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Auteur: Cristina GRISOT

Cross-linguistic variation in verb tenses: conceptual and procedural information

Abstract/Résumé: Contrastive analysis of parallel bilingual corpora revealed an important cross-linguistic variation in what concerns English and French verbal systems. We refer to verb tenses expressing past time in these two languages, namely the English Simple Past and the tenses used in French to render its semantic and pragmatic domain, namely the French Passé Simple, Passé Composé and Imperfect. We adopt the linguistic underdeterminacy principle for verb tenses as developed in Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson 1986), in which they are defined as a referential category: for instance they can be characterized as locating temporal reference for eventualities with respect to three coordinates (speech moment S, event moment E and reference point R as Reichenbach addressed them in 1947) but this happens only through contextual enrichment and conforming to expectation of optimal relevance. We explore verb tenses taking into account the controversial distinction of conceptual vs. procedural expressions proposed by Blakemore (1987, 1992) and largely studied by Wilson & Sperber (1990), Sperber & Wilson (1997), Blakemore (2002, 2007). The distinction has been proposed, among other categories, to verb tenses: Moeschler et al. (1994), Moeschler (2002), Luscher (2002), de Saussure (2003), Sthioul (2007), Alvarez Castro (2010), Moeschler, Grisot & Cartoni (2012). We consider that verb tenses have a stable semantic core of properties, of conceptual nature (in our view, a specific configuration of Reichenbachian coordinates) and a flexible pragmatic set of properties adaptable in context usage, of procedural nature – in our view, instructions and constraints for contextual usages, including pragmatic features such as [± narrative] and [± subjective]. Conceptual information represents thus hard-core semantics while procedural information is useful to the hearer in order to access the right contextual hypotheses to get the intended cognitive effect. Specifically, we assume that verb tenses usages provide conceptual and procedural information that explains the cross-linguistic variation revealed by parallel corpora analysis. We observed that verb tenses have several contextual usages. For each usage, there is a linguistic feature (of conceptual or procedural nature) that is the most salient information for launching different processes of pragmatic enrichment. This produces diverse effects according to the speaker’s intention, world and contextual knowledge following the principle of relevance. We propose thus a semantic and pragmatic cross-linguistic description model for one verb tense in English and three tenses in French, based on the conceptual and procedural information and their specific contextual interaction.