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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: May 2013

6 - Tense marking

Summary

The grammatical category of tense relates to the expression of temporal relations and the linguistic embedding of real-world situations in time. It involves highly familiar categories such as the present tense, the present perfect, and the past tense, as well as several others. Tense marking has been widely researched in the grammar of English both in the standard varieties and in the non-standard varieties that are the topic of this book. Section 6.1 of this chapter will introduce the foundations of this category, while Section 6.2 will be concerned with tense in varieties of English. In Section 6.3, we will explore cross-linguistic variation in the realisation of this category.

Overview

Before we can concern ourselves with the study of tense in English and its varieties, we first of all need to achieve some clarification about this category. As scholarly interest in it has been exceptionally extensive, we can only mention the most important facts at this point (see Comrie 1985 and Klein 1994 for very readable introductions).

We can define tense as a grammatical category for the expression of temporal relations. Comrie (1985: 9) states that ‘tense is grammaticalised expression of location in time’. I would like to emphasise the terms ‘grammatical’ and ‘grammatical category’, as temporal relations can also be expressed by a diverse set of lexical expressions (e.g. before, after, yesterday, two minutes ago, etc.). These will not be of interest here. We will define a linguistic expression as a ‘grammatical marker’ if its use is obligatory in certain contexts and it can be used together with a large number of lexical expressions. Grammatical markers, thus, belong to the regular and rule-based systems of language.

References
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Bao, Zhiming. 2005. The aspectual system of Singapore English and the systemic substrate explanation. Journal of Linguistics 41(2). 237–67.
Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Aspect. Cambridge University Press.
Comrie, Bernard. 1985. Tense. Cambridge University Press.
Dahl, Östen and Velupillai, Viveka. 2011a. The past tense. In Dryer, Matthew S. and Haspelmath, Martin (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 66. Available online at . Accessed 22 December 2011.
Dahl, Östen and Velupillai, Viveka. 2011b. The perfect. In Dryer, Matthew S. and Haspelmath, Martin (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 68. Available online at . Accessed 22 December 2011.
Dahl, Östen and Velupillai, Viveka. 2011c. The future tense. In Dryer, Matthew S. and Haspelmath, Martin (eds.), The World Atlas of Language Structures Online. Munich: Max Planck Digital Library, chapter 67. Available online at . Accessed 22 December 2011.
Davydova, Julia. 2011. The Present Perfect in Non-Native Englishes: A Corpus-Based Study of Variation. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Declerck, Renaat. 1991. Tense in English: Its Structure and Use in Discourse. London: Routledge.
Elsness, Johan. 2009. The present perfect and the preterite. In Rohdenburg, Günter and Schlüter, Julia (eds.), One Language, Two Grammars? Differences between British and American English, 228–45. Cambridge University Press.
Filppula, Markku. 1999. A Grammar of Irish English: Language in Hibernian Style. London: Routledge.
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Klein, Wolfgang. 1994. Time in Language. London: Routledge.
Kortmann, Bernd. 1991. The triad ‘Tense-Aspect-Aktionsart’: Problems and possible solutions. In Vetters, Carl and Vandeweghe, Willy (eds.), Perspectives on Aspect and Aktionsart (Belgian Journal of Linguistics 6), 9–29. Bruxelles: Editions de l’Université de Bruxelles.
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Further reading
Binnick, Robert. 1991. Time and the Verb: A Guide to Tense and Aspect. Oxford University Press.
Bybee, Joan and Dahl, Östen. 1989. The creation of tense and aspect systems in the languages of the world. Studies in Language 13(1). 51–103.
Dahl, Östen. 1985. Tense and Aspect Systems. London: Blackwell.
Filppula, Markku, Klemola, Juhani, and Paulasto, Heli. 2009. Digging for roots: Universals and contact in regional varieties of English. In Filppula, Markku, Klemola, Juhani, and Paulasto, Heli (eds.), Vernacular Universals and Language Contacts: Evidence from Varieties of English, 231–65. New York: Routledge.
Kortmann, Bernd. 2004. Do as a tense and aspect marker in varieties of English. In Kortmann, Bernd (ed.), Dialectology Meets Typology: Dialect Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective, 245–75. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Lindstedt, Jouko. 2001. Tense and aspect. In Haspelmath, Martin, Konig, Ekkehard, Oesterreicher, Wulf, and Raible, Wolfgang (eds.), Language Typology and Language Universals: An International Handbook, volume I, 768–83. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
Miller, Jim. 2004. Problems for typology: Perfects and resultatives in spoken and non-standard English and Russian. In Kortmann, Bernd (ed.), Dialectology Meets Typology: Dialect Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective, 305–34. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Pietsch, Lukas. 2008. Prepositional aspect constructions in Hiberno-English. In Siemund, Peter and Kintana, Noemi (eds.), Language Contact and Contact Languages, 213–36. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
Rastall, Paul. 1999. Observations on the present perfect in English. World Englishes 18(1). 79–93.
Sharma, Devyani. 2001. The pluperfect in native and non-native English: A comparative corpus study. Language Variation and Change 13(3). 343–73.
Sharma, Divyani. 2009. Typological diversity of New Englishes. English World-Wide 30(2). 170–95.
Siemund, Peter. 2004. Substrate, superstrate and universal: Perfect constructions in Irish English. In Kortmann, Bernd (ed.), Dialectology Meets Typology: Dialect Grammar from a Cross-Linguistic Perspective, 401–34. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Velupillai, Viveka. 2003. Hawai'i Creole English: A Typological Analysis of the Tense-Mood-Aspect System. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Winford, Donald. 1993. Variability in the use of perfect have in Trinidadian English: A problem of categorical and semantic mismatch. Language Variation and Change 5(2). 141–88.