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

TAMPA: on Time & Language

This begins a new series here at the CALLE site.  TAMPA is meant to provide a basic overview of the relationship of Time and Language — how languages express time and how time expression manifests itself in the various structures and forms of language.  It is a precursor to an upcoming textbook covering the same information with particular focus on applying this understanding to the language education experience.  Information on that project will appear soon at languageandtime.wordpress.com when it becomes available.

TAMPA is an acronym referring to the five attributes of language used for expression of time and the relationship of time to linguistic structures in all languages.  These terms tense, aspect, mood, perfection, and aktionsart are used throughout linguistic and language education texts, yet there exists still quite a bit of confusion regarding their meanings. Tense, Aspect, and Aktionsart are the three primary temporal attributes of language. That is, they are the concepts in linguistics that deal specifically with time. The fourth term, perfection is more secondary to the expression of time as it is purely the method of presenting the verb as completed (finished) or not.  The fifth, mood, is again not specifically a temporal element, but is a key element in time expressions in most languages including English.  What’s interesting about these five is that they are among the most simple, easy to understand concepts in the study of languages, yet they are also among the most misunderstood of all linguistic concepts.

Confusion

There’s a reason so much confusion exists regarding these topics. More than anything, that reason is terminology. The temporal nature of language has not been the most actively studied area of languages and this is probably because it’s been only in the last hundred years or so that linguists have truly come to understand how such information is expressed in most languages and how different languages relate to time and its expression within their forms. The study of the relation of time and languages began in earnest only around the turn of the 20th century. It was at this time that linguists in Russia and Germany first realized that what works in analyzing one language does not necessarily work in analyzing another. Prior to this time, grammars and analysis of languages had been based on the model established by Greek and Roman philosophers studying Greek and Latin. Greek (ancient Greek) was the model used for most study. The Greek language is, compared to most modern tongues, quite simple and straightforward, especially in regard to temporal expression. People were discussing and writing about the interworkings of the Greek language thousands of years before the idea of linguistics as a field of study even came about. They figured out much of the science of communication and basics of what we still study today (semantics, syntax, morphology, etc) at a time when much of the world hadn’t even thought of the wheel. Human beings being easily proud of our accomplishments unfortunately didn’t continue our passion for linguistic research with that ancient fervor of old. Having figured out the basics of Greek linguistics, students of language basically stopped and for the next two thousand years attempted to describe every language they encountered in terms of their comparison to Greek.

It’s Greek to Me.

Every language is of course not Greek, nor are that many of them structurally similar to that common tongue of Sparta and Troy. Today it is understood that there are many languages, that those languages can be grouped into families of related tongues, and that various types of languages have various characteristics that may not be common in other types of language. As commonsensical as this seems though, this view is a fairly new innovation. Prior to the 20th Century, most grammars, regardless of language used the Greek model. English is by far the best example of this because most of the grammars of English, both past and present, have been written with relatively little attention paid to the actual linguistics of English. Instead, they have attempted (and always failed) to shape the structures of English into a form that can mesh with seemingly equivalent forms in Latin and Greek.

To understand the fallacy of such an approach it’s best to perhaps first consider what the study of linguistics is and to compare that to the study of a language or of the study of languages as a whole. The study of a language is basically the academic pursuit of fluency in that tongue. It’s basically just learning the language for the purpose of being able to communicate with speakers of that language. The study of languages as a social science is more one of anthropological curiosity – of comparing the ways in which various peoples and cultures communicate and how they blend the aspects of their culture and character with that communication. The field of linguistics takes this study of languages to a new level, that of the study of language as a whole – the human ability to create systems of communication with various patterns and forms and of the underlying math of such systems. It’s these systems that are truly the focus of linguistics.

Every language conveys the same information. They all have subjects and objects and verbs and ways of communicating the who, what, when, where, how, and why of daily life. This is the primary similarity of all human communication. The differences are in how this information is conveyed. Some languages use extremely long words in which complex systems of prefixes and suffixes express things like tense, number, mood, person, aspect, and any other combination of information or character. Other languages use individual words for each of these attributes. Most, like English, are somewhere in the middle with a system of inflected words and structures providing the full inventory needed for expressing any combination of meaning.

It is important to understand that all languages, while appearing sometimes very different on the surface, are at their core quite similar, especially in their being tools for conveying common information and key attributes of human existence. Time is of course one of those key attributes of our lives and languages all have a means of expressing time through their grammars, syntax, and usage. The mistaken historical approach of trying to make everything fit the mold of Greek or Latin is not in the idea that the information expressed is different, but rather that all languages express that information in similar ways. They of course do not, so while time is a standard and ever present component of language, the relation of time to each language is specific and merits specific treatment and research.

TAMPA: Tense, Aspect, Mood, Perfection, & Aktionsart

In understanding languages, improving language learning efficiency, and especially in honing an approach in secondary language instruction, understanding the primary ways in which languages express time and their interaction is of the utmost importance. Regardless of any differences languages may have in the manner in which such information is expressed, the types of time information are the same – combinations of tense and aspect as regulated by aktionsart. Some languages also blend supporting moods into their systems of temporal expression. English is a prime example of such a language in that all but two future forms in the language require additional modal support. Basically, there are five linguistic components at play regarding the relationship of time and language: Tense – the contrast between temporal references on the timeline of an utterance; Aspect – the temporal nature of that utterance, usually as durational or not, as determined by structure; Mood – any additional qualification of the utterance, particularly as applied to its verb; Perfection – the quality of the temporal nature of that utterance as completed or not, as determined by structure;  and Aktionsart – the temporal nature of the inclusive verbs used in that utterance, most often defined as a combination of duration and completion.


Continue reading TAMPA: The Basics

March 12, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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 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: Plosives & Stops

Plosives – a plosive is a consonant characterized by a complete obstruction of the outgoing airstream by the articulators, a build up of air pressure in the mouth, and finally a release of that pressure.  A stop is merely the first part of this sound (the stopping of the airstream).  In other words, in producing these sounds, the air is stopped for a brief moment (say pop over and over and pay attention to what’s happening).  There are three types of plosive in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click stops, and select the appropriate sound.

/p/  /b/ bilabial plosives

A bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by closing the lips together. English has two bilabial plosives — /p/ in which the vocal chords are not used (voiceless) as in pizza and pepper, and /b/ in which they are used as in boy and trouble.

/t/  /d/ lingua-alveolar plosives

lingua-alveolar (from lingua tongue and alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth. English has two lingua-alveolar plosives — voiceless /t/ as in top and must, and /d/ which is voiced as in dog and troubled.

/k/  /g/ lingua-velar plosives

lingua-velar (from lingua tongue and velar the velum or soft palate) plosive is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is interrupted by touching the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  English has two lingua-velar plosives — voiceless /k/ as in cook and ask, and /g/ which is voiced as in dog and good.

Aspiration — aspiration refers to the release of air at the end of a consonant sound.  Plosives are naturally aspirated (because air is released following the stop portion of the sound.  Linguists often use the term aspiration only to refer to strong puffs of voiceless air after a plosive.  Sometimes the term “aspirated stop” is employed, but this is a misnomer as stops cannot be aspirated (aspirated stops thus being plosives).  Regardless of aspiration though, the procedures for producing sounds are the same, thus ‘aspirated /p/ is not annotated differently from non-aspirated /p/.

Continue reading Part 3.2: Fricatives

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 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

Sounds of English: Nasals, Liquids, & Glides

The first three groups of sounds in English — plosives, fricatives, and affricates are collectively referred to as obstruents (because they obstruct the airway).  Each of these sounds involve some type of halting or obstructing the flow of air.  Obstruents always occur as voiced and voiceless pairs, with two sounds being produced identically from a mechanical standpoint (which articulators do what), but with the only difference between them being the use of the vocal cords.  In contrast, the final three types of sounds involve redirection of the air exiting the body without halting or obstructing its flow.  These sounds are called sonorants.  The word sonorant is a combination of sonorous (having strong resonant sound) and consonant. The name sonorant refers to the fact that these sounds reverberate or echo off the vocal organs with the breath exiting freely through either the nose or mouth (versus obstruents where the air is constricted or obstructed so that it cannot flow freely).   In English, sonorants are always voiced, but often occur in more than one form depending on how they are combined with other sounds.  There are three categories of sonorants — nasals, liquids, and glides.

Nasals

Nasals – a nasal is a consonant produced by redirecting out air through the nose instead of allowing it to escape out of the mouth.  In producing nasals, the throat and mouth act as a resonator, or place where the sound echoes about before exiting the body (in the same way that sound bounces around inside the body of a guitar or violin).  The specific sound qualities of nasals differ depending on which parts of the vocal tract are used to stop the airflow and send it to the nose. Types of nasals derive their names from those articulators used.  Nasals occur in pairs of very similar sounds — syllable initial nasals and syllable-final nasals, in which the order of articulation is reversed.  In other words, the steps required to produce the syllable-initial sound are performed in reverse order.  There are three types of nasal in English.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-initial sounds are represented).

/m/  /m̩/ bilabial nasals

bilabial (from bi- two and labia lip) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing both lips together, fully closing the mouth.  This allows the entire mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the unique full sound. English has two bilabial nasals — /m/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in make, mother and hammer, and syllable-final /m̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in rhythm, mom, and imply.

Production of syllable-initial /m/ is begun with the lips together, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the jaw is dropped which parts the lips and opens the mouth resulting in a release, restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /m̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the jaw is raised and lips brought together to seal the mouth, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended as there is no release.

/n/  // alveolar nasals

An alveolar (from alveola the ridge just behind the front upper teeth) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by touching the tongue to the alveolar ridge — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the upper front teeth.  This allows the latter portion mouth to act as a resonance chamber resulting in the sound slightly more shallow than that of bilabial nasals.  English has two alveolar nasals — /n/ which occurs at the beginning of a syllable  (syllable-initial) as in need, know and running, and syllable-final /n̩/ which occurs at the end of a syllable as in can, nine, and given.

Production of syllable-initial /n/ is begun with the tongue pressed against the avleolar ridge, the vocal cords vibrating, and air escaping through the nose; finally the tongue is lowered, resulting in a release and restoring the usual flow of air through the mouth.  For syllable-final /n̩/, the order is reversed beginning with vocal cords made to vibrate while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the tongue is raised and pressed against the alveolar ridge, redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is simply ended with the tongue still pressed to the alveolar ridge as there is no release.

̯ /  /ŋ / velar nasals

velar (from velar the velum or soft palate) nasal is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected from the mouth to be made to exit through the nose by pressing the back of the tongue to the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This allows the only the throat to act as a resonance chamber resulting in a shallow sound which is ended with a reduced velar stop.  English has two velar nasals — /ŋ/ which occurs at the end of a syllable  (syllable-final) as in ring, singer and meaning, and syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ which occurs only at the beginning of certain foreign words such as the Vietnamese surname, Nguyen.

Production of syllable-final /ŋ/ is begun with the the vocal cords vibrating while air is allowed to escape through the mouth, then the back of the tongue raised and pressed against the velum, sealing the mouth and redirecting the already flowing air through the nose.   Sound is ended by interrupting the flow of air with the velar stop /g/ (although the /g/ ending /ŋ/ is much weaker than the standalone lengua-velar stop).  Syllable-initial /ŋ̯/ is produced similarly except that production is begun with the tongue pressed against the velum with the initial voicing being wholly nasal.  /ŋ̯/ ends in a /g/ as a velar plosive release.

Liquids

Liquids – a liquid is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence (as with fricatives).  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, with liquids the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by the tongue sending it in different directions within the mouth before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each liquid is affected by the position of the tongue and the way in which the exhaling air is directed around it. There are two primary types of liquids — laterals in which the air is directed toward the sides of the mouth, and non-laterals in which the flow of air is altered but still directed forward.  The individual sounds of each type derive their names from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals, liquids occur in sets of very similar sounds — syllable initial, syllable-final,  and in the case of non-laterals a third form, the trill.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click nasal, and select the appropriate sound (only syllable-final sounds are represented).

/ l /  / ɫ /  lateral liquids

lateral (from Latin laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is redirected around the tongue and toward the sides of the mouth before exiting through the lips.  English has two lateral liquids.  the alveolar lateral approximate /l/ in which the tongue is brought near (approximate) the alveolar ridge, forcing the air around the tongue toward the sides (lateral) of the mouth before being allowed to exit.  /l/ occurs in syllable-initial position for example like, melon, and hello.  The syllable-final sound /ɫ/ is referred to as a velarized alveolar lateral approximate, meaning that in addition to the tip of the tongue being brought near  the alveolar ridge, the back of the tongue is raised toward the velum as well.  /ɫ/ occurs in syllable-final position for example full, little, and belfry.  As with nasals, the order of articulation is reversed between syllable-initial and syllable-final laterals.

/ ɹ /  / ɻ /  / r / non-lateral liquids

A nonlateral (from Latin non not and laterus to the side) liquid is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, usually flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) before exiting through the lips.  English has three non-lateral liquids, with most dialects having two (rhotic), some having a third (trill), and some having only one (R-dropping).  In syllable-initial / ɹ / as in rabbit, run, and borrow, referred to as a retroflex approximate, the tongue is brought forward the curled backward toward the roof of the mouth (retroflexion).  It comes near (approximate) the roof of the mouth but does not touch it.  The sound is released by lowering the jaw and drawing the tongue back to neutral position.  This is the most common r-sound in English.  Common in most dialects, syllable-final / ɻ / is similar to the syllable initial form.  Depending on the accent of the speaker, this sound may be either an alveolar approximate or a retroflex approximate (some speakers place the tongue closer to the alveolar ridge, others put it in the same position as syllable-initial / ɹ /. The primary difference between syllable-initial and syllable-final forms is that the syllable-final sound begins and ends with the tongue and jaw in the approximate position.  This differs from syllable-initial position which ends with the jaw lowering and the tongue returning resting position.  Compare movement within the mouth between / ɹ / in red and Robert, and / ɻ / in car, better, and urgent. Finally, some dialects possess a third non-lateral approximate /r/ known as a trill (and in lesser form a flap).  These sounds are often referred to as rolled-r.  In producing this sound the tongue is quickly and lightly (and in longer trills, repeatedly) brought into contact with the alveolar ridge.  Otherwise the /r/ is produced in the same manner as syllable-initial / ɹ / or syllable-final / ɻ / depending on position.  The sound /r/ is a primary characteristic of many Scottish accents and is also found in certain Spanish loanwords in North American English including burrito and perro.

Glides

Glides – a glide, like a liquid, is a consonant produced when the tongue approaches a point of articulation within the mouth but does not come close enough to obstruct or constrict the flow of air enough to create turbulence.  Unlike nasals, the flow of air is not redirected into the nose.  Instead, as with liquids, the air is still allowed to escape via the mouth, but its direction of flow is altered by having it glide over the tongue before exiting the lips.  The unique sound of each glide is affected by the point at which the tongue is brought closest to the point of articulation.  The primary difference between liquids and glides is that with a liquid, the tip of the tongue is used, whereas with glides, body of the tongue and not the tip is raised.  This provides a wide narrow space over which air passes before exiting the mouth.  There are two primary types of glide in English — labiovelar and palatal.  Each type derives its name from points of articulation toward which the tongue is positioned.  Like nasals and liquids, glides occur in sets of very similar sounds and in Old English there were a variety of these sounds, but Modern English possesses only one of each type in most dialects.  For an interactive example of each sound (including descriptive animation and video), click this link, then in the window that opens, click glide, and select the appropriate sound.

/w/  /?/ labiovelar glide

A labiovelar (from Latin labia lip and velar the velum or soft palate) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by first the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the velum — the soft part of the roof of the mouth farthest from the front teeth; it’s about as far back in the mouth as can be reached with the tip of the tongue.  This creates a wide but shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth).  The unique characteristic of labiovelar glides is that production of the sound begins with the pursed together forming a narrow circular opening.  The lips are then relaxed and the jaw dropped, opening the mouth.  This sound, as described is the syllable-initial (in this case more aptly described as the pre-vocalic form because it also appears after other consonants, but always before the vowel within a syllable) form /w/ as in will, why, and quick and flower. The symbol /?/ has been used to reference the possibility of other related sounds.  In Old English there existed at least two w-sounds with words currently spelled wh- representing words which initially began with this other sound.  We unfortunately no longer have record of what this sound was or how it was pronounced, but it is likely similar to /w/.  In Modern English there exists a second version of /w/ which occurs after the vowel (post-vocalic).  This sound is not yet recognized by the IPA and thus does not have a symbol (represented with strikethrough herein).  As with syllable-initial and syllable-final pairs, the post-vocalic /w/ is produced in reverse order of pre-vocalic /w/ with production of the sound beginning with the mouth opened and the lips relaxed, and ending with the lips pursed together forming a narrow round opening.  Contrast the beginning and ending jaw and lip positions of /w/ as in weed or wow with those of /w/ in chew and wow. There is a third w-sound in Modern English which is rare but still present in modern phonology.  That sound /ʍ/ known as a voiceless labiovelar is the version of /w/ in which the vocal cords are not used; compare voiced /w/ in water with voiceless /ʍ/ in the interjection whew! It is likely that the w-sound represented by wh- spellings was originally one of these two latter versions of labiovelar glide.

/j/   palatal glide

palatal (from palate the top of the mouth) glide is a sound in which the flow of air out of the body is altered by the shape of the tongue, with the main body of the tongue (not the tip) being raised toward the hard palate — the part of the roof of the mouth, just behind the alveolar ridge and forward of the velum (for many speakers, the lateral edges of the midsection of the tongue can be felt pressing up against the molar teeth).  This creates a wide and fairly shallow space with the air flowing over the tongue resonating near the roof of the mouth (but not toward the sides of the mouth) and then passing between the alveolar ridge and the downward slope of the tongue and finally out of the mouth.  Modern English has only one palatal glide represented by the symbol /j/ as in you, cube, and onion.

January 10, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 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

Who/Whom (one of many)

Although I’ve yet to post about one of the most requested points of clarification in the English grammar world — that of who vs whom, I’m sure this short post will be only the first of many.

My first instinct with who/whom queries is to quickly explain that this interrogative personal pronoun along with the standard personal pronouns are the only remaining forms in English declined for case. At one time, every word in English existed in multiple forms, declined for case, gender, number.   Over the centuries though, case markings have fallen out of use and been replaced instead with a set of rigid word orders accomplishing the same functions with only the genitive case maintaining its marked possessive ‘s form.

The lone exceptions are the marked forms of I, you, he, she, it, we, and they (nominative) which decline to me, you, him, her, it, us, and them in the accusative and dative cases and my, your, his, her, its, our, and their in the genitive.

Students learn these forms without ever connecting them with case, yet they tend to trip over nominative who and accusative/dative whom. Many instructors find themselves unsure about how to use and explain who versus whom as well, and rarely think to connect them to genitive whose.

As I said, normally, I run down case, compare the personal pronouns and then encourage the learner to apply the same logic to who/whom/whose. Language learners are and long have been my laboratory rats so to speak, and today the lab has presented me with a quandary that I have thus far been unable to crack:

When who is used in a subordinate description or clause referring to a noun which is in the accusative/dative, should who also be in the same case? My instinct says yes, but a review of literature seems to say no…

Continue reading

January 1, 2010 Posted by | English Linguistics | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments