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Review of  Les temps du passé français et leur enseignement.

Reviewer: Njiki Bikoi
Book Title: Les temps du passé français et leur enseignement.
Book Author: Emmanuelle Labeau Pierre Larrivée
Publisher: Rodopi
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Subject Language(s): French
Issue Number: 14.2068

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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,

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

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.

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

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.

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