Aspect in grammatical variation

Aspect in grammatical variation. Ed. by James A. Walker. (Studies in language variation 6.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2010. Pp. vi, 150. ISBN 9789027234865. $143 (Hb).

Reviewed by Lynn D. Sims, Austin Peay State University

The contributions in this book discuss grammatical variation involving verbal aspect, and address methodological issues such as defining the variable context, operationalizing factor groups that condition linguistic variation, and determining the appropriate levels of analysis of aspect. The research in this volume is original and includes spoken and written corpora from a variety of languages.

The book contains nine chapters, beginning with James A. Walker’s (1–12) introductory chapter which provides a summary of standard aspectual distinctions and an informative overview of the variationist approach. In the following chapter, Scott A. Schwenter and Rena Torres Cacoullos (13–26) combine the concept of weak complementarity with a grammaticalization-path approach to delimit the envelope of variation in progressive constructions in Mexican Spanish and in present perfect versus preterit constructions in Peninsular and Mexican Spanish.

Arguing that context is relevant in a variationist analysis, Ronald Beline Mendes (27–47) discusses the use of estar + gerund and ter + past participle to express durative and iterative aspect in Brazilian Portuguese, and concludes that aspect is the dependent variable and the periphrastic construction is the conditioning factor group. Gerard Van Herk (49–64) uses coding factors such as temporal distance, adverbials, clause type, discourse situation, object type, and verb semantics to examine the diachronic (1420 to 2002) development of the English present perfect and proposes that smaller, more specific factor groups bring linguistic changes into clearer view.

To measure the grammaticalization of aller in Québec French, Carmen L. LeBlanc (65–79) examines correlations between three habitual forms and other aspectual distinctions expressed by sentence constituents. Factor groups are defined by stativity, boundedness, and durativity, and the variable context by a specific subject, a separate time frame, an overt syntactic/lexical clue, and validity of speech time. Becky Childs and Gerard Van Herk (81–93) test the influence of habitual aspect on verbal -s marking in Newfoundland English by first separating the habitual factor group into mental stance, stative, and non-stative subcategories and then by re-coding based on syntactic constructions: when(ever) clauses, habitual adverbs, and zero overt habitual markers. James A. Walker (95–109) separates stativity into lexical (stative versus non-stative) and sentential (durative) to analyze conditioning factors that influence the use of the progressive in early African American English and the use of bare verbs in Caribbean English and English-based creole.

In order to assess two hypotheses regarding lexical and derived sentential aspect in second language (L2) acquisition, Devyani Sharma and Ashwini Deo (111–30) examine past and progressive morphology in Indian English and argue that L2 English learners are sensitive to sentential aspect. In the final chapter, Hsiao-Ping Biehl (131–47) analyzes how younger and older adult Chinese speakers who have relocated to Ecuador mark tense and aspect in Spanish, concluding that the Spanish of the older adults is heavily influenced by the aspectual system of their first language.

While the chapters in this volume provide further insight into the concept of aspect from a variationist approach, the data, findings, and conclusions are also useful to aspectual studies in general.