12.2101, Review: Le Goffic, Le present en francais

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LINGUIST List:  Vol-12-2101. Fri Aug 24 2001. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 12.2101, Review: Le Goffic, Le present en francais

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Date:  Fri, 24 Aug 2001 19:25:16 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Emmanuelle Labeau <E.Labeau at aston.ac.uk>
Subject:  Le Goffic review

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  Fri, 24 Aug 2001 19:25:16 -0400 (EDT)
From:  Emmanuelle Labeau <E.Labeau at aston.ac.uk>
Subject:  Le Goffic review

Le Goffic, Pierre (2001) Le présent en français. Rodopi, paperback ISBN
90-420-1324-9, vi+116 pp, $21.00, Cahiers Chronos 7.

Emmanuelle Labeau, School of Languages and European Studies, Aston

Cahiers Chronos specialize in the study of temporal reference and offer
collections of paper that show the range of approaches on given aspects
of temporal semantics. The seventh volume of the series focuses on the
somewhat evasive concept of 'présent en français'. The six
contributions collated by Pierre Le Goffic were first presented in
informal reflection groups held at the university of Paris III in 1998
and 1999: the first chapter offers a general historical background; the
next four explore temporal uses of the 'indicatif présent' whilst the
final paper concentrates on 'subjonctif présent'.
     In 'L'analyse du présent dans les grammaires de l'âge classique',
Jean-Marie Fournier sketches the evolution of the meaning of 'present '
in classical grammars. Until the midst of the 18th century, present is
solely meant to coincide with the moment of speech. From that time
onwards, it is given more scope to cover a period, as in Girard and
Harris. At that time, Beauzée described the present as indefinite and
neutral, referring by default to the here and now through a system
where tenses are positioned from T0 (moment of speech) and Ti (another
reference point). This description provided the theoretical basis for
some aspectual values such as the imperfective aspect of the imparfait,
which are still very popular in contemporary analyses.
     Indeed, on the basis set by Beauzée, Sylvie Mellet analyzes some
examples of narrative presents taken from 'Les champs d'honneur' by J.
Rouaud. In 'Valeur aspectuelle du présent: un problème de frontière',
she questions the aspectual value of the tense that can be equivalent
to both 'imparfait' and 'passé simple'. She comes to the bold
conclusion that the reference point for the present is not provided by
any deictic or anaphoric reference point but by its own final limit.
     In 'Présent, discours rapporté et repérage composite dans les
textes de presse', Hélène Chuquet studies the use of present
declarative verbs in the press and, thanks to a comparison between the
French and English versions of 'Le Monde diplomatique', comes to the
conclusion that these presents, usually absent in the English text,
often work as signals of reported speech.
     Like Mellet, Anna Jaubert suggests in 'Entre convention et effet
de présence, l'image induite de l'actualité' that the present offers
its own reference point. She bases her analysis on literary texts that
offer a wide range of sometimes contradictory examples.
     Whilst the first few chapters deal mainly with present in past
uses, Pierre Le Goffic and Frédérique Lab focus on future uses. In 'Le
present "pro futuro"',  they attempt to describe of conditions of use
and meanings of the form that they combine with contextual elements.
They come to the conclusion that the present 'pro futuro' differs from
the future at a modal level.
     The last paper by Olivier Soutet, 'De la double représentation du
subjonctif présent en psychomécanique', tackles a different side of the
notion of 'present'. It questions the original Guillaumian description
of the subjunctive and proposes two refinements to it. On the one hand,
it distinguishes between the treatment of the 'subjonctif présent' from
the 'subjonctif imparfait' (seen as anterior to the former and deprived
of temporal orientation). On the other hand, it sorts the meanings of
the subjunctive in two groups according to whether the mood is
interpreted as a tool of 'désactualisation' or of 'préactualisation'.

This short volume cannot cover the many philosophical, physical and
personal aspects of present and it only claims to give a linguistic
focus. For a overview of the concept of time, the first chapter of
Vetters (1996) and the foreword of Gosselin (1996) would be useful.
Although the need for more study is clearly stated in the introduction,
the book nonetheless gives only a partial view of the French present
and leaves facets of the notion are uncovered.
     The introductory chapter offers a welcome background to the
general discussion by presenting the main analyses of the present. The
next four contributions provide interesting snapshots of the temporal
values of the indicative present - mainly past but also future. These
temporal values constitute the core of the reflection despite the fact
that the tense allows far more uses (Jaubert mentions on page 61 that
Imbs offers a 19 page-list of uses). It is worth mentioning that most
of the examples used in these articles are authentic (literature or
press), thus avoiding the tendency to base conclusions on some somewhat
biased laboratory sentences. Some cross-references between Mellet and
Jaubert offer a certain cohesion to the book although this is slightly
wanting as evidenced by the last chapter. It clearly differs from the
other papers by covering the notion of 'présent' in other forms than in
the indicative present it usually refers to; however, the subjunctive
present is the only form taken into account when surely discussion
could be expanded to participe présent, infinitif présent, conditionnel
présent... As a result, Soutet's article does not appear very well
integrated into the general flow of the volume.
     In conclusion, although this volume presents, as always in the
Cahiers Chronos, challenging and up to date reflections, it only offers
a partial analysis of the concept and fails to bring about a strong
sense of unity. To some extent, it still betrays the fact that the
contributions were originally independent workshop presentations.

Gosselin, L. (1996) Sémantique de la temporalité en français. Louvain-
la-Neuve, Duculot.

Vetters, C. (1996) Temps, aspect et narration. Amsterdam/Atlanta,

Emmanuelle Labeau is a lecturer in French Language in the School of
Languages and European Studies of Aston University (Birmingham, Great
Britain). Her research interests include French past tenses, evolution
of French and French in Belgium.


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