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Benedicte Guillaume 2014. A Corpus-Based Study of Since-Clauses in Contemporary English.

Benedicte Guillaume 2014. A Corpus-Based Study of SINCE-Clauses in Contemporary English. Toulouse: Presses Universitaires du Mirail, 207 pp., ISBN 978-2810703234.

Benedicte Guillaume's study, A Corpus-Based Study of Since Clauses in Contemporary English, is an analysis of the subordinator since, introducing both causal and temporal clauses in contemporary English, based on a selection of more than 500 occurrences extracted from its almost 26 000 uses listed in the British National Corpus.

It can be debated whether we are faced with a single or two different markers. The etymology of the word does not give a clear-cut answer. It is mainly argued that since comes from sippan (Old English) and has temporal origin (Molencki 2007). Some linguists (De Cola-Sekali 1992) still put forward that two meanings have co-existed from the start, while others consider that since has evolved into two different markers.

The purpose of the current analysis is to take into account the various parameters within an enunciative context and to assess their relevance for a temporal or causal interpretation. This corpus-based analysis, resorting to graphs and charts, confirms some of the results of previous analyses, but also questions some former conclusions. The author mainly adopts an enunciative approach (Culioli 1985, 1990, 1999a,b, Adamczewski and Delmas 1982), but varies her theoretical approaches, resorting to the concept of subjectification (Traugott 1989, 1992), or that of the remainder ("parts of language that no grammar can ever reach", Lecercle 1990). She also pays tribute to linguists who have studied this field more closely (Delechelle 1989, 1993, De Cola-Sekali 1992, Bourdin 2008, 2011).

The first chapter of the monograph is devoted to the causal since clause, the more numerous and complex type, its relation with the main clause and its position in the sentence. The since clause has a relation of cause and effect with the main clause, which the author discusses referring to Huddleston & Pullum (2002), Halliday and Hasan (1976) and Quirk et al. (1985). She also studies the semantic specificity of since (given information not open to debate) in comparison with other causal subordinators, like because (new debatable information) or as (given information, but, still remaining mainly a marker of identity). Syntactically, it is shown that causal since clauses are not prototypically fronted and that both causal and temporal since clauses tend to be postponed. The postponed position is more typical of the temporal since clauses, but no direct link can be established between the syntactic position and the nature (causal or temporal) of the clause. This is proved with the help of chi-square tests, backed up by a study of the presence of punctuation, and put into perspective in examples where the internal textual cohesion accounts for the placement of since clauses. The concept of presupposition may explain the preference for one or the other of the two positions of causal since clauses. When fronted, the subordinate is taken for granted to be a starting point. When postponed, it tends to correspond to a reminder. The position of the causal since clause might also be dictated by the emphasis laid on the constituents of the causal relation, either by focusing on the main clause, and fronting it, or by fronting the since clause and focusing on the cause-effect relations and underlying a strong reasoning. This tends to be the case in scientific texts, where simple present tenses are often used.

Indeed, tackling the difference between causal and temporal relations might be less elusive if one considers the use of tenses, aspects and modality. The author refers to M. De Cola-Sekali's hypothesis that there are aspectual constraints both on the causal and the temporal since clauses and that the encoding of the meaning of since as a coordinator takes place within the matrix clause. She shows on charts that the matrix clause has strong compatibility with simple tenses and modality (from root to epistemic) for a causal reading. The interpretation of the since clauses in relation to the presence of aspect in the main clause is less clear cut and is therefore debated according to Culioli's theory on the prototypical notional domain, applied to the uses of verbs. In the few examples in which the perfective aspect is used, it occurs with discrete or dense continuous verbs, never with compact continuous verbs or with the progressive aspect. Precise analyses of examples eventually lead to the following question: what are the regularities within the combinations between the since clauses and their matrix clause? The most common association is that of the present with the present and that of simple tenses used with an aoristic value.

The second chapter tackles temporal since clauses, which are less numerous than the causal since clauses. To put forward a hypothesis regarding the nature of since, the author takes into account a number of syntactic as well as semantic characteristics of both types of since clauses. Temporal since clauses are quite homogenous and mainly tend to be postponed and give a temporal locator, usually corresponding to new information added to the verb phrase contained in the matrix clause. The closeness of the link between the two clauses is such that no punctuation is necessary, so we can speak of mutual dependency. In rare cases, the temporal since clause is fronted, separated from the main clause by a comma and we have mixed examples, the hybrid since clause being both a temporal locator and an explanation. The fronting can also be accounted for by contrasting purposes between a former situation and a new one.

After studying the overall distribution of tenses, aspects and modality in temporal since clauses, Benedicte Guillaume concludes that the range of verbal markers compatible with such clauses is more limited than that of the causal clauses. The presence of the perfect in the main clause, with preterite in the since clause represents the main pattern. Two special temporal since clauses are eventually added to the category. The author first deals with clauses where noun phrases contain an ordinal or a superlative, putting to the fore a salient element (n years since or the first time since) or designate a span of time. Both configurations are modified by a postponed temporal since clause, where the simple preterite is the most frequent tense and indicates a starting point. An analogy is suggested between postponed temporal since clauses and restrictive relatives (from a semantic perspective) or that-complement clauses (from a syntactic perspective). The author also deals with cleft sentences of the type it is ... since that is used to highlight the length of time elapsed between the event and the speaker's time reference. We notice the fronting of the period of time that is thus emphasised, which is very reminiscent of cleft and pseudo-cleft sentences.

The third chapter examines ambiguous and hybrid remaining cases, reassessing the unicity of the marker. After a detailed report on the etymology of since, it is clearly stated that the two meanings of since have not always existed, with the causal use dating no earlier than Middle English. Still, in current English the meanings have a complementary syntactic repartition. Ambiguous or polysemic since clauses have more than one meaning and the conditions for this ambiguity are to be found both at the syntactic and at the semantic level. The fact that since itself is polysemic accounts for the ambiguity of the since clauses and then for that of whole sentences. Disambiguation criteria, such as the endophoric context or the internal syntactic features of the sentence can be resorted to. Such tools are used on invented examples quoted from Aarts (1979) and Wyld (1993). Punctuation, the place of the since clause, the use of tenses, aspects and modality tend to combine toward one interpretation. Elements from the corpus are thus analysed. There still remain hybrid examples, in which components of different origins combine and where both syntax and semantics are not reliable enough. The same event can be considered both as the cause and as the temporal locator of the main clause and the two interpretations coexist. Such examples can be considered as part of the remainder, which is produced by language, such as it is developed in Lecercle's theory.

To conclude, this book gives a comprehensive corpus-based analysis. It mostly confirms already existing hypotheses, but the use of examples and statistics makes it a very well researched and reliable account that enables to target and explain some irregularities. The analyses are also backed up by various theories and are very well documented. The fact that the author limits herself to written examples makes it possible to present a comprehensive overview of the phenomenon with its regularities, as far as punctuation is concerned. No doubt, a study containing oral occurrences of since clauses would be most welcome, with tone units being quite revealing of the nature of since clauses.


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Isabelle Gaudy-Campbell

Universite de Lorraine-Metz, IDEA, OSLiA, France
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Author:Gaudy-Campbell, Isabelle
Publication:European English Messenger
Article Type:Book review
Date:Dec 22, 2015
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