temporal constructions: distance-past and distance-posterior

Martin Haspelmath haspelmath at EVA.MPG.DE
Fri Mar 19 16:32:14 UTC 2010

Dear Chad,

I discuss these constructions in a typological context in my 1997 book 
"From space to time: Temporal adverbials in the world's languages" (now 
freely available from my website, 

I call them distance-past constructions (1-2 below, §6.2 of my book) and 
distance-posterior constructions (3-4 below, §8.3.3 of my book).

Best wishes,

Chad Howe wrote:
> Dear Typologists,
> I’m working with a family of temporal constructions in Romance 
> Languages that are used to indicate meanings similar to ‘ago’ and 
> ‘since/for’ in English. For instance, the existential construction in 
> French "il y a" ‘there is/are’ and the verb "hacer" ‘to do/make’ can 
> occur with a quantified temporal element to obtain either a punctual 
> meaning (as in 1 and 2) or a durative one (as in 3 and 4), depending 
> largely on the modified verb. There are similar structures in other 
> varieties of Romance. Moreover, these structures can also occur 
> post-verbally (e.g., "Je me suis mariée il y a quatre ans" ‘I got 
> married four years ago’), though the resulting meanings can be distinct.
> French
> (1) Il y a quatre ans (que) je me suis mariée.
> Spanish
> (2) Hace cuatro años (que) me casé.
> ‘It’s been four years since I got married.’ / ‘I got married four 
> years ago.’
> French
> (3) Il y a quatre ans que j’ habite ici.
> Spanish
> (4) Hace cuatro años que vivo aquí.
> ‘It’s been four years that I have lived here.’ / ‘I have lived here 
> for four years.’
> These elements are typically treated as being composed of a finite 
> verb (e.g., "a" from "avoir" in French and "hace" from "hacer" in 
> Spanish) and a temporal complement. Despite what seems to be matrix 
> clausal structure, however, many sources treat these elements as 
> adjunctival. I would like to know more about similar ‘clausal’ 
> structures in other languages—i.e. structures in which an analogous 
> set of temporal meanings is obtained with an ostensibly verbal nucleus.
> In a second and presumably related question, I’m also looking for 
> information regarding verbs used cross-linguistically for addition. 
> For instance, in English one can say “Two and two is/are four” or “Two 
> and two make/makes four”. In Spanish, the verbs used for this type of 
> calculation are similar “Dos y dos son [< "ser" 'to be'] cuatro”. I 
> would certainly appreciate any suggestions regarding any type of 
> literature on these structures.
> Thanks in advance,
> Chad Howe
Martin Haspelmath (haspelmath at eva.mpg.de)
Max-Planck-Institut fuer evolutionaere Anthropologie, Deutscher Platz 6	
D-04103 Leipzig      
Tel. (MPI) +49-341-3550 307, (priv.) +49-341-980 1616

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