ENGL 508 Tense, Aspect, and Narrative

Studies in the Structure of Modern English: TENSE, ASPECT, AND NARRATIVE

Course Description:
Because a central task in narrative discourse is the placement and sequencing of events in time, the verbal forms of language perform a crucial function. The temporal representation of events depends both upon the tense and aspect forms in a language (which indicate the time of an event and portray it as complete or incomplete) and upon the lexical meanings of verbs (which indicate the temporal types of situations portrayed). This seminar will study how the linguistic encoding of time in different literary styles has been accounted for by linguists. Some of the topics to be covered include the “epic preterite,” the historical present, free indirect style, the “perfect of experience,” the progressive, backgrounding/foregrounding, and tense and aspect forms in free indirect style. The aim of the seminar is to show how an analysis of an author’s manipulation of the resources of verbal marking can enhance our critical understanding of literary discourse..

The seminar will include a general consideration of the problems of tense and aspect in the verb system of Modern English. The meaning and use of English verbal forms, such as the progressive, the perfect, the simple tenses, and the future, will be studied in some detail (using Comrie and Smith as textbooks, Leech and Palmer as reference grammars). The conventional uses of these forms will then be contrasted with their specialized uses in fictional literature. Articles applying these concepts in different types of texts will be discussed

Students will be asked to:

  • lead the discussion on two of the assigned articles
  • present a seminar on the topic of the research paper (c. 20 minutes)
  • write a research paper (e.g., analyzing the function of tense and aspect forms in a literary text or texts, comparing the theories of tense and aspect examined, etc.) of approximately 15 pages.

The grade will be calculated as follows:
discussion of articles   20%
seminar presentation     20%
research paper  60%

No background in linguistics is required, although a course in the structure of Modern English (English 329 or its equivalent) would be helpful.

Required Texts:
Core Linguistic Readings on Tense and Aspect:
Brinton, Laurel J. 2009 [1988]. Chapter 1: “Aspectual problems in English: Trends and problems”. The Development of English Aspectual Systems: Aspectualizers and Post-verbal Particles. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Comrie, Bernard. 1976. Chapter 0: “Introduction”, Chapter 1: “Perfective and imperfective”, Chapter 3: “Perfect”. Aspect: An Introduction to the Study of Verbal Aspect and Related Problems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Comrie, Bernard. 1985. Chapter 1: “Some theoretical and methodological preliminaries” and Chapter 2 “Absolute tenses”. Tense. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bennett, Paul. 2004. Chapter 3: “Proposition types” (parts), Chapter 5: “Tense”, andChapter 6: “Aspect”. Semantics: An Introduction to Non-Lexical Aspects of Meaning. Munich: LINCOM.

Smith, Carlotta S. 1997. Chapter 2 “Situation aspect” and Chapter 3 “The linguistic realization of the situation aspects”. The Parameter of Aspect. 2nd ed. Dordrecht: Kluwer.

Applied Readings:
Boyd, Julian and Zelda Boyd. 1977. “The perfect of experience.” Studies in Romanticism 16.3-13.

Brinton, Laurel J. 1985. “The iconic role of aspect in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 129”. Poetics Today 6.447-439.

Brinton, Laurel J. 1992. “The historical present in Charlotte Brontë’s novels: Some discourse functions.” Style 26.221-244.

Cohn, Dorrit. 1993. “‘I doze and wake’: The deviance of simultaneous narration”. Tales and “their Telling Difference”: zur Theorie und Geschichte der Narrativik, ed. by Herbert Foltinik, Wolfgang Riehle, and Waldemar Zacharasiewicz, 9-23. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

Coetzee, J.M. 1981. “Time, tense and aspect in Kafka’s ‘The Burrow’”. Modern Language Notes 96.556-579.

Darmsteegt, Theo. 2005. “The present tense and internal focalization of awareness”. Poetics Today 26.39-78.

Dry, Helen. 1983. “The movement of narrative time.” Journal of Literary Semantics 12.19-53.

Fleishman, Suzanne. 1991. “Toward a theory of tense-aspect in narrative discourse”. In: The Function of Tense in Texts, ed. by Jadranka Gvozdanovic and Theo. A.J.M. Janssen, 76-97. Amsterdam, Oxford, New York, and Tokyo: North-Holland.

Fludernik, Monika. 1993. “Tense, mood, and aspect in (free) indirect discourse”. The Fictions of Language and the Languages of Fiction. London and New York: Routledge.

Fludernik, Monika. 2003. “Chronology, time, tense and experientiality in narrative”. Language and Literature 12.117-134.

Hamburger, Käte. 1973. The Logic of Literature. 2nd revised ed., trans. by Marilynn J. Rose. Bloomington and London: Indiana UP (selections).

Hopper, Paul. 1979b. “Aspect and foregrounding in discourse”. In: Discourse and Syntax, ed. by Talmy Givón, 213-241. (Syntax and Semantics 12.) New York: Academic Press.

Neumann, Anne Waldron. 1990. “Escaping the ‘time of history’? Present tense and the occasion of narration in J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians”. Journal of Narrative Technique 20.65-86.

Reinhart, Tanya. 1984. “Principles of gestalt perception in the temporal organization of narrative texts.” Linguistics 22.779-809.

Ritz, Marie-Eve A. and Dulcie M. Engel. 2008. “‘Vivid narrative use’ and the meaning of the present perfect in spoken Australian English”. Linguistics 46.131-160.

Toolan, Michael. 1983. “The functioning of progressive verbal forms in the narrative of Go down, Moses”. Language and Style 16.211-230.

Reference Works:
Facchinetti, Roberta, Krug, Manfred, and Palmer, Frank (eds.). (2003). Modality in contemporary English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.

Leech, Geoffrey. 2004. Meaning and the English Verb. 3rd ed. Harlow: Pearson/ Longman.

Palmer, F.R. 1987. The English Verb. 2nd ed. London and New York: Longman.

All materials of this course (course handouts, lecture slides, assessments, course readings, etc.) are the intellectual property of the Course Instructor or licensed to be used in this course by the copyright owner. Redistribution of these materials by any means without permission of the copyright holder(s) constitutes a breach of copyright and may lead to academic discipline.