Blog from April, 2012

ICNGL 2012 on Language Contacts in Freiburg

ICNGL 2012

The International Conference of Nordic and General Linguistics 2012 was held in April 18-20 in Freiburg (Southern Germany). The special focus of the conference was on language contact, and for me personally it was imporant to get to hear and see the invited distinguished scholars of contact linguistics (Sarah Thomason, Lars-Olof Delsing, Anneli Sarhimaa, Frans Gregersen). In addition, Martin Hilpert's (Freiburg) talk was fascinating. It included a visual presentation of historical language change - scholars working on historical valency/argument structure change may want to check his web pages which entail some very interesting visual examples for his research: (don't hesitate to click the buttons!).

Furthermore, I was very impressed about the work of a research group in Norway (Center for advanced studies, Oslo) in which international scholars have been working on crosslinguistic differences and similarities in the syntax-semantics interface and in the study of information structure. In addition, they have studied the impact of L1 on linguistic representation and organization in L2. It was also very fascinating to see in their work how it is possible to find new areal features through a crosslinguistic comparison of linguistic features. Cf.: Their example certainly encouraged me, and I hope that more crosslinguistic studies on different languages will be conducted in Finland as well.

I attended this conference with Lea Meriläinen (English, UEF) and Helka Riionheimo (Finnish, UEF), and we gave a joint talk on the topic "Interlingual reduction: evidence from language contacts, translation and second language acquisition". Many thanks, Lea and Helka! It was fun!

- Leena Kolehmainen

One major aspect that causes immense difficulties for German ESL learners (aside from the progressive aspect) presents the English present perfect construction (have + past participle). Typically spoken German uses the perfect (habe gespielt; habe geliebt) to talk about past events. Thus, the choice of the correct English tense to talk about the past time is a common problem of German learners. Part of my study is to implement the rather abstract theory of Cognitive Grammar (Langacker 1987, 1991) into the ESL classroom. To elucidate the perfect construction and its meaning (namely the current relevance), Langacker suggests relating the verb ‘have’ to the basic verb of possession. Thus, the subject could imagine a mental contact with the object; in form of a physical or abstract exertion. Through this concept of ownership, a situation becomes potentially relevant in the present moment of speaking.

Reading various books which attempt to explain the present perfect construction in English, I came across Erich Fromm’s essays on The Art of Living. His philosophical view on the use of the verb ‘to have’ is very fascinating. He notes that our society uses the verb ‘to have’ more and more to indicate our egoistic attempt to possess things, activities and even emotions. Furthermore, in modern languages (German as one of the examples) we tend to verbalise our thoughts and emotions with ‘have’ rather than with ‘be’.

From now on, I will consider my choice of the German past tenses more carefully....

Franka Kermer