on the web, but these mainly attempt to define a classification of linguistic concepts from most to least important, or in terms of grammar as lexical units as pertain to other lexical units within an utterance.  These are primarily limited to adjectives modifying nouns or adverbs modifying verbs.  Basically, someone out there has had the right idea but hasn’t quite fully grasped the concept.  From what I can tell, at least within the terms defined herein, and especially within the realm of English linguistics, the term ‘Syntactic Hierarchy’ is of my own coining.  It seems such a logical concept that I myself (and many of my students) have been using for years.  I haven’t found an equivalent named concept, and as I believe in the KISS (‘keep it short and sweet’ or ‘keep it simple, stupid!’) principle, and as this concept is one of a governing hierarchy of syntactic units, I am sticking with Syntactic Hierarchy.  I hope before long that others will choose to use this term and to incorporate awareness of syntactic hierarchy into their study of English and their methods of teaching the language.

Syntax

Syntax is one of those rather more unfriendly sounding linguistic concepts, but luckily its definition is nowhere near as harsh as its name may imply.  Syntax and semantics are probably the two most important concepts for understanding language.  Semantics is the overall name given to the concept of meaning – meaning of a word, meaning or a phrase, or the meaning of an entire sentence or paragraph (you may note that linguists generally use the term utterance instead of sentence, because sometimes the information being discussed is a whole sentence, but other times only a clause, or a phrase).  Whereas semantics deals with the meaning of an utterance, syntax deals with the structures of the utterance used to express that meaning.  Syntax is the overall category given for things like nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, prepositions, etc.  Syntax is basically the architecture of language.  Or, semantics is the information conveyed, and syntax is the method for conveying it.  Syntactic is the adjective form of the noun syntax – thus the syntactic in syntactic hierarchy refers to structural hierarchy.

Word Order & Hierarchy

Within languages which use set (or fairly set — in this usage meaning rigid) word order to define the role of various items within the utterance, the older systems of declensions and case have been replaced or at least heavily augmented by a system which utilizes relative position to convey meaning and role within the utterance.  Now, there is more than enough information widely available describing the various word orders and implications and usage of each.  Thus, these will not be discussed here.  However, I shall point out again that English has four basic word orders and a few variations on these (see TAMPA articles for a more thorough treatment).   The normal role of these word orders is in determining which components of an utterance are nominative (subjects), predicative (verbs), accusative (direct objects and objects of prepositions), dative (indirect objects), or genitive (possessives).  This is the general treatment of word order when discussing language.

There is however another layer of word order which caries meaning in most languages and which has its own set rules.  That layer deals with the relative position of one component of an utterance to other components, especially the ones directly adjacent.  To put it simply this word order is what determines what one word’s role is in regard to the next or previous word in an utterance (word x modifies word y but word y does not modify word x, etc).  This layer of information is called syntactic hierarchy.  English has a left-to-right syntactic hierarchy.  This means that within a given functional group (say a phrase or clause, or even the utterance as a whole), items to the right will always modify items to the left.  So, ‘The big red dog’ has a hierarchy in which ‘the’ modifies ‘big red dog’ while ‘big’ only modifies ‘red dog’ and is itself modified by ‘the’; ‘big’ can never modify ‘the’ and if ‘big’ is passed by by ‘the’ then the information of ‘which red dog?’ is lost.

This left-to-right syntactic hierarchy is especially important to be aware of when analyzing for things like mood in which one modal may modify another and another and another.  For more on this, check out the articles here on structure of modals.

 

 

January 6, 2011 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Tense

This is the first of 5 areas of focus for the TAMPA series on Time and Language, along with articles on Aspect, Mood, Perfection, and Aktionsart.  The introduction to this series can be found here.

Tense is one of three primary temporal attributes of language (temporal meaning related to time).  The other two are aktionsart, which is the temporal nature of a verb, and aspect — the temporal nature of an utterance.  They are used together with perfection and mood to express time in all languages.  *Remember, an utterance is the linguistic term for any formation that has a subject, verb and/or object and expresses a complete thought.

Definition:

Tense represents the contrast between two measurements along the timeline of an utterance, with one of those measurements being the Time of Utterance TUTT (the time at which the actual utterance is made).  TUTT is always the primary point of reference for tense.  There are three additional references to which TUTT can be contrasted:  TAST — the Time of Assertion, TCOM — the Time of Completion, and TEVL — the Time of Evaluation; these are secondary references.  Which type  is used for the secondary reference is determined by aspect and type of utterance.

TAST – Time of Assertion:  This is the time at which the action of the verb takes place.  It can be a single point in time (in non-durational aspects) such as in “I had dinner at 5pm.”  Or, it can be a range of time (in durational aspects) such as “I was eating dinner from 5 till 7.”

TCOM – Time of Completion:  This is the point in time at which a verb is completed.  TCOM is used with perfected forms.  In perfected non-durational aspects it represents the time by which a verb is finished, as in “I have eaten dinner.”  In perfected durational aspects it represents either the time at which a verb is finished, or more normally, a time up to which the verb is completed (but that it may continue beyond); this function of allowing for interrupting of the verb is the more standard use of this form and allows the duration of the verb to be measured up to a given point (TCOM).  Consider “I had been eating for 2 hours by 7pm,” in which an action (eating) has a duration, of which two hours of it is completed, as of 7pm.

TEVL – Time of Evaluation:  Some utterances do not support measuring a specific action.  Instead, they express a change in state, a generalization, or perhaps an habitual truth.  These utterances express an idea that is evaluated as true or not.  The earliest point in time at which the idea expressed (called the attestation) can be evaluated as true is the TEVL.  Consider “Birds fly.”  In this utterance a generalization is made (in the present) about birds and it can be immediately evaluated (present) as true.  Likewise “I used to drink coffee everyday,” refers to an habitual action that was true in the past so that the TUTT is present (it is said now) but its TEVL is the past.

Present, Past, & Future

A common misconception is to mistakenly speak of the “three tenses”.  Actually, aside from the true present (saying something right now that is happening right now) which can be a point (that point being right now), tenses are ranges.  These ranges refer to the contrast between the primary TUTT and the secondary TAST, TCOM, or TEVL.

If the primary and secondary references occur at the same point on the timeline, an utterance is said to be in the present tense.  If the primary reference occurs after the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the left of TUTT), then that utterance is said to be in the past tense.  And, if the primary reference occurs before the secondary reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL is to the right of TUTT), the utterance is said to be in the future tense.

The Time of Utterance is almost always the present.  The only instances in which TUTT occurs in the past or future is when dealing with reported speech, i.e. “John said “He is the murderer,” (TUTT in the past)” or “John will say “He didn’t do it.” (TUTT in the future)”.  Note in even these examples that the primary TUTT of the whole utterance is present, but the TUTT of the quoted utterance is in the past or future as reported.

It is best to refer to present tenses, past tenses, and future tenses rather than just tense because utterances can occur in the immediate present, general present, near future, distant past, etc with the differences in these subcategories within a range of tenses being the relative distance along the timeline between the two temporal references — the greater the distance between TUTT and TAST, TCOM, or TEVL, the farther in the past or future the tense.

Tense does not Equal Time

The word tense is often mistakenly used to refer to time in general or for anything related to time within language.  Tense is not time.  It is merely a contrast between temporal references as explained above.  A verb cannot have tense.  Verbs alone are just words.  Tense is an attribute of an utterance, and a verb outside of an utterance cannot express tense because there is nothing to compare it to.

This is not to say that verbs don’t have temporal qualities.  They certainly do.  In fact, all verbs have a temporal nature.  This temporal nature of verbs is called Aktionsart.  Aktionsart in some verbs are very strong so that they generally occur in one aspect more than another such as statives or actions.  Utterances also have a temporal nature, and like aktionsart does for the verb itself, aspect determines the temporal nature of the utterance itself.  In English, aspect determines whether the utterance expressed duration through its structure or not.  Verbs can also be completed, this is called perfecting.  Verbs can be naturally perfected via their aktionsart (such as verbs that naturally occur in an instance such as die, or sneeze).  Utterances can also be completed through perfecting their aspects (have eaten, have been eating).

With all this talk of aspects and aktionsarten (the plural of aktionsart (it’s German)) and perfecting, it is important to remember that while these all deal with time, they are not tenses.  So, there is no such thing as the “present perfect tense” or “present progressive tense” or the “past continuous tense” or the “subjunctive tense” or “the perfect”.  An utterance can occur in the perfected durational aspect in the past (I had been eating) but ‘in the past’ is the only part of that description that deals with tense.

Continue reading Tense, Part II: Present

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 26 Comments

Tense, Part II: Present

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here).  The following are examples of varying combinations of tense in different statements.  Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).

Present Tenses

The present tenses are those in which the two contrasting time references occur at the same time.  Technically there can only be one present tense in the strictest interpretation of the word — that is, a situation in which TUTT occurs at exactly the same time as TAST/TCOM/TEVL.  Most languages though tend to group situations in which the secondary time reference occurs very near the primary TUTT as present.  This allows for tenses such as the general present, immediate present, recent present, and such to be expressed.  In actuality these tenses are actually in the future or past (happening before [past] or after [future] the TUTT, and occurring to the left [past] and right [future] of TUTT) but the temporal distance of the secondary reference from the primary is negligible, so they are generally considered present tenses.  Outlined below are diagrams showing the five possible references in which present tenses occur (all diagrams represent true present tense rather than near present tenses discussed above):

TUTT coincides with TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John paints a picture.) are represented in this diagram.  Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT = TEVL below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”).  In utterances of this type, the time of utterance coincides with the time of assertion.  Thus, both primary and secondary reference occurs at the same time.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could also be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains present tense however, so long as TAST coincides with TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST also occurs at the same time in the past as TUTT (visually at the same spot on the timeline as TUTT), the utterance is still present tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at the same time as that future TUTT (again, visually at the same spot on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measureable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT coincides with TEVL

As with TUTT = TAST described above, a common present tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths.  These types of utterances always occur in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects.  In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurrence to observe (and thus no assertion).  Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform.  In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms).  The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions.  The diagram shows this temporal relationship in the present tense with the TUTT coinciding with the TEVL.  In other words, for generalizations and habituals, if the attestation may be evaluated as true immediately at the time of utterace, or to put it simply, if the the attestation being evaluated is known to be valid when the utterance is made, then the tense of the utterance is present.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John drinks coffee (generalization)” and “John goes to school everyday (habitual).”

TUTT during TAST

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John paints a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John works for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John is eating pizza.).  The diagram shows that for these constructions, in the present tenses, the time of utterance occurs during the time of assertion — the duration in which the verb occurs.  The smaller arrows in the diagram show that while the action may begin and end before or after the time of utterance, that TUTT falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration.

TCOM coincides with TUTT

It should be noted in this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms (TUTT = TAST and TUTT = TEVL) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘the present perfect’ or ‘present perfect simple’.   These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of the time of utterance.  In other words, the verb is finished as of now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  For this reason, specific time phrases may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  Examples include “John has eaten dinner,” and “They have just arrived” (both perfected TUTT = TAST), and “John has eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TUTT = TEVL).

TCOM coincides with TUTT during TAST

As with the above diagram, note that the secondary temporal reference (TCOM) for this type of utterance is listed prior to the primary TUTT in its description.  This is because TCOM – the time of completion, represents the termination of the verb, an end point.  This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TUTT during TAST) in the present tenses, often referred to as ‘present perfect progressive’ or ‘present perfect continuous’.   Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured.  It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT.  These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.  In the pressent tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up to the time of utterance, which is always now.  Because TCOM always coincides with TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of now.’  In other words, these constructions read as the verb has a given duration up to now.  Thus, specific time phrases regarding the time of completion may not be used with perfected forms in the present tenses.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit duration], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit duration].  Examples include “John has been eating dinner, (perfected TUTT = TAST with implicit duration)” and “It has been raining for three days (perfected TUTT = TAST with explicit duration).

Continue reading Tense, Part III: Past

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Tense, Part III: Past

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL).  All of the examples that follow are past tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Past Tenses

The past tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs before the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the left of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the past tense’.  There are in fact innumerable past tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points.  The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the past the tense is.  Common classifications of past tenses include the general past (that which occurs before the present with no defined time),  and a variety of past tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate past, recent present, distant past, and far distant past.

TAST precedes TUTT

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (John sneezed.) are represented in this diagram. Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TEVL < TUTT below).  Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of assertion precedes the time of utterance.  In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains past tense however so long as TAST occurs to the left of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the past, so long as TAST is further in the past than TUTT (to the left of TUTT), the utterance is still past tense.  Likewise, if TUTT is in the future, TAST may also be in the future so long as it occurs at a time before that future TUTT (again, visually to the left of it on the timeline of the utterance).  Because verbs in these types of utterance have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TEVL precedes TUTT

As with TAST < TUTT described above, a common past tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the past is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the past tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may be evaluated as having been true at a time prior to the time of utterance.  Examples of this in English include such statements as “John used to drink coffee (generalization)” and “John went to school everyday (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time beginning before TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (John painted a picture.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (John worked for IBM.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John was eating pizza.) in the past. It shows that in the past tenses, the time of utterance occurs after the time of assertion, which for this type of utterance is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action begins at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time (also prior to the utterance), and may end before or may continue beyond the time of utterance.  However in past tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which also occurs prior to the TUTT.

TCOM precedes TUTT

In this diagram and the following, that the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the past (TAST < TUTT and TEVL < TUTT).  These forms are often referred to as ‘the past perfect’ or ‘past perfect simple’. These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time prior to the time of utterance. In other words, the verb is finished before now. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT. Examples of this form include “John had eaten breakfast before lunch, (contextual)” and “They had arrived yesterday (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TAST < TUTT), and “When John lived here, he had eaten dinner at that café everyday” (perfected TEVL < TUTT).

TCOM occurs during or at the end of TAST and precedes TUTT

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration prior to TUTT).  In the past tenses, these are often referred to as ‘past perfect progressive’ or ‘past perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured. It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not the TAST but the TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the past, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration. In the past tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point prior to the time of utterance. Because TCOM always prior to TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the past].’ For this reason, a specific time prior to TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually prior to TUTT.  While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John had been eating dinner when the phone rang, (perfected TAST < TUTT with implicit duration and specific past TCOM)” and “It had been raining for three days.  It’s just cold now.” (perfected TAST < TUTT with explicit duration and contextual past TCOM).

Continue reading Tense, Part IV: Future

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Tense, Part IV: Future

Examples:

This post follows the initial article on tense (here) and a discussion of present tense forms (here) and past tense forms (here). The following are examples of varying expressions of tense in different statements. Remember that tense is nothing more than a contrast between the Time of Utterance (TUTT) and either the Time of Assertion (TAST), Time of Completion (TCOM), or Time of Evaluation (TEVL). All of the examples that follow are future tense, regardless of the nature or aspect of the utterances.

Future Tenses

The future tenses are those in which the secondary temporal reference (TAST, TCOM, or TEVL) occurs after the primary reference (TUTT), or visually, with TAST, TCOM, or TEVL occurring to the right of TUTT on the timeline of an utterance. Technically there is no such thing as ‘the future tense’. There are in fact innumerable future tenses with varying degrees of temporal distance between reference points. The greater the temporal distance between the primary and secondary references, the farther in the future the tense is. Common classifications of future tenses include the general future (that which occurs after the present with no defined time), and a variety of future tenses with defined times such as these (listed in increasing temporal distance from TUTT) immediate future, near future, distant future, and far distant future.

TUTT precedes TAST

The temporal relationship of verbs used in utterances occurring in non-durational aspects, in which the verb used does not have a durational aktionsart (The plumber comes tomorrow.) are represented in this diagram.   Generalizations and habitual truths are not included in this group (see TUTT < TEVL below).   Although common in many languages, this form is quite rare in English as most verbs either have a durational aktionsart or are used in the durational aspect (English has only one durational aspect — usually called “the progressive”). In utterances of this type, the time of utterance precedes the time of assertion. In the diagram at left, time of utterance is given as present, but could be in the future or the past.  The utterance remains future tense however so long as TAST occurs to the right of TUTT on the timeline of that utterance.  For example if  TUTT were in the future, so long as TAST is further in the future than TUTT (to the right of TUTT), the utterance is still future tense.  Likewise, if TUTT were in the past, TAST may also be in the past so long as it occurs at a time after that past TUTT (again, visually to the right of it on the timeline of the utterance). Because verbs in these forms have no measurable duration the TAST is punctular – it’s a single point along the timeline rather than a range.

TUTT precedes TEVL

As with TUTT < TAST described above, a common future tense usage occurs with generalizations and habitual truths. These types of utterances always occur in non-durational aspects. In these types of utterances, there is no specific verb occurance to observe (and thus no assertion). Instead, the purpose of such utterances is to merely inform. In these utterances, a generalization or an habitual truth about the future is attested as true (or questioned for trueness in interrogative forms). The earliest point at which these attestations can be evaluated as true or not serves as the secondary temporal reference for such constructions. This diagram shows this temporal relationship in the future tenses with TEVL preceding TUTT. In other words, for generalizations and habituals, the attestation may not be evaluated as being true until a point in time after the time of utterance. Examples of this in English include such statements as “Our supply of fossil fuels shall only last 50 years(generalization)” and “I am going to go to the gym everyday this year (habitual).”

TAST occurs during a range of time ending after TUTT

This diagram reflects the temporal relationship within utterances used in non-durational aspects involving activities (Santa Clause comes tonight.) or other types of utterance in which the verb employed has a naturally durational aktionsart (The TV will work if you hit it.), and any durational aspect aspect utterance regardless of whether the aktionsart of the inclusive verb(s) is durational or not (John and Mary are going to the cinema later.) in the future.   It shows that in the future tenses, the time of utterance occurs before the time of assertion ends.  For this type of utterance, TAST is not a point, but rather a span of time — the duration in which the verb occurs. The smaller arrows in the diagram show that the action may begin at a time prior to the time of utterance, and continues for a length of time, but ends at a time beyond the time of utterance.   In future tense constructions, the contrast is made between the TUTT and that portion of the TAST that falls at some point within the range of the verb’s duration which occurs after the TUTT.

TUTT precedes TCOM

In this diagram and the following, the secondary temporal reference is TCOM – the time of completion, which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected non-durational forms in the future (TUTT < TAST and TUTT < TEVL). These forms are often referred to as ‘the future perfect’ or ‘future perfect simple’.  These types of utterances do not provide information regarding the duration of the verb, but rather, merely establish that the assertion or attestation of the utterance is completed as of a time after the time of utterance. Because TCOM always beyond TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future].’ For this reason, a specific time after TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the past tenses, either as a specific time phrase (last week, yesterday, etc), or expressed as contextually beyond TUTT. Examples of this form include “John will have eaten breakfast before he eats lunch, (contextual)” and “I will have finished my project by the end of the week (specific time phrase)” (both perfected TUTT < TAST), and “By the mid 21st Century our supply of fossil fuels will have been exhausted” (perfected TUTT < TEVL).

TUTT precedes TCOM which occurs during or at the end of TAST

As with the above diagram, the secondary temporal reference for this type of utterance is TCOM – the time of completion which represents the termination of the verb, an end point. This is the diagram for perfected durational forms (TAST occurring over a duration which terminates after TUTT).  In the future tenses, these are often referred to as ‘future perfect progressive’ or ‘future perfect continuous’. Whereas in the perfected non-durational forms above, TCOM represents an absolute terminal point of the verb, in perfected durational forms, TCOM may represent either the terminal point of the verb (that time at which it is completed or finished and beyond which it does not continue), or TCOM may represent any point within the duration of the verb, up to which that completed duration can be measured (an interruption).   It is possible that the TAST of the verb could continue beyond the TCOM, but this is irrelevant as the focus of such utterances is not TAST but TCOM and its temporal relationship with TUTT. These types of utterances are normally used to provide information regarding the duration of the verb up to a given point in the future, be that point the terminus of that verb’s duration or a point within the duration.   In the future tenses, the duration of the verb may be measured up any specific point beyond the time of utterance. Because TCOM always after TUTT, the time of completion is always read ‘as of [x time in the future],’ where x is the specific future time.  For this reason, a specific time beyond TUTT must be used with perfected forms in the future tenses, either as a specific time phrase (by next week, by tomorrow, etc), or expressed as contextually after TUTT. While a specific measure of duration may be used with such utterances [explicit], it is not required as some verbs which have a durational aktionsart may also be conveyed as having completed duration simply by their nature [implicit]. Examples include “John offered to help this evening, but I will have already been been finished by then, (perfected TUTT < TAST with implicit duration and specific future TCOM)” and “I’ve been told I may be promoted, but I will have been working here for three years by then. (perfected TUTT < TAST with explicit duration and contextual future TCOM).

Continue reading Tense: Conclusion & Review

February 3, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sounds of English: Fricatives

Fricatives – a fricative is a consonant produced by forcing air through a constricted space.  In other words, in producing these sounds, turbulence is caused when the air is forced trough a smaller opening.  Depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to constrict the airflow, that turbulence causes the sound produced to have a specific character (say have very slowly and stretch out the /v/; pay attention to what happens to the air when the teeth touch the bottom lip for the /v/).  There are five types of fricative in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click fricative, and select the appropriate sound.

/f/  /v/ labiodental fricatives

A labiodental (from labia lip and dental teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by upper teeth to the lower lip, creating turbulence for the air, but not stopping its passage out of the mouth. English has two labiodental fricatives — /f/ in which the vocal chords are not used (voiceless) as in fire and laughter, and /v/ in which they are used as in very and of.

/θ/  /ð/ linguadental fricatives

linguadental (from lingua tongue and dental teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the bottom edge of the front upper teeth, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two linguadental fricatives — voiceless /θ/ as in think and math, and /ð/ which is voiced as in this and father.

/s/  /z/ lingua-alveolar fricatives

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two lingua-alveolar fricatives — voiceless /s/ as in say and class, and /z/ which is voiced as in zebra and is.

/∫/  /ʒ/  lingua-palatal fricatives

lingua-palatal (from lingua tongue and palate the top of the mouth) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by touching the tongue to the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge (see above), creating a narrow opening through which the air passes. English has two lingua-palatal fricatives — voiceless /∫/ as in shoe, pressure, and machine, and /ʒ/ which is voiced as in azure, pleasure, and rouge.

/h/  /ɦ/ glottal fricatives

glottal (from glottis the area of the windpipe behind the tongue) fricative is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is constricted by tightening the glottis — the part of the windpipe behind (below) the tongue which contains the vocal cords, creating a narrow opening through which the air passes before entering the mouth. English has two types of glottal fricative — voiceless /h/ as in happy and hello, and /ɦ/ which actually represent an entire class of voiced glottal fricatives — vowels (more on this here).

Continue reading Part 3.3: Affricates

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Points of Articulation

A team at the University of Iowa developed this (now abandoned) very useful website a few years ago.  It’s an interactive flash site with both audio and visual animation showing the process for speech production.  It’s excellent for showing language learners points of articulation, or if you are linguist struggling with IPA or slight differences between languages, this is also a great reference.

Universal Points of Articulation:  anatomy.htm

Language-Specific Points of Articulation (English, German, Spanish):  http://www.uiowa.edu/~acadtech/phonetics/#

January 9, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics, Teacher Resources | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

I HAVE YET to figure this out…

(yes, pay attention to the CAPS)

Linguistics is all about questioning what you already think you know about language.  And, as I’ve pointed out in other posts, in order to be an effective English instructor, you must also be a linguist — if not by career, at least by your willingness to question your understanding of the language.  My first ESL post is what actually led me to become a linguist.  I remember being in the classroom as a very green teacher and upon seeing the various looks of confusion on my students’ faces, thinking that there simply had to be a better way to teach English than the method used in that school (Callan Method).  I realised at the time that while these purely communicative methods provide learners with an inventory or forms and vocabulary, that they fail to convey any actual understanding of how or why to use this newly acquired knowledge.  Of course my next realisation was that neither I nor my fellow teachers really understood the various reasons and logic behind most of the usage we were teaching either.  Hence my entry into the field of linguistics, and the beginning of an ever ongoing project to research, classify, and explain the various bits of English grammar and syntax that confuse even the best of us at times.

Over the past three years I have been doing quite a bit of work on sentence structure, word order, and forms which are difficult for language learners to grasp.  I owe this to probably the greatest group of students I shall ever have — a class of 16 German engineers to whom I taught a 3 month intensive technical English course.  They were great for asking questions I couldn’t answer and for not allowing exceptions to the rules.  I made a deal with them at the time that I would research their questions until I found a fool-proof answer for them.  Three years later and I am still working on about half of those queries!

Much of my work has resulted in a classification system for modals (found here) that seeks to explain why some verbs, or forms, or other such sentences don’t mesh with the standard ‘rules’.  I’ve found that almost every one of the oddball constructions is a modal expression (just like shall, or will, or be going).  However, there is one form that I’ve been trying to figure out for well over a year now, and it’s actually the only but of standard grammar I have not been able to fully explain.  That form is:

have + yet + infinitive.

Examples include things like “I have yet to finish my homework,”  “he has yet to call home,” “I had yet to cook dinner when the fire broke out.”

These forms differ from other uses of yet and generally have an equivalent form in the perfected informational aspect:

I have yet to finish my homework  ≃ I haven’t finished my homework yet.

He has yet to call home  ≃  He hasn’t called home yet.

I had yet to cook dinner when the fire broke out  ≃  I hadn’t cooked dinner yet when the fire broke out.

Now, modal forms and adverbs both are often used to express mood in English.  And many times two completely different forms can be used to express the same mood.  Often one form has an added meaning that is perhaps a bit different than the other.  That’s probably the case here.  I have yet to actually figure out what mood is being expressed by these forms, but I am certain that have + yet is a modal phrase.

Modals in English have certain characteristics that set them apart from other verbs and verb phrases (these are outlined in the modal post below).  Certain attributes are only found in some modals though and not in non-modal forms.  Have+yet subordinates the verb that follows it into the infinitive form (requiring to); this is a modal-only characteristic.  Have+yet cannot be modified by other modals (will have yet is not possible), another modal characteristic.  Have+yet has no negative form.  This final one is characteristic that only modals and some auxiliaries exhibit.  It is also what separates Have+yet from the perfected forms with yet.

Thus, while I have no doubt that have+yet is in fact a modal, I still have no idea what mood (or moods) it expresses.

Any ideas?

December 19, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity

When do you use shall versus will?  And what is the difference between ‘will read’ and ‘going to read’?

Years of teaching English to non-native speakers has given me a sort of insider’s view into this shall versus will phenomenon.  What I have found is that asking any two native-speaking English instructors when to use a certain grammatical or lexical construction will often result in three, four, five, or more often conflicting ‘rules.’  What this shows is that not only do students of the language not generally understand the grammar, but most often native speakers and in also those tasked with teaching the language do not fully understand the grammar and proper rules of usage.  In surveying speakers of the language, teachers, and the content of method books and grammar guides, it has become quite obvious to me that in regard to futurity in English this confusion and uncertainty goes well beyond the simple issue of shall versus will but that it extends to the entire spectrum of future forms.

This paper discusses the role of tense, aspect, and mood in expressing future in English.  It discusses at length the ten ways of expressing the future and provides detailed rules on the usage of forms such as shall, will, be going, be about, etc.

It dispels folk etymology and opinionated theories on when to use one form or the other, instead providing a thorough inventory of all forms with detailed discussion of the roots of these forms, historical changes, and current usage.  It is hoped that through a better understanding of the differences in these forms and their usage, that speaker and language educators may better equip themselves to teach this often challenging bit of grammar.

Click below to read the entire paper or download it to your computer:

An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity

December 17, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Structural Classification of English Modals

Have you ever wondered which modals can be used where?  Or why ‘will be able to go’ is grammatical but ‘will can go’ is not?  Or why some modals require to before the modified verb while others don’t?   Then read on…

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Structural Classification of English Modals is the fourth in a series of five papers dealing with the basic grammatical structure and behavior of verbal constructions in modern English.  These five works: Voice in English:  Semantic Implications of the Passive-Active Paradigm (2007), Word Order & Syntactic Hierarchy in English (2007), A Logical Classification of English Aspects (2007), Structural Classification of English Modals (2009), and An Inventory and Discussion of English Futurity (2009) are intended to provide a holistic overview of the core functions of the language and their inherent interactions so that a better understanding of modern English grammar may be attained.

Introduction

Modality is a contentious topic within the linguistics community with a vast diaspora of theories, approaches, interpretations, and classification schemes – some complementary and some far from it.  English relies on modal expressions more than many languages and possesses a vast complexity of mood and modal forms.  While there may be much debate as to which moods are or are not present in English usage, there is little to deny that mood plays an integral role in the meaning and structure of utterances in the language.  Mood is expressed in English via an ever changing number of marked and unmarked forms.  Regardless of specific modal usage being a point of contention among linguists and grammarians, language analysis shows a clear pattern of change in recent centuries toward increased usage of marked modal forms.  Many of these marked forms involve specific abnormal word orders, adverbial or prepositional cues, qualifying clauses or phrases, and verbal constructions functioning in an auxiliary manner.  It is not the specific moods, nor the meanings expressed by them that are the subject of this paper.  Rather, this is a discussion of these various marked verbal auxiliary forms used to manifest modality within the language.

This paper first discusses the auxiliary system of English utterances as outlined in Word Order & Syntactic Hierarchy in English (Ward 2007) and in particular the role modals as auxiliaries within this system.  It should be stated that the term modal, as discussed in this paper refers to any single word or words used as a marked form for expressing modality.  There is no credence given to terminology such as true modal, semi-modal, modal approximates, or the like.  Terminology such as the aforementioned reflect a  very limited and closed-minded approach to the study of modality and have more a place in efforts to classify structures based on historical views of modality than on the usage of the forms themselves.  As pertains to this discussion, modals express modality, and any marked form – whether a single verb, phrase, or other structure which together or alone expresses modality is a modal.  Upon adequate background discussion including word order, auxiliaries, and aspect, an accounting of all currently known structural classes of English modals shall be given with special attention paid to their form, behavior, and effect on the forms they subordinate.  Finally as thorough an inventory of modal forms as possible will be provided with reference to their respective structural classifications.

Continue reading, or download the entire paper to your computer:

Structural Classification of English Modals

December 17, 2009 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments