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Review of Les temps du passé français et leur enseignement.
Date: Thu, 31 Jul 2003 00:52:47 -0700 (PDT) From: Njiki Bikoi Subject: Les temps du passé français et leur enseignement
Labeau, Emmanuelle and Pierre Larrivée, ed. (2002), Les temps du passé français et leur enseignement, Rodopi
Reviewed by Njiki Bikoi, University of Buea (Cameroon)
This issue of Cahiers Chronos, volume number 9, is on the teaching of past tenses in French. It comprises 11 articles, collected and published by Emmanuelle Labeau and Pierre Larrivée. It comes as a result of the colloquium held on 25 marsh 1999 on the same topic at Aston University. The papers attempt to present the difficulties faced by learners of French as a Foreign language as far as the acquisition of tenses is concerned, and solutions are proposed to ameliorate the process.
I In 'Les nouveaux temps du passé', Dulcie Engel proposes a general perspective of the 'new verb tenses in French'. The article comprises three parts. A presentation of the system of tenses, a discussion about the role of the four tenses: passé composé (PC), Présent narratif (PR), Plus-que-parfait (PQP) and Passé surcomposé (PSC). The article examines the major role of the passé simple and its continuity. A morphosemantic analysis shows that each aspect, simple or composed form, expresses the tense in its specific form. The PC, which mostly replaces the Passé simple in French, is an ambiguous tense. Some hierarchised linguistic signs mark out the selection of each aspect: lexical environment, (time connectors indicators), wording function. The semantic base of the PR is wide: in a context, its narrative or historic value is indicated by lexical markers or by syntactic correlation with the historic future. It replaces the narrative past only in certain contexts. The PQP is used both in the oral and written forms, and it frequency is higher than the PC's in expressing anteriority. It does not really surpass other forms of the past tense although at times it is replaced by the PC, the PR and the PQP to some extend.
II The second contribution is by Douglas L. Rideout, 'L'opposition perfectif/imprefectif dans le passé français'. According to Rideout, imperfectivity concerns the internal tense of a situation and not its boundaries. It presents a situation in progress from one boundary to another. On the other hand, perfectivity defines the boundaries of a situation. Here, the reference point and indeed the aim, is outside the scope of the situation, a passage from existence to non existence or the opposite. As for the imperfective, the internal time situation is seen from outside in conjunction with the grammatical aspect and the meaning of the verb. The perfective allows a situation to progress through a serie of transitions and changes of situations. With the imparfait, there is no more change. The perfective emphasises the dynamism of situations while the perfective characterises them as static.
III Marie-Eve Ritz, proposes the third contribution with the title: 'The semantics of the passé composé in contemporary French: towards a unified representation' The author tries to define the semantics of the PC and the rules governing its use. The multiple uses of this tense do not, however, hinder it from unified semantics. She shows that in the realisation of the PC in speech the real meaning of the PC is completed by lexical items of its environment.
IV Pierre Larrivée, in 'Sémantique conceptuelle et sémantique référentielle du passé composé' examines the semantic value of the PC as a linguistic form. The PC is generally perceived in opposition to the Imparfait as a perfective form with a terminative value. But what is the relationship between the terminative inferences and the PC as a linguistic sign? Are they incorporated in the intrinsic form of the PC? The corpus shows that the intrinsic inferences of the PC emanate from the context, and the verb is accompanied by other concepts. Actually the referential values are not incorporated in the linguistic signs. They emanate from conceptual indications and from interactions between autonomous levels of meaning. It is therefore important to distinguish between the meaning of a sentence and the insinuation it evokes. As a result, the terminative influences come from the knowledge of the world. A perfective or terminative interpretation of the PC can only be applied to its referential value.
V. Françoise Labelle, 'Point de vue et aspect en français et an anglais' notes the problems faced by non Francophone students regarding the PC/IMP and Francophones regarding the present perfect in the acquisition of French and English as second languages. These difficulties mainly concerns tense and aspect. The three basic components are the perfective for close processes, the imperfective for open processes, and the neutral, to which the IMP is particularly attached, and this is mainly an imperfective form. While in French the simple forms are neutral, in English they are perfective or imperfective. The composed forms in French have, systematically, a subsidiary use. In English, the perfective is mostly used in literary texts in the past perfect. In these two languages, the meaning of the composed forms is determined by the tense of the auxiliary verb and the pas participle. All the composed forms have a derived meaning which can only be expressed by the past perfect in English. In the composed forms of French, the past participle indicates the meaning of the tense while the auxiliary verb introduces a modal value.
VI The contribution of Arie Molendijk, 'La structuration logico-temporelle du texte : le passé simple et l'imparfait du français' rejects the traditional analyses based on notional oppositions: perfective/imperfective; background/foreground; punctual/durative; posteriority/simultaneity in that the non Francopone speaker has problems to mobilise these notions in the production of correct sentences using PS and IMP. For Molendijk, it is efficient to make analysis using semantic contents of tenses. It is the tense link between sentences that determines the logical sequences using to link them one to another. PS/IMP depends more on the relationship between two sentences than on binary opposition as seen in the traditional analysis.
VII Bénédicte Facques, study's title is 'Passé composé, imparfait et présent dans les récits journalistiques : des alternances aux ruptures temporelles'. As for Facques, the tense switching link up with verbal cohesion and they refer to text's syntagmatics. Comparing PC/IMP switch in newspapers to PS/IMP switching from fiction and history, Facques shows that, at times, linguistic and textual constraints give rise to tense switch. Three factors can help to differentiate between the two types of tense switching. Whereas PS/IMP switch feature exclusively in narratives, some of the PC/IMP feature in enunciation. The latter engenders heterogeneity of tenses while PC can serve to mark perfect and not the preterit. It seems to deal more with aspect with the sense that the imperfait marks a breaking point and not the imperfective tense. It is enunciative while PC and IMP are tenses of speech. In a speech narrative, PC locates retrospectively all speeches in the past while the imperfect tense, which transposes the present, loses its time value. Since only one morphological dimension is imposed by syntactically constraints, in reporting speech, switching retains its autonomy. Three factors influence tense change in verbs of speech. At lexicosemantic level, a separation of functions attaches PC to neutral verbs and the IMP to interpretative and appreciative verbs. At syntactic level, the PC/IMP selection is accompanied by a type of construction characterised by interruption of the linear order. On the other hand, the verb tense agrees with that of the verb in context that does not express the assertions. At generic level, the PC/PR selection in question uses the type of narrative in order to allocate verbs into groups. Three types of tense switching come to mind. Switch constraints by the tenses agreement free tense switching inside reported speech, and the tense switching of verbs of speech. Within the spectrum of polyphony, tense switch can emanate either from author's comments, from metadiscursive statement or from ideological marking of the speaker. It would not be possible to reduce PC/IMP switch to predicative relations. Although it is coherent, this couple is far less cohesive in newspapers articles than is the PS/IMP couple. It is only the modalising switch that constitutes that breaking points.
VIII In her contribution: 'Ecarts entre manuels et réalités : un problème dans l'enseignement des temps du passé à des étudiants d'un niveau avancé', Anne Judge attributes the poor mastery of indicative past tenses by advanced students to the difference between contents of students readers and written language. She then describes learner's difficulties, analyses students textbooks and brings out didactic suggestions. At the theoretical level, she adopts the microverbal and macroverbal approaches. The latter outlines four tenses system: narrative, discourse, present narrative (PrN) and multifocal (SMF). Due to the frequency of occurrence, PrN brings competition between narrative and discourse verbal systems. It is easy to teach PrN because of its flexibility. The multifocal system does not appear in students' textbooks. It does not have a defined pivot tense and is characterised by numerous points of view. Judge explains difficulties faced by her students due to interference: anglophones tend to confuse perfect and past tenses; action and state verbs; tense and aspect. That is why they transpose past tense and imperfect tense forms due to analogy. However, due to insufficient explicit teaching of grammar in the English school system, students do not master verb tenses in French.
IX Emmanuelle Labeau in 'Circonstants atténuants ?: L'adjonction de localisateurs temporels dans la production écrite d'apprenants anglophones avancés' underscores difficulties that advanced students face, when it comes to the mastery of the association of past tenses with tense indicators, specifically PS and the IMP. According to her, several factors determine the selection of these two tenses. On the one hand, the meaning of the verbal syntagm, emanating from the proper meaning of constituted by its lexical aspect and the mode of action which can be modified by a complement that in turn orientates its interpretation and reveals its polysemie. The semantic modulation of SV c be made using grammatical categories (number, gender...) or complement. On the other hand, 'circonstants temporels' play a major role in the selection of these two tenses. There affinities and incompatibilities between expressions of the past and certain adverb of time. This permit the classification of the elements above. Absolute expressions of circumstances, especially those referred to herein, can be grouped into eight types, whereas verbs are classified into static, telic dynamics and atelic dynamics.
X The contribution of Martin Howard, 'L'acquisition des temps du passé en français par l'apprenant dit avancé: une approche lexicale', studies the relationships between the expression of the past by verbal form and acquisition of verbal lexis by the advanced level students. He describes the acquisition of the Present perfect tense and the imperfect tense from the lexical point of view. The lexical value has as much influence on the distribution of past tenses, as it has on the place of acquisition. A stay in the nature linguistic community is profitable to the learner. The lexical approach has revealed the variation in the use of tense forms in the data, as well as the relationship between the acquisition of verbal lexis and the expression of tense.
XI The contribution of Urszula Paprocka-Piotrowska, 'Mais dans ce moment le chien est venu ou comment les apprenants formels polonophones s'approprient le système temporel du français' analyses the linguistic competence of six learners. The expression of tenses has been defined in terms of relationships between tenses, tense perspective and internal characteristics of situations. The expression of tenses is conveyed by direct means (lexical; lexico-syntaxical; morphological), and by indirect means (discourse configuration; pragmatic means). The author makes seven observations. The mastery of indirect means precedes the mastery of direct means. The development of direct means occurs more especially at the lexico-syntaxical level as a result of the teaching received. The teaching contents has an influence on the interlanguage of the learner, but does not speed up the acquisition of expression means for tenses. Verbal morphology is noticeable right from the first step of acquisition and is strengthened gradually. The stabilising role of the aspect oppositions has not been revealed. The flexibility of the grammatical present is a reality. The importance of pragmatic oriented activities has been revealed.
XII A conclusive round table has brought together the participants to the workshop. It comes back on the debates which have been briefly discussed in the articles: the definition of both the tenses and the aspect. Discussant and guest speaker, Marc Wilmet, widely quoted by some and by others, allows the authors to specify, if not strengthen their points of view. Teaching tenses from texts has proved to be more effective than the traditional teaching based on isolated sentences.
Evaluation: We cannot but underline the relevance of the articles presented in this volume. Highly documented, the articles rely on rich and different examples. The question is to know how to ameliorate the mastery of the past tenses in the teaching and learning of French as a Foreign language. The analysis has taken into account both the specificity of the French language and the comparative dimension. The originality of data allows to break away from the traditional practice which bases teaching and grammatical analysis on example specifically meant for the circumstances and does not allow the learner to express himself the practical use of language. Hence, the relevance and recurrence of criticism during presentation of student textbooks. The articles level of documentation and theorisation can attract not only the student who is eager to acquire knowledge in French linguistics, but also the established researcher. The focus will be put on such questions as the value or limits of the textbook, contribution of non literary texts which gives a new lease life to the language, the effect of induced meaning by the discourse environment, the contrastive perspective as a positive resource, the necessity of linguistic environment in the native speakers community. One cannot but regret the fact that the accent has not been put on the didactic transposition, and the pedagogical dimension. In this sense, the textbook appears less to address itself to real teachers than to theorists of teaching and scholars.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Njiki Bikoi (Dr Sciences du langage) teaches grammar and linguistic courses at University of Buea, Cameroon. His research intersts include language planning, the teaching and learning of second and foreign languages, bilingual education.