Está en la página 1de 16

54 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb

Lain6, Pascal (1974) La Dentelliire, paris: Gallimard.

Lanser, Susan Sniader (1981) The Narrative Act: point of View in prose
Fiction, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University press.
4 Tense switching in Italian: the
Longacre, Robert E. (1976) Anatomy of Speech Notions, Lisse: De Ridder.
Martin, Wallace (L986) Recent Theories of Narrative, Ithaca, Ny: Cornell
alternation between passato
University Press. prossimo and passato remoto in
Polanyi, Livia (1982) "Literary complexity in everyday storytelling," in
Deborah Tannen (ed.) Spoken and Wriuin Languigei Expliring dratity
and Literacy, Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
oral narrativesl
Pouillon, Jean (1946) Temps et roman, paris: Gallimard.
Proust, Marcel (1920) "A propos du .sryle' de Flaubert," Nouyelle Revue Giulia Centineo
F rangaise l! (t): 72-90.
(1954) A la recherche du temps perdu, ed. pierre Clarac and Andr6
Ferr6,3 vols, Paris: Gallimard.
- (1934) Remembrance of Things pasr, trans. C.K. Scou_Moncrieff, 2
vols, New York: Random House. l.INTRODUCTION
-Raimond, Michel (1966) La
Crise du rornan, des lendemains du naturalisme
aux annies 20, Paris: Corti.
Ricoeur, Paul (1984, 1985, 1988) Time and Narrative,3 vols, trans. Kathleen
Traditional accounts of the difference between the passato prossimo
Mclaughlin (vol. 3 Kathleen Blamey) and David pellauer, Chicago: Univer_ ("near past") (PP) and passato remoto ("remote past") (PR) under-
sity of Chicago Press. (Original title: Temps et ricit,3 vols, plis: Seuil, score the point that in modern standard Italian the two tenses contrast
1983, 1984, 1985.) only in written literary discourse, since PR has almost disappeared
Rimmon-Kenan, Shlomith (1983) Narrative Fiction, London: Merhuen. from conversational use.
S artre, Jean-Paul ( I 947) S it uati ons, I, paris: Gallimard.
Spitzer, Leo (1928) "Zum Stil Marcel prousrs," in Stilstudien 2:365497 .
In the "familiar" speech of most northern Italian regions, the PR is
Stanzel, Fraru (1911) Narrative Situaions in the Novel, trans. James pusack, said to have been replaced by the PP (Rohlfs 1986; Lepschy and
Bloomington: Indiana University press. (Original title: Die typischen Lepschy 1981; Harris 1982), while in central and southern Italy the
Erziihlsituationen im Roman, Vienna: Braunmtltr, 1955.) PR is still used. There are contrasting opinions on the extent of the
Todorov, Tzvetan (1966) "Les car6gories du r6cit litt6raiie,', Communica_ use of the PR in central Italy. For instance, Rohlfs says that "in
tions 8: 125-51.
( I 970) L' E ranc iat io n, Paris : Didier-Larousse.
central Italy the passato remoto begins to lose ground: in Florence it is
Uspensky, Boris (1973)_A Poetics of Composition: The Structure of the not much in use" (1966: 45-6); while Lepschy and Lepschy state that
- Artistic
Text and a Typology of Compositional Form, trans. Valentina both the PR and the PP are found in Tuscany and central Italy and that
Zavanin and Susan Wittig, Berkeley and [,os Angeles: University of they have different meanings which are mirrored in literary/written
California Press. language.
van Dijk, Teun A. (1975) "Action, acrion description, and narrarive,,, New
Literary H istory 6: 273-94.
In a written text both PP and PR are said to be tenses which report
Pierre (1982) "Le jeu de Ia focalisation,,, poltique 5l: 359_6g. past events. The PR encodes events which have no relationship with
-Vitoux, the present and which take (or may have taken) place in a distant past.
Waugh, Linda R. and Monville-Bursron, Monique (19g6; ,,Aspect and dis_
course function: the French simple past in newspaper ,r"g"," Language PR emphasizes an action/state as such, its happening, becoming, and
62 (4):846-71. completion (i.e. inchoative or completive aspect). The PP describes
Weinrich, Harald (1973) Le Temps, trans. MichEle Lacoste, paris: Seuil.
past events which are somehow related to the present, i.e. events that
(Original title: Te mp u s, S turrg art: Kohlhammer, 1 964.)
took place in a time period which has not yet ended, events in the near
past, or events which still affect the present.
Consider the following examples (from Rohlfs 1966 and Lepschy
and Lepschy l98l) where PR and PP are contrasted @R predicates are
italicized, PP predicates in bold.2

( l) a. Ieri visitammo il museo, oggi siamo andati al castello.

56 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 57
"Yesterday we visited the museum, today we went to the "Forse ho detto male?" le chiese, e si fece il segno della
castle. " croce.
b. Era domenica ieri e uscimmo, non ho potuto studiare. "The red-handkerchiefed sqtad lined up, fired, the three against
"It was Sunday yesterday and we went out,I couldn't study." the wall shouted: "long live," and we did not know long live
c. Mi ha dato un calcio (e mi fa ancora male). what, they did not have lhe rime to finish.
"S/he kicked (me) (and it still hurts)." "They fell like puppets," sard Tosca.
d. Mi diede un calcio (ma ormai non ci penso pit). Next to her, a woman, a wife crossed herself; Tosca looked at
"Slhe kicked me (bt I don't think about it any more)." her, smiled.
e. Negli ultimi dieci anni abbiamo cambiato casa sette volte. "Perhaps I said something wrong?" she asked her, and crossed
"In the last ten years we have moved seven times." herself ."
f. In quei dieci anni cambiammo cosd sette volte.
"In those ten years we moved seven times." We note, however, that in this example the PP is the only tense
Such meaning differences can be captured better in terms of the tense- possible in those sentences in which it occurs not because it represents
aspect categories "present perfect" and "preterit." Thus, according to conversational usage, but because it reports events located in a very
traditional grammatical descriptions, the PR is a "preterit," the PP a near past. In standard spoken Italian, utterances such as "Cascarono
"perfect." The two forms contrast with respect to the feature of come burattini" or "Forse dissi male," would be ungrammatical if
"present relevance," the presence or absence of which may also used in this context.+ In literature, the PR can also appear in direct
distinguish the two forms at the temporal level; i.e. lack of present quotes when the event occurs prior to the moment of speech and has
relevance may imply temporal distance, while present relevance often no bearing on it, or is temporally distant from it ai in 1+;:
implies temporal closeness (see Fleischman 1982; Harris 1982; Dahl
1983; Bertineuo 1986).3 (4) Poi guardando me che vergognosa abbassavo il capo, domand6:
In modern Italian, however, the PP has assumed, in addition to its questa, d una figlia tua? Lo seppi,lo seppi, - aggiunse frettolosa,
perfect meaning, also a preterit meaning: - che t'eri sposato - . (Morante 1982: 463)
"Then looking at me as I was bashfully bowing my head, she
(2) L'anno scorso Marco i andato in Cina.
"Last year Marco went to China." asked, 'And this one, is she a daughter of yours? I .found out, I
found out,' she added hastily, 'that you had gotten married.' "
A consequence of the merging of the two categories preterit and
perfect into the PP and of the overlap in meaning of PR and PP, is the Linguists have explained the appearance of the PR beside the PP in
gradual disappearance of the PR from conversational Italian and its
modern spoken Italian either in terms of a diachronic process not yet
restriction to particular contexts: formal written discourses. Whenever completed, or as an instance of dialectical usage. That is, this use of
the two preterit forms co-occur in a nalrative, the PR presumably the PR may be a remnant of an earlier state of the language when PR
encodes narration per se, while the PP appears in direct quotes (see was the only preterit form or when the possibility of neutralizing
Rohlfs 1966; Lepschy and Lepschy l98l; Bertinetto 1986). The lan- present relevance had not yet occurred @ohlfs 1966; Lepschy and
guage of direct quotes mimics the conversational usage o[ the form.
Lepschy 1981; Harris 1982). Alternatively, especially in sourhern
The following passage from Pratolini, quoted in Lepschy an( Lepschy Italy, this use of the PR has been interpreted as an instance of
(1981: 200), exemplifies this contrast: \ interference from dialects (e.g. Sicilian) in which PR is the only
(3) Il plotone dei fazzoletti rossi si schierd, fece fuoco, i tr{ al muro preterit (Rohlfs 1966; Harris 1982).
gridarono: "viva," e non si seppe vivacosa, non ebberotil tempo What these investigators seem to overlook are cases in which the
di flnire. PR and PP coexist in spoken discourse, both with preterit. meaning.
"Sono cascati come burattini," disse Tosca. Una donna, una My data show that the PR not only occurs in oral narrative contexts,
sposa, accanto a lei si fece il segno della croce: Tosca /a guardd, but. frequently co-occurs with the PP, a situation that suggests that this
sorrise. usage cannot be explained simply as one of free variation; nor can it

58 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in Italian 59
be accounted for in terms of the correlations that obtain in literature, experience" (1967: 13). They also def,ne a well-formed narrarive as
i.e. PR for narration, PP for direct quotes; nor can it be explained in one which serves at one and the same time a "referential function,"
terms of temporal distance, since the two forms can occur in the same i.e. providing (new) information, and an "evaluative function," i.e.
story with reference to events which are equally distant from the "indicating the point of the narrative, its raison d'Otre: why it was
moment of speech. Lold, and what the narrator is getting at" (Labov l9j2:366).
The goal of this chapter is to investigate tense selection and alterna- Labov and Waletzky define the clause as the basic unit of linguistic
tion in Italian oral narration, with special reference to the switching expression within the context of a narrative. To them, in fact, a
between PR and PP. In the course of my discussion I will attempt to narrative is a sequence of (a minimum of two) clauses which ',recapitu-
answer the following questions: (1) What is the relationship between lates experience in the same order as the original events" (1967:21).
these two tense forms and the structure of narrated events? (2) What is They propose the following classiflcation of clause types:
the function of the switch between PR and PP in oral narration? (3)
What are the functions of the tenses themselves in the context of oral
(a) narrative clauses, i.e. clauses which refer to temporally ordered
narration? events; the order of these clauses cannot be changed without
altering the semantic interpretation of the sequence of events.
Syntactically, narrative clauses are independent. clauses. The tem-
2. DATA AND METHODOLOGY porally ordered series of these clauses represents the blueprint of
The data consist of 41 tape-recorded narratives taken from 23 women the story, or "primary sequence";
and 17 men over a period of three months in 1983-4. One narrator
(b) free clauses, i.e. clauses which do not have a flxed relation to a
provided two versions of the same story. All interviewees were middle temporal order and can, therefore, range freely through an entire
class, college educated, 24 to 34 years of age, and native speakers of narrative;
the Italian spoken in Sicily and at least one variety of Sicilian as well.
(c) co-ordinate clauses, i.e. clauses whose "displacement" within a
At the time of the recording, all had lived in Palermo for at least ten narrative is permissible only with respect to each other;
years.s The social relationship between the interviewer and the inter-
(d) restricted clauses, i.e. clauses "which are neither free nor tem-
viewees varies from good friends (22),to social acquaintances (10), to
porally ordered in the strict sense" (Labov and Waletzky 1967:
first encounters (8). 23): they can be displaced across limited sections of the narrative.
The interviewees were asked to narrate an incident from their past The narratives analysed by Labov and Waletzky are all well-structured
which had particularly impressed them. About a third of the resulting texts which consist of a series of basic functional components: (a)
stories (14) involve a childhood memory; the rest deal with a more abstract, (b) orientation, (c) complicating action, (d) evaluation, (e)
recent incident that for some reason struck the narrator as weird, resolution, and (0 coda. Each constituent part can be viewed as the
funny, scary, etc. answer to a specific underlying question:
The framework for the analysis of these stories follows that used in
a number of studies on tense switching in oral and written narrative a. Abstract: what was this about?
(Wolfson 1979; Schiffrin 1981; Silva-Corval6n 1983; and Fleischman b. Orientation: who, when, what., where?
1985, 1986), which draw on the work of Labov and Waletz\y (1967) c. Complicating action: then what happened?
and Labov (1972) on the structural organization of oral narratfe. d. Evaluation: so what?

e. Result: what finally happened?
f. Coda: how does this relate to the present discourse context?
(Adapted from Labov 1972:370)
This structure is exemplified by the following narrative:6
Labov and Waletzky view narrative as "one verbal technique for
recapitulating experience, in particular, a technique of constructing
narrative units which match the temporal sequence of that
(5) dunque percid
devo raccontarti questo fatto che l ABSTRACT

60 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 61
quando ero piccolo e andavo alle scuole ORIENTATION I must tell you this fact that when I was little and I was going to
elementari elementary school, our nun, that is our teacher, would get really upset
la la nostra suora at the fact that, we children would steal some sheets from the last-draft
cioe la nostra insegnante notebook, ok? Once shefound out that my notebook (which we called
si si seccava molto del fatto che 'zibaldone,' because we collected in this 'zibaldone' all the informa-
noi bambini sottraessimo dei fogli tion, I don't know, like arithmetic formulas, rules of grammar) was
dei fogli dal quaderno di bella missing two pages, or something like that. So she dressed me up as a
va bene? bandit, that is she put a hood on me (I think it was a white hood.:vith
(a) una volta venne a scoprire che nel mio COMPLICATING two holes, I don't know, eye-holes, I guess) and a sign on my chest
quaderno ACTION that said 'I steal money from my parents.' I ... I had only one sheet
che si chiamava "zibaldone" [eft] so ... She made me,just a little kid, go all araundthe school, the
perchd raccoglievamo whole school, dressed up like a bandit. It was really traumatic what I
questo zibaldone ... tutte le notizie had to go through on that occasion. You understand? And I always
che so EMBEDDED remember this thing when I think of that school the fact that I, as a
formule di aritmetica, regole di grammatica ORIENTATION bandit, went around the whole ... under the .." pointed at by the other
mancava school kids as a criminal. I was a laughing-stock."
che so
It must be emphasized that well-formed narratives need not exhibit the
due pagine
above idealized structure. As Labov and Waletzky note, abstracts,
(b) allora mi travesti da bandito
(b2) ciod mi mise
codas, and a separate initial orientation section may be absent in
praticamente (non-elicited) narratives.T
un cappuccio
era un cappuccio bianco con due buchi EMBEDDED ITALIAN ABSTRACTS AND CODA,S
non si capisce ORIENTATION In the elicited Italian stories that constitute my data, abstracts and
per fare vedere gli occhi codas occur frequently. Abstracts appear in 18 (43 per cent), and
e un cartello davanti al petto con scritto codas in 23 (56 per cent) of the 41 stories.
"io rubo i soldi ai miei genitori" The abstracts, which consist of at least one free clause, are of two
io io invece avevo sohanto un foglio cosi RESOLUTION
types: (a) some summarize the main point of the story (as in (6)
(c) e mi fece girare l'istituto a me piccoletto
ow); (b) others are "interactive" in nature, i.e. the narrator makes
tutto I'istituto cxplicit reference to the interviewer's request to narrate a story, as in
traYestito da bandito (7):
fu grande lo choc EVALUATION
(6) a.Quando sono andata in Grecia
che io dovetti sopportare in quel Ia occasione hn avuto l'idea straordinaria di andarci in aereo.
capito? "When I lvent to Crccco I had the extraorclinary iciea to go by
plane. "
e mi ricordo sempre questa cosa b. [Io conosciuto una persona credo fantastica.
quando penso a questo istituto CODA
"I met a fantastic person, I think."
il fatto che io da bandito girai fitto c. Fummo tutto sommaLo fortunati.
sotto il "All considered we were lucky."
additato da dagli altri compagni come un (1) a. E allora t.i racconto della prima volta che sono uscita sola con
delinquente ***
1a macchina.
sottoposto a questo ludibrio.
62 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 63
"So, I'll tell you about the first time I went out with the car by "Here, this is something that really left an impression on
myself." me."
b. Ti vorrei raccontare una della mie prime riunioni di lavoro. d. Mi fece un'impressione terribile.
"I want to tell you about one of my first business meetings." "lt really struck me."
e. E questo/il il mio battesimo del volante.
In all of the above examples, except for (7b), the information en-
"And this was my baptism at the wheel."
capsulated in the abstract is encoded in the preterit. Of the two tense
forms which have preterit meaning, PP is much more common in
abstracts. PR occurs only once, in (6c), tle abstract of a narrative 5. ORIENTATION
which exhibited also dialect switch (Italian/Sicilian).
The coda is that section of the narrative which, when present, All of the narratives contain orientation clauses in which the speaker
formally indicates the end of the story. Three types of codas occur in provides background information about the participants, time, and
the Italian narratives: (a) codas which mark the end of the narrative location of the narrated events. ln 24 of the 4l stories (59 per cent),
and/or of narrated events, as in (8); (b) codas which function to bridge orientation clauses (free and restricted clauses) occur both at the
the gap between the time of tle resolution of the story and the present, beginning and at various other points in the text; in the remainder
as in (9); and (c) codas in which the narrator says (implicitly or orientation material does not appear enclosed in a separate section at
explicitly) that s/he has complied with the interviewer's request to the beginning, but is interspersed throughout the text..
narrate some memorable fact, as in (l0a-d), and which at the same Tense forms with imperfective aspect - imperfetto (Imp) and pr esente
time may express some other narrative function such as evaluation, as (Pr)8 - occur frequently in orientation clauses (cf. Hopper 1979). The
in (10e). Imp reports habitual situations in the past (ll), states, and durative
situations simultaneous with the narrated events (12). The Pr occurs in
(8) a.Ed t finita. slatements of generalities ("gnomic" or "omnitemporal" present)
"And it ended." (13), and in the description of states and acrions which extend from
b. E I'avventura si t conclusa. thc past up to the moment of speech (14). The trapassato prossimo,
"And the adventure came to an end." thc Italian pluperfect, encodes all situations which took place before
c. Insomma questo. thc current narrative plane (15).
"In short this [was it]."
d. E niente. (l l) a. Quando io ero piccolo
"That's it." Uit. "and nothing"l. e andavo alle scuole elementari
(9) a. E questo lo ricordavamo oggi con le mie cugine. la la nostra suora
"And just today, my cousins and I were remembering this ciod la nostra insegnante
incident." si si seccava molto del fatto.
b. E con quella scusa Grazia non 0 piir venuta. "When I was little and was going to elementary school, our
"And with this excuse, Grazia's never come again." nun, that is, our teacher would get really upset at the fact."
c. E mi ricordo sempre di questa cosa quanr\ penso a questo b. Quando io ero piccola
istituto. \, leggevo moltissimo.
"And I always remember this incident when I think about that eeh soprattutto quando ero in vacanza.
school." \ "When I was little. I used to read a lot, especially when I was
(10) a. Non d carina? on vacation."
"Isn't it cute?" ( l2) a. Ero in via Liberth
b. E chistai stata la cosa piir graziosa.... e camminavo lungo i vialoni di via Libert?r.
"And this was the nicest thing...." "I was in Liberth Street, and I was walking along
c. Ecco questa b una cosa che mi ha fatto impressione. Libertir Street."

@ Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 65

(13) a. Lo sai quando tu navighi per tanto tempo diachronically the function of narrative tense par excellence. This
e ti trema sempre tutto. function attaches to the PR from its core/basic preterit meaning and,
"You know when you have been sailing for a long time and therefore, from its lack of "present relevance." The absence of
everything is shaking around you." present relevance implies psychological and temporal distance of the
b. In caduta libera non si vede precipitare qualcuno narrating ego from the narrated event. Temporal and psychological
ma sembra addirittura di essere fermi. distance from a past event. suggest, in turn, objectivity of representation.
"In free fall, you don't see anyone fall, actually, everything We could, thus, extend to the Iulian PR Benveniste's characterization
seems to be still." of the French passd simpl€, as "the tense of the event outside the
il medico.
(14) a. E allora io faccio person of a narrator" (1971: 208).
"SoIamadoctor." It is because of its special status as a narrative tense that PR still
b. Dunque io faccio paracadutismo. occurs in spoken Italian, in spite of its alleged disappearance. It
"So I do sky-diving." attributes objectivity and therefore a historical imprimatur to the
(15) a. Avevamo finito di studiare con Grazia account of a personal experience. The PR is the tense of history, in the
e c'era pure Aurora. etymological sense of the word, as eyewitness report.
"We had finished studying with Grazia, and Aurora was also At least two factors seem to influence the selection of PR as a
there." narrative tense: formality and temporal distance (of the nine stories
b. C'era una festa in maschera e Teresa mi aveva invitato. told exclusively in PR, seven (78 per cent) narrate childhood memories;
"There was a masquerade party and Teresa had invited me." see example (5)). During the interviews I noted a sharp change in
c. Stavano ripitturando la casa register from informal to formal in some narrators. The fact that their
e aYevano sverniciato le porte stories were being tape-recorded obviously influenced the register
nelle porte avevano messo il mastice. switch. These narrators wanted to speak correctly, and thus under-
"They were repainting the house and they had stripped the standably "chose" to recount their stories in the PR, the past form
doors and on the doors they had put some putty." associated with formal written language and, therefore, with a more
prestigious form of discourse. l0 In three instances the change in register
was particularly noticeable since the speakers were friends of the
6. COMPLICATING ACTION interviewer. They recounted their stories in a speech style significantly
The complicating action is that pa.rt of the narrative which includes different from their habitual style, one characterized by a more careful
the series of sequentially ordered events which constitute "the story" selection of syntactic constructions and lexical items.11
itself. Labov (1972), Hopper (1979), and others have noted that while The present is the other tense which typically occurs in narrative
imperfective aspect tends to encode backgrounded information, per- contexts (both oral and written) with a preterit meaning. This particular
fective aspect expresses foregrounded information, i.e. it characterizes usage has been labeled the historical or narrative present. In my data
the "narrative events" which constitute the main story-line.g The the choice of HPr as a narrative tense also seems to be influenced by
tense form used to report main-line events must have a preterit the distance of the events from the moment of speech. Five of the six
interpretation. stories narrated in the HPr recount an incident which happened relatively
In Italian there are three tenses which can exhibit the specifications close to the time of its telling. Narratives in which the main story-line
[ + past, + perfective]: PR, PP, and Pr. All three can occur - and as we is encoded in the HPr also exhibit considerable use of direct speech
will see below at times co-occur - within the complicating action. and imitation of people's voices, mannerisms, and gestures. They
Texts using only one of these tenses to encode the primary sequence cxhibit the criterial features of "performed stories" (Wolfson 1978).
of events are common: of the 4l narratives,9 (22 per cent) choose the It has traditionally been argued that the function of the HPr is to
PR, 8 (20 per cent) the PP, and 3 (7 per cent) the Pr. The use of each report. events as if they were occurring simultaneously with the moment
of these as a narrative event tense is independently motivated. of speech. Like the PR, the HPr is also a tense selected to give an
PR (from the so-called Latin perfect) is the tense which continues impression of objectivity in the narration of the story. The fact that

66 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 67

the narrator portrays the events as taking place before his or her own 7. OBJECTIVITY AND SUBJECTIVITY OF
eyes as well as those of the addressee is intended to dispel any doubt REPRESENTATION
about the objectivity of the account. However, as an indicator of the
objectivity of representation, the HPr differs from the PR in that it
It must be understood that the qualifications "subjective" and
"objective" used in the above discussion of the PR, HPr and PP do
leaves fte interpretation of the events up to the addressee. The PR
not. reflect the real-world adherence of the narrated events to "the
reports events as if they were factual "history," while the HPr
facts." Rather, these terms describe the speaker's attitude toward the
enables the addressee to witness the events and construe them as
propositional content of an utterance and his or her (covert and
"history," if so desired.
perhaps also unconscious) desire that the account be interpreted as
The occurrence of the PP as a narrative tense is an extension of its
either "history" (objective representation) or "autobiography" (sub-
conversational usage with preterit meaning. Despite its occurrence in
jective representation). Despite the obvious reference to Benveniste,
eight stories as the sole narrative tense, the PP seems not to have the
the labels "objective" and "subjective" representation are, mutatis
same status as PR or HPr as a basic narrative tense. In fact, in some
mutandis, rather close in meaning to Lyons' objective and subjective
narratives only the first narrative event, or the abstract, is in the PP,
while the rest of the story is in either the HPr or the PR, or a
combination of the two. At the beginning of a story, in fact, since the The main difference between subjectively and objectively modalized
narrator is addressing the interviewer, he or she might still be using utterances is that the latter, but not the former, contain an unqualifled,
the preterit form typical of a dialogic conversational exchange, and or categorical, I-say-so component. The speaker is committed by
not yet the preterit deemed appropriate to narration.l2 the utterance of an objectively modalized utterance to the factuality
What originally distinguished PP and PR (in their perfect and of the information that he is giving to the addrdSsee: he is peforming
preterit meanings respectively) was the feature of "present relevance." an act of relling.... objective modalization differs from subjective
It seems to me that despite their apparent referential synonymy as modalization, the very essence of which is to express the speaker's
preterits they are still distinguished by this feature, although at a reservations about giving an unqualifled, or categorical, "I-say-so"
different level. Apropos of the change in meaning in the compound to the factuality of the proposition embedded in his utterance.
past forms of certain modern Romance languages, Comrie notes that (Lyons 1977:198-9)
"there is a discrepancy between form (which includes both present
and past) and meaning (which is often just past)" (1976: i06-7). In Thus a narrative reported in the PR or HPr is parallel to an objectively
Italian narrative discourse, however, in which both preterit forms can modalized utterance with an unqualified "I-say-so" component, where-
occur, this discrepancy between form and meaning seems to have as in a narrative reported in the PP the "I-say-so" component has
been reconciled: inclusion of the present, at the formal level, has the been qualified by something like "but it is just my impression."
effect-bf-including also the "psychological center" of the narrator.
The narrated events, even though past, are viewed somewhat in 8. TENSE ALTERNATION IN THE COMPLICATING ACTION
relation to the present. They are closer to the narrator, temporally andl
or psychologically. We could therefore say with Benveniste that in In a narrative context, tense alternation is a means both to encode and
narrative the PR is the tense of historical, objective narration, and the to decode particular information. As pointed out on p. 64, the distinction
PP the tense of personal, subjective report, "the autobiographical between perfective and imperfective aspect, as expressed through
form par excellence" (197I:Zfi). tenses, typically separates foreground from background. More trouble-
It is difficult to find a clear correlation between the selection of PP some to analyze is the alternation between tenses which, in narrative,
and temporal distance or formality. At a very impressionistic level, appear to possess essentially the same general semantic features,
the stories whose main narrative sequence is reported in the PP belong notably PR, PP, and HPr within the complicating action.
to a past more distant than tlose reported in the HPr and more recent. As we saw on p. 65, the selection of a particular form of preterit is
than those encoded in the PR. determined by a variety of factors: formality/informality, ternporal
distance, objectivity/subjectivity. These factors, however, do not

68 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 69

illuminate for us the function of the alternation between one preterit etcetera, really fiaugh]. This is the only thing that really stuck
category and another within the same narrativc. Consider the following in my mind [augh]. That's the first, thing that strikes me as
example: unusual from my past."
Note that of the narrative clauses, (a-c) are encoded in the PP, (d-
(16) a. una mattina mi sono svegliata molto presto t) in the PR.
avevo un forse tre o quattro anni For narratives which display tense switching (such as (16) above),
b. allora mi sono alzata dal letto an understanding of the general meaning of each category of preterit
ed ero un pochettino smarrita (used as sole narrative tense) is necessary but not sufficient to interpret.
come sempre perchd io al buio *x**
the function of a given tense in a tense-switch context. Rather as we
mi sento un pochettino shall see, an interpretation of the alternation of tenses in narrative and
mi confondo of the function of each tense in an alternation set will depend crucially
c. e ho visto che c'era luce on the specific context of usage and on the relationship each tense has
d. e allora ticche ticche ticche andai d'appresso with other tenses used in the narrative.
diciamo Seventeen narratives (42 per cent) exhibit tense switching between
e. a questa ltce e trovai mia madre che PR and PP (i.e. there is at least one form of each tense) in the
all'orario **** delle cinque di mattina complicating action or in the last clause(s) of the complicating acrion
era messa che faceva marmellata in cucina [laugh] (the resolution). PR and HPr co-occur in four (10 per cent) of the
ora stories, PP and HPr in nine (22 per cent). In five of these nine
diciamo narratives HPr is used solely before direct quotes, normally with the
la cosa che piir mi ha sconvolto speech-reporting verb "say" or one of its synonyms.l3
f. che mia madre mi rimproverd terribilmente
perchd avevo i piedi nudi 9. RESOLUTION
perchd mi ero alzata eccetera The resolution contains the concluding event of the story. In many
e invece io trovavo molto molto grazioso stories in which the narrative events are encoded in the PR, HPr, or
propio il fatto di andare both (as we shall see on p. 78), the PP encodes the resolution, thus
come dire underscoring the present relevance or continuing effects of the incident
spiando muovendomi nella casa eccetera or t}te relevance of the story to the discourse context into which it was
propio fiaugh] questa b l'unica cosa inserted.
che mi d rimasta impressa fiaugh] (17)a. unragazzino di sedici anniriusci aprendermi
la prima cosa che mi rimane impressa del passato.
e siamo andati sopra.
I woke up very early (I must have been three or "a 16-year-old boy managed to get hold of me
four years old); I got up from the bed, and I felt a little lost, as
and we went up."
usual (because in the dark I feel a little... I get confused) and I
b. e finalmentel:ui agitd, toccd una cosa
saw that there was a light on, and so 'ticche ticche ticche'
e riusci a sbloccare la porta
[imirates the sound of her light steps] I sort of followed this siamo usciti.
light and I found my mother who, at five in the morning, was "and finally he shook, touched something and managed to
there in the kitchen, making some jam. Now let's say, the thing
open up the door, we got out."
that shocked me the most is that my mother scolded me
harshly because I was barefoot, because I had gotten up, The "present of result" meaning of the PP often marks off the
etcetera. Whereas I found really really neat. that. I was going, resolution and coda from the rest of the narrative encoded in PR or PR
how should I say, snooping around, moving around the house, and HPr.


70 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in Italian 7l

10. EVALUATION perchd io li il collo.
prendevo per
"It. is awful to find yourself in water, under water, without being
Narrative is not a mere list of sequentially ordered events. The able to swim and feel yourself being rejected, that is, they were
speaker's evaluation of the recounted material is an essential feat,ure pushing you away, because I would grab them by their necks."
of narrative, as it often communicates the point of the story. Evaluation c.fu grande lo choc
can occur either in a specific section of the narrative (typically just insomma che io dovetti sopportare in quella occasione.
before andlor after the climactic point in the complicating action or "In short it was really traumatic whatl had to go through on
before the resolution) or may be interspersed throughout the text. that, occasion."
Narrators have at their disposal a number of formal means to
encode evaluation, ranging from the most overt. to the more subtle At times the speaker's opinion may be woven into the narrative fabric
expressions of personal judgment - what, following Labov, we may
and presented as the content. of the speaker's words or thoughts as
call e xt e r na I and, i nt e r na I ev al uatio n re spectively. occurring at the time of the event:

(19) a. Ho detto "Guarda quel biondino!"

10.1. External evaluation
"I said, 'Look at that cute blond guy!"'
b. E ho pensato
A typical external evaluation strategy is for the speaker to interrupt
"Guarda per invitarmi vuol dire che E libero
the narrative and comment on its content:
b disponibile, se no non me 1o direbbe."
(18) a. Pure te lo racconto perchb "And I thought, 'Look, for him to invite me it means he's
perchE/n un episodio particolare free, he's available, otherwise he wouidn't ask me.' "
perchd nella tragedia dell'incidente che poteva sopravvenire c. Io ho pensato "ora tira un coltello, una pistola
e mi ammazza qui sul posto
... con la caduta di mio fratello la morte
qua la flne della mia vita davanti a questo portone."
tutto questo per noi bambini/z una specie di festa
perchb era l'inseguimento di un cavallo
"I thought, 'Now he'll pull out a knife, a gun, and he'll kill
me on the spoq here the end of my life in front of this door.' "
tipo di noi piccolissimi tutti appresso
tipo gridando come i pazzi
ciob rendendoci conto Labov flnds that external evaluation is a characteristic of middle-class
nnn nel con_nello stesso tempo narrators. Moreover, speakers who are particularly concerned with the
d di un inciGtE grave che poteva succedere expression of their opinions often become so entangled in their search
perd allo stesso tempo proprio vissuta come festa. for reasons and justif,cations that they lose sight of the point and plot
"Why am also telling you this? Because it was a special of the story. What is primarily communicated by at least four of the
episode, because in the tragedy of the accident that might have forty-one Italian narratives in my corpus is the speaker's evaluation of
occurred ... with my brother's fall, his death, all that, for us some ill- defined narrative event.
children lral some kind of a party, because we were chasing a External evaluation implies departure from the main story-line into
horse, all of us little children were after it, screaming like crazy, parentheticals, asides, etc. (contained in restricted and free clauses).
and realizing, at, the same time that a serious accident could have Often, as in (20) below, hedges - here understood as parenthetical
occurred, but at the same time, [the event] was experienced as a expressions which mitigate or intensify an utterance and enclosed in
party." angle brackets - introduce evaluative statements:
b. d bruttissimo trovarti in acquasott'acqua
non sapere nuotare e sentirti riflutata (20) a. <Non so come> andai a finire.
ciod ti buttavano via "<l don't know how> I ended lup."
72 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 73
b. E I'aereo s'impennd di colpo durante il decollo that moment had the feeling of a person who was abandoning me,
che <ti dico veramente> lo stomaco mi usci dalle nasche. because I was trying to hold on to him and he, instead, was pushing
"And the airplane jerked up all of a sudden, during the take- me away, that's it. Later I found out that my father wanted to jump
off, and <I tell you> my guts almost came out of my nose." in, my mother wanted to jump in, Santo wanted to jump in. The
c. <Ti dico> cose da pazzi. thing instead tha[ I ... that is I saved myself. Why? I realized
"<I'm telling you>, it was crazy." immediately that the only thing that I had to do to be able to
survive was not to panic."
Departures from the narrative events may also be indicated at times by
switching into tenses other than the main narrative tense. Consider the ) (A heat-wave causes an unusual proliferation of cockroaches
in the emergency-room where the narrator works nights)
following three examples in which the speaker switches from HPr into
PP (21) and from PR into PP (22-3), when shifting from the narration
diventarono centinaia
of events to their evaluation (present in upper case italics):
tu vedevi nel corridoio la sera entrando
(21) (A scary encounter with a street person) che so vedevi
MI SI AVVICINAwo io ne ho contati cento sessanta una sera
con uno sguardo orribile, vestito in modo orribile e il corridoio b lungo cinque metri
capelli lunghissimi, niente, tremendo e allora io che fa
e mi e MI COMINCIA A DIRE cose strane sconclusionate e a in quest'occasione cominciai
io sul momento avevo un po' di paura a cortcarmt fuori in macchina
ma non ci ho dato molto peso perchb mi faceva troppo schifo.
perchB non diceva niente di particolarmente eee eclatante. "Anyway, suddenly there were hundreds of them. you would see
"A guy COMES UP TO ME with a horrible look in his eye, in the corridor, at night as you were getting in, you would see, I
dressed horribly,with very long hair, that's it, terrible. And he don't know you would see... I counted 160 of them one night,
STeRfS TO TELL ME really weird things, that don't make any and the corridor is flve meters long. So what could I do? And that
sense. At that moment, I was a little afraid, butl didn't think too night I started sleeping outside, in the car, because it really
much of it because he wasn't telling me anything particularly disgusted me."
startling." In these three narratives PP encodes external evaluation (the subjective
(22) (A life-threatening experience at sea) t on the events), while HPr (21) and PR (22*3) reporr rhe
Ad un certo punto questo qua ebbe un crampo events themselves "as they occurred," ostensibly inde-
e mi lascii _ of the speaker as an evaluative fllter.
e io in quel momento ho--vuto la sensazione di In the following excerpts from two narratives, the pattern is reversed,
una persona che mi abbandonava the PR encodes external evaluation while the PP (24) and Hpr (25)
perchd io cercavo di trattenerlo the main events
e lui invece mi buttava via quest (24) (The first important business meeting)
poi ho saputo che mio padre si voleva buttare Abbiamo ottenuto un grande ne*** per quelli de dell'impresa
mia madre si voleva buttare, per i quali svolgevamo il lavoro
Santo si voleva buttare tant'd vero che
la cosa invece mia ... ciob mi sono salvata io stessa eeh ci hanno fatto i complimenti e per la nostra pe pe
perchE le nostre lavorazioni
mi resi conto immediatamente che l'unica cosa una cosa che mi colpi molto in quella riunione
che dovevo fare per potermi salvare fu 1l fatto della dell'esperienza
era quella di non agitarmi. che occorre ee acquisire
"All of a sudden this guy had a cramp and let go of me, and I, at nel mondo del del lavoro.
14 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in Italian '15

"We were a big [success] with the people in the firm for whom Internal evaluation devices can serve a variety of functions: they
we were working. So much so, that they congratulated us for our can mark as salient. one or more narrat.ive event.s; or they can select
work. One thing that struck me mvch at that meeting was the fact. particular narrative events and amplify, highlight, or at times provide
that ... the experience that you have to acquire in the work a more detailed description of them. Expressive lexical items (e.g.
world." dialect or slang expressions), taboo words, affective suffixes (e.g.
(25) (A doctor visits a Palermo soccer-team fan) diminutive, augmentative -ino, -etto, -one) are often used for internal
GLI CHIEDO di che colore fossero le feci evaluation; the use of lexical items marked for subjectivity constitutes
che lui aveva fatto l'ultima volta a departure from a semantically "neutral" narrative clause. Internal
perchb in genere chi sanguina ce le ha nere evaluation devices also include use of gestures, imitation of the
e allora lui mannerisms or voice of a story participant, and repetitions (cf. example
che era distrutto pieno di di di lividi (5) where the main event in the story is repeated twice). In the
ubriaco morto di freddo e quindi in una situazione examples below evaluation devices are enclosed in angle brackets:
SI ALZA con un sorriso sar radioso sulla barella
(26) (Taboo words)
a.E cifu qualche <stronzo>
eMI DICE che le sue feci sono sempre rosa-nero
che mi suonA
che b il colore della maglia fiaugh] del Palermo [augh]
e io mi ricordo che <mi incazzai> moltissimo
mi fece un'impressione terribile.
"I "And there )rdJ some <jerk> who honked at me, and I
ASK HIM what color his feces were, his last bowel movement,
remember I <got real|y pissed off>."
because, generally, when one has bleeding they are black. And
b. Io qualche anno dopo
so, he who was a wreck, bruised all over, drunk, freezing cold,
intorno ai miei dodici tredici anni
and therefore in a really sad condition -he GETS UP on his cot
insomma in puberth lo venni a sapere
with a radiant, smile and TELLS ME that his feces are always pink
e <sono rimasta propio di merda>,
and black, which is the color of the uniform of the Palermo
perchb non avevo saputo la verith.
soccer team. It really made an impression on me."
"Some years later, around 12 ot 13, or some time in adolescence,
ln (21)-(25) external evaluation is expressed by switching into a Ifound out and <really felt like shit>, because I hadn't known
tense different from the lpain narrative tense. The data also sh,ow that the truth."
both PP and PR (but npt HPr) can be used to encode external (27) (Evaluative terms)
evaluation. However, as !e will see in section 11, although the a. E c'era questo <povero> ragazza
evaluative function of PP a\d PR may be the same, their rhetorical che ripeti questa cosa per lo meno venti volte.
effect is different. "And there was this <poor> guy who repeated this thing at
least twenty times."
b. E non so come ma diventammo <amiconi>.
10.2. Internal evaluation "I don'[ know how, but we became <great pals>."
As an alternative to disrupting the narrative line, a narrator can leave In most. of the above cases a tense switch co-occurs with internal
thc narrative flow intact and encode evaluation directly into narrative evaluation devices. In addition, tense switching can itself have an
clauses by nneans of lexical or syntactic devices. Labov (1972) notes internal evaluation function, highlighting those narrative events which
that departures from the essentially simple declarative syntax of narra- the speaker considers of particular importance. Consider the following
trvc clauses has the marked function of expressing evaluation. The narrative where the switch from PP to PR occurs at the resolution
rrlrrative clause may thus perform at one and the same time a referential (narrative clause e), then again in the evaluation component ("fu una
lrrrrction (reporting information) and an evaluative one (subjectively cosa terribile"), and flnally in the coda, which reiterates the
rothlizing this information).
r r "resolution" event ("e loro si misero a ridere").

76 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in Italian 17

(28) avevo cinque anni e siccome avevo la sorella pit grande As another internal evaluation strategy, a speaker may underscore an
di (?) xxx* due anni x(**x lei andava in prima elementare event by placing it against the background of some unrealized or
****e io quando lei tornava a casa da scuola no? expected alternativc. Negatives, modals, and clauses introduced by in
mi mettevo accanto a lei effetti "in tact," invece "instead," ma "but" are among the elements
ee vedevo quello che faceva which perform such a function:
e cosi ho imparato a leggere e a scrivere
(29) a. Siamo andati al supermercato che a noi ci pareva buono
a. dopo a un certo punto i miei genitori si sono accorti
che io avevo cinque anni e perd io sapevo leggere e ma che buono nonfu.
"We went to the supermarket, which we thought. was good but
scrivere senza andare a scuola
b. e allora hanno deciso di mandarmi a scuola it wasn't."
e io tutta contenta che dovevo andare a scuola b. Il panico totale perchb Franco
c. u un giorno sono andata a casa di mia zia che asseriva di conoscere il francese benissimo
tutta contenta che mia madre aveva de[tto] in effetti si riveld una cosa a tipo "bonjour" e "bonsoir."
"vabbb d'accordo ti mandiamo a scuola" "[There was] total panic because Franco, who claimed to
d. *'('('('(sai zia io adesso vado a scuola" know French very well, in fact, he turned out La be sornething
c'era mia zia,mio nonno e mia nonna like 'bonjour' and 'bonsoir."'
e. e scoppiarono t\tti a ridere Note that in the sentences in (29), both fiom thesame story, there
e fu una cosa terribile occurs a systematic tense switch from PP, which encodes the main
una di quelle cose che io mi ricordo ancora narrative sequence, to PR in a negated environment or one that turns
trent'anni fir , out to be contrary to the narrator's reading of the situation. Particularly
io mi ricordo phe ero cosi contenta di questa cosa interesting in this regard are the versions of the narrativc which I
particolare I recorded in two different tellings (30a-b). The narrator of this story
che andavo a/ scuola ero piccola chooses different tenscs for the single negatecl verb of the story. In
perd andare { scuola era una cosa di grandi
(30a), where the basic narrative tense is the PP, the negated form is
e loro si misiro a ridere.
the PR, while in (30b) the situation is exactly the reverse:
"I was 5 and since ... I had a sister two years older than me ...
she was going to the first grade and when she got back home (30a) ero bambina
from school - right? - I would sit next to her and would see mi ha preso il libro dalle mani e
what she was doing and that way I learned to read and write. me I'ha strappato
Then, at a certain point, my parents realized that I was 5 but I era u[n] libro che io
could read and write without having gone to school, and so appunto leggevo dalla mattina
they decided to send me to school. And I was all happy about e continuavo a leggere
going to school. One day, I went to my aunt's house, all happy nonostante che mia madre mi chiamasse ripetutamente
that my mother had said 'All right, we agree to send you to nella speranza di arrivare a finirlo
school.' 'You know, auntie, now, I'm going to school.' My perchd volevo sapere a tutti i costi come finiva
aunt, my grandfather, and my grandmother were there, and all e invece in quel modo
of them burst out laughing, and it was terrible, one of those non riuscii mai a sapere come finiva il libro.
things that I still remember, thirty years later! I remember that "I was a little girl [my mother] grabbed the book out of my
I was so happy about this special thing, that I was going to hands and she tore it up. - It was a book that, in fact, I had
school, I was little, but going to school was a grown-up thing been reading since that morning, and I kept on reading it, in
and they started laughing." spite of the fact that my mother called me repeatedly, I was
hoping to f,nish it, because I really wanted to know how it

78 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 19

ended, and that way I never managed to find out how the book change in verbal person from one episode to another, and the clustering
ended." of same-tense verbs to refer to a single event, offer evidence of such
(30b) era un romanzo di Salgari a "boundary" function. Other linguists (Schiffrin l98l; Silva-CorvalSn
e volevo assolutamente terminarlo al pit presto 1983; Fleischman 1986) claim that in a tense-switching context a
per sapere come finiva given tense occurs at particular points of the narrative and that this
e mia madre form acquires, in context, a particular evaluative meaning. Thus,
ovviamente while it is true that recounting a story in the HPr does not necessarily
mi chiamd migliaia di volte make the story more lively (Wolfson 1978: 215-16; Silva-Corvaliin
e io rispondevo sempre "ora" 1983: 769), it is also true that where HPr alternates with another past
alla fine venne ... tense form, it tends to encode climactic points of the story. This does
mia madre venne e mi prese il libro dalle mani not, however, mean that all high points must. be encoded as HPr.
elo Furthermore, the evaluative function of the HPr in tense-switching
proprio lo strappd contexts is, in a sense, an extension of the prototypical usage of the
e per cui non I'ho potuto pit leggere. form. "Used in the context of the narrative clause to report past
.. "It was a novel by Salgari and I was determined to finish it as events, the present brings those events from the past and presents
soon as possible, to Rna out how it ended. And my mother, them as if they were occurring simultaneously with speech event"
obviously, called ne a thousand times, and I always answered (Silva-Corvaldn 1983: 778).
'All right'. In the end she came ... my mother came and These analyses seem also to suggest that in all narrative contexts in
grabbed the book out of my hands and really tore it right up. which tense switching occurs, the functions of the members of the
And that is why I wasn't able to read it any more." alternation set would remain constant. That is, in the case of the
alternation between HPr and preterit, for instance, HPr would always
From both the co-occurrence of tense switching with indicators of be an (internal) evaluation device.
speaker evaluation, andits occurrence at climactic points of a story, This does not seem to be the case in Italian. In the f,rst place, there
we can conclude that in Italian oral narrative tense switching has an are three verb forms, PR, PP, and HPr, which can alternate as narrative
evaluative function. Furthermore, the selection of a particular narrative (event) tenses; second, all of these narrative tenses can perform
tense (PR, HPr, PP) seems to reflect in large part pragmatic considera- evaluation. Consequently, the three tenses appear to combine in various
tions. As argued on p. 67, the choice ofone tense over another may be tense-switching patterns, in which they assume different functions.
ultimately determined by the desire to mark a particular chunk of the The Italian data exhibit a number of well-defined patterns of tense
narrative as objectively or subjectively reported. selection and alternation. I have found at least eight such patterns:

11. TENSE SWITCHING IN NARRATIVE ( 1) The PR occurs throughout the narrative, encoding both the narrative
events and their evaluation (six stories (15 per cent)).
Linguists who have investigated the phenomenon of tense switching (2) The PP occurs throughout the narrative, encoding narrative events
in (oral) narrative have already noted its essentially evaluative function. as well as their evaluation. This pattern is found in eight (19 per
Their studies are based on the alternation of HPr (or NPr) with a form cent) stories.
of the preterit (see Wolfson 1979; Schiffrin 1981; Silva-Corvaldn (3) PR and PP alternate. PR encodes all sequential narrative events,
1983; Fleischman 1986). There is some disagreement, however, as to while PP encodes events or states which are not part of the
whether the tenses that occur in alternation themselves express par- narrative sequence per se, but rather constitute an expansion or
ticular evaluative functions. Wolfson (1979) denies that in a tense- explanation of the narrative events" i.e. orientation or narrator's
switching context HPr has any particular expressive meaning. Rather, commentary. PR occurs only in narrative clauses, while PP appears
she argues that what counts is the switch, whose function is to in restricted clauses, expressing external Five narra-
separate episodes and events from one another. She maintains that a tives (12 psr cent) dispiay this type of tense switch.
80 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 81

(4) PP and PR alternate within the complicating action. PP is the from the others in terms of the types of evaluative clauses in which it
main narrative tense, and PR occurs both in narrative and restricted appears (PR occurs in both narrative and restricted clauses, PP in
clauses as a marker of evaluation. Twelve narratives (29 per cent) restricted clauses and HPr in narrative clauses), and in terms of [he
contain at least one instance of PR with this function. Of the two type of evaluation it expresses (PR expresses both internal and external
types of evaluation, the PR is more widely used in my data as an evaluation, PP external evaluation, and HPr internal evaluation).
indicator of the internal variety. Second, each tense accomplishes a different evaluative strategy, related
(5) HPr and PP alternate in five narratives (12 per cent). HPr occurs to its narrative/referential meaning. 61

only in narrative clauses, while PP occurs in restricted clauses In particular, PR has the function of highlighting a specific scene or
and expresses external evaluation. event and bringing it to the foreground. The speaker intensifies his or
(6) HPr and PR alternate in the complicating action of three narra- her statement of "facts" by adding the qualification, "What I am
tives (7 per cent). However, HPr is the main narrative tense, telling you is the objective truth. The events are as dramatic as they
while PR is the tense of (external) evaluation and/or evaluated seem." As an internal evaluation device, PR differs from HPr in that
iction, occurring in both restricted and narrative clauses. I would PR forces the addressee to accept a certain interpretation of the facts,
point out that previous studies on the alternation between HPr and while HPr seems to offer the addressee the option to interpret the facts
a form of the past have never discussed this particular tense- independently (for an analysis of the evaluative function of HPr, see
switching pattern. But given the contextual basis of contrastive Schiffrin 198 1; Silva-Corval6n 1983).
phenomena like evaluation (or foregrounding; see Fleischman PP has the function of reporting that part of the narrative which
1990), this pattern should not be regarded as anomalous for constitutes a departure from the main story-line and of presenting it as
narratives in which the HPr is the basic event tense of the the speaker's subjective view of the events. By using the PP, the
narration' speaker seems to be saying, "This is my personal view of what
(7) PP and HPr alternate only in one narrative (2 per cent), where PP happened." It is of interest to note that in most cases in which PP
is the main narrative tense, while HPr occurs as an internal occurs as an indicator of external evaluation, the verb form is
evaluation device to highlight climactic events. HPr occurs only a first-person singular or plural.
in narrative clauses. My data show clearly that in some varieties of Italian the replacement
(8) PR and HPr alternate only in one narrative (2 per cent). In this of PR by PP in oral narrative has not occurred (yet); and that PR and
case, as in (7), the function of HPr is to highlight one particular PP can coexist, each in its own right, as "narrative tenses." (Recall,
scene or event within the narrative. however, that the choice between these tenses may be conditioned by
It appears that the question of which tense expresses a purely referential pragmatic factors.)
funcdon (i.e. which is the unmarked narrative tense) and which also Moreover, the synchronic patterns of occurrence of PR and PP -
has an evaluative function must be determined on a case-by-case patterns (l)-(4) on pp. 79-80) - can be situated on an ideal continuum
basis. My data suggest strongly that a particular tense - the one most represented in Fig. 4.1 which mirrors the gradual (diachronic) shift in
frequently pointed to in this connection being the HPr - does not meaning of the PR and PP in modern Romance, more specifically in
encode evaluation a priori, but only in relation to the other tense(s) northern Italian, standard French, and standard Romanian, where the
with which it co-occurs in the narrative. In each narrative one tense is evolution has gone the furthest (see Harris 1982).
selected as the main narrative tense, and one (or two)ls of the remaining
narrative tenses are chosen for evaluation. By "main narrative [ense" Figure 4.7 Diachronic shift in meaning of PR and PP
I mean the preterit form which has the highest frequency in encoding
the sequentially ordered events; this will normally also be the tense PR PR/PP PP/PR PP
that occurs in "unqualified" narrative clauses' tNrl tEVl tNrl / tEVl
tNrt / tNrl
We should not think, however, that the assignment of an evaluative
function to a particular tense is totally random, or that the three tense
categories express the same evaluative meanings. First, each differs
82 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb Tense switching in ltalian 83

At opposite ends of the cline are the PR and the PP in their preterit identifles other traits which distinguish PP and PR in particular contexts.
These traits, however, will not be taken into account here as they are not
meaning, each functioning as the exclusive narrative tense (NT). At
immediately relevant to the present discussion.
intermediate points are the patterns of alternation PR/PP (pattern (3)) 4 These utterances would be perfectly grammatical in Sicilian where the PR
and PP/PR (pattern (a)). On the one hand, the PR gives way to the PP marks both preterit and present perfect (see Harris 1982).
as the basic narrative tense and becomes an indicator of evaluation 5 In these data the Sicilian usage of the PR (see note 3 above) does not
(EV) before it disappears from (oral) narrative. On the other, the PP - interfere with its usage in Italian. In both Sicilian and Italian narratives
the PR is used with preterit meaning. However, the high frequency of
which entered the narrative genre from spoken discourse through the occurrence of the PR may be due to dialectical influence.
back door of asides, comments, and other digressions from the diegetic 6 Coding conventions: HISTORICAL PRESENT; passato prossimo;passafo
text, i.e. as an indicator of evaluation - has now assumed the function remoto. Small letters in brackets to the left of the text indicate narrative
of a narrative tense. clauses. Three or four asterisks indicate an unclear passage on the tape, or
a pause by the speaker. In my transcriptions the line break does not indicate
a segmentation of the story into syntactic units of analysis such as sentence,
12. CONCLUSTOI{--- clause, or phrase. Rather, it marks a pause or natural break in the narrative
flow. Repetitions, stuttering, false starts, interruptions, self-corrections are
The selection of PR as a narrative tense in oral story-telling depends all left in the texts.
on its function of narrative/historical tense par excellence. The choice 7 In my corpus several stories do not conform to Labov and Waletzky's
macro-structural model. These narratives were either merely lists of
of PP as a narrative tense reflects instead its modern conversational narrative events, with little or no evaluation or elaboration of any kind, or,
usage with preterit value. The switch between the PR and the PP (and conversely, just a series of evaluative statements about some ill-def,ned
between one of these two forms and the HPr) functions to evaluate narrative event. Some other narratives were missing abstracts and/or
narrated events. It is, however, impossible to determine a priori which codas.
tense will encode evaluation. The evaluative function of a tense form 8 Pr in the orientation does not include the historical present, which, when
it occurs, has a perfective value.
can be determined only within a speciflc narrative context. 9 Such a schematic binary formulation of the distribution of aspect for
As an evaluation device, each tense expresses a particular strategy. narrative grounding has been challenged. For discussion, see Fleischman
In particular, the PP represents an act of stepping into the self, into (1985, 1990: Chapter 6)
subjectivity, while the usage of the PR is a stepping outside the self, 10 In their work on the use of the passi simple it French newspapers, Waugh
into objectivity. The specific meaning which each form expresses as and Monville-Burston (1986) note that the normal association of the passi
simple with particular genres of written discourse results from the feature
an evaluation device stems from its basic meaning in ordinary (non- they refer to as "detachment."
narrative) language. Finally, the various synchronically present patterns 1l In the example below, the speaker chooses a speech style more formal
of tense selection and alternation appear to correlate with stages in the than his habitual style:
diachronic development of simple and compound pasts within la nostra suora
Romance. cioB la nostra insegnarte
si seccava molto del fatto che
noi bambini sottraessimo dei fogli
NOTES dei fogli dal quaderno di bella.
"Our nun, that is our teacher, would get really upset that we children
I This work was supported by an Italian-American Fellowship, offered would steal some sheets from the last-draft notebook. "
through the University of California at Berkeley for the academic year
In this example the speaker uses subordinating syntax with the subjunctive
1984-5. I would like to thank Ruggero Stefanini and Eve Sweetser for
instead of the more colloquial co-ordinative syntax with the indicative.
their helpful comments on an earlier draft. I am particularly grateful to
Furthermore, the speaker chooses the unusual and irregular verb sottrarre
Suzanne Fleischman for her comments, insight, and patience. Special
"to subtract," "steal," "take away," instead of the more familiar and
thanks go to all the interviewees who kindly provided the data. Needless
common rubare, togliere, ot strappare. In a more informal register, we
to say, mistakes and omissions are solely my responsibility.
would expect something like: "la nostra suora cioE la nostra insegnante si
2 Predicates may include pronominal and nominal direct and indirect objects,
seccava molto quando noi rubavamo/toglievamo/strappavamo dei f6gli dal
locatives, and adverbials.
quaderno di bella."
3 In addition to the feature of "present relevance" Bertinetto (1986)

tt4 Discourse-pragmatics and the verb
Tense switching in ltalian g5
12 Dahl (1983) reports that in many languages which have special narrative (1990) Tense and Narrativity. From Medieval perforntance
tenses (most belong to the Bantu family), these forms appear only after Fiction, Austin: University_of f!*u, pr"rrTionaon: '" 'Modern
to '"
the second narrative clause. Dahl's findings provide additional support for -
Harris, Marrin B. (19g2) .The. .-p-a1
the claim that narrative is a special category of discourse, distinct from ,i.if";'""a rhe .present
perfect, in
Romance," in N. Vincent and M.B. Harris (eds)
conversational language, with its own rules, and more specifically its own Studies in the Romance
Verb, l-ondon: Croom Helm.
tense system. Ho!9"1 *Aspect
13 I am not certain that these five narratives actually contain tense switching fryl ]. 0979) and foregrounding in discourse,,, in
Giv6n (ed.) Syntax and, Semantics, tZ iiiiourse
(see Wolfson 1979: 178-9 for a discussion of tense switching with forms ""1. and Synta;r, New york:
Academic Press.
of the verb "say"). I exclude from consideration instances in which in a Labov, W_illiam (197?) .,The transformarion
narrative clause the present of a verbum dicendi such as dire "say" synrax," in William Labov, Language in the
of experience in narrarive
immediately follows the PR, PP, or HPr of another verbum dicendi (fare University pennsylvania " " press.
Innlr C;ry, pirifrJ"ipfri",
"go" or dire "say"). In these cases, in fact, the Pr marks a direct quote Labov, William and Waletzky, Joshua- (1967) ..Narrarive
and is not a case of HPr. versions ofpersonal analysis. Oral
experience," in J. HLh Es"oy, on tii tiial
1ect.y ana
(l) Mi FA dice "Dominga." Visual Arts, Seaule: University .f *urrri-rgiori p.".r.
"He goes says 'Dominga.' " Lepschy, Anna Laura u"d L:prtl:-cirLi"iis8il La Lingua italiana: storia,
(2) Glidrsse dice "Vieni qua." , varietd dell'uso, grammatiia, Mitan: Sompiuni.
(1977) Semanrics, 2 vols, Cambridge:
"He told says 'Come here.' "
(3) E ha detto dice "Porta le chiavi a tuamadre."
"rilj;r.r"n, Cambridge University
"And she said says 'Bring the keys to your mother.' " Moranre, Elsa (1948) Menzogra e Sortilegio,
Turin: Einaudi.
Rolfr, c. (1966) Grammatica storica iZii'irotiono
ii ,iri dialetti,Turir:
14 In the narratives which exhibit this pattern, PP may also occur in abstracts Einaudi. "
(when present), initial nauative clauses, and resolutions. In these contexts t.}!TuTl Deborah (1981) "Tense variarion in narrarive,,,
PP does not have an evaluative function. Its presence, in fact, could be Language 57 (t):
explained by the fact that it is closely linked to the context of the telling Silva-Corvaldn, Carmen (19g3) ..Tense and
(i.e. the speaker's present), providing transitions between the narrator's aspect in oral Spanish narrative:
.,, meaning," Language 59 (4): 760:g0.
world and the sJory'wor1d. "on.t.*r-1rq
waugh, Lrnda (1990)..Discourse functions
15 I also found one occurrence of the PR at the climactic point of the story in synch_rony," in Nils Thelin (ed.) Vertat
of tense_aspect: dynamic
three of the narratives which exhibit an alternation between the PP and the e$)ct in Discourse, Amsrerdam:
John Benjamins.
HPr. In two of these stories the HPr is the main narrative tense. Waugh, Linda and Monville-Burston, Monique (19g6) ,,Aspect
16 A similar approach to tense functions is adopted in studies by Waugh funcrion: the French simple past in and discourse
(1990) and Waugh and Monville-Burston (1986) on the use of ge,,, Laiguag"
""*rfffi,)ru gqa_ iz(ii,
passi simple, passi composi, and imparfait in literary and journalistic Wolfson, (1978) ,,A..
texts. -I-t{gssa feature of performed narrative: the conver_
rr,,.:111^lir.!gical presenr, " Lang uag e ii S i, i"ty 7 : 215_37
"ljre "his;oricat .
conversational pr"slnt atternarion, " Lang uag e
REFERENCES - [i i'i],
Benveniste, Emile (1971) Problems in General Linguistics, Coral Gables:
University of Miami Press.
Bertinetto, Pier Marco (1986) Tempo, Aspetto, e Azioru nel Verbo ltaliano.
Il Sistema dell'Indicativo, Florence: Accademia della Crusca.
Comrie, Bernard (1976) Aspect, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Dahl, Osten (1983) "Temporal distance: remoteness distinctions in tense-
aspect systems," Linguistics Zlt 105-22.
Fleischman, Suzanne (1982) The Future in Thought and Language:
Diachronic Eviderrce frorn Rornarrce, Cambridge: Cambridge University
(1985) "Discourse functions of tense-aspect oppositions in narrarive:
toward a theory of grounding," Linguistics 23: 851-82.
- (1986) "Evaluation in narrative: the present tense in medieval 'performed
stories'," Yale French Studies 70: 199-251.