Margo Blevins

Progressive Aspect in Texas German

A number of constructions can be used in German to express progressive aspect, ranging from the increasingly acceptable am-construction (e.g. Ich bin am Arbeiten ‘I am working’) to using an adverb like gerade or jetzt (e.g. Ich arbeite gerade ‘I am working now’). Texas German (TxG) also uses a variety of constructions to express progressive aspect (as would be expected, given the variety of original donor dialects that formed TxG, cf. Boas 2009). This paper identifies and discusses various constructions used in TxG to express progressive aspect. This investigation is limited to present, indicative, active, non-negative, non-emphatic sentences with no elliptical constructions, and the data is geographically limited to Gillespie County, Texas, specifically to the translations of ten interview sentences from Gilbert (1972) provided by 30 participants from Gillespie County, TX, and recorded under the auspices of the Texas German Dialect Project (, directed by Hans C. Boas.

Section 1 of this paper contains a short discussion of progressive aspect. Section 2 briefly explains how progressive aspect in expressed English. Section 3 consists of an overview of how the progressive aspect is expressed in both standard German and German dialects within Germany. Section 4 discusses the different progressive constructions in TxG (Gillespie County specifically), when they are used, how often they are used, and who uses them. Section 5, the conclusion, contains a summary of the findings and ideas for future research.

Constructions used to express progressive aspect in TxG include present tense, am + a nominalization of the verb, the adverbs jetzt and gerade, tun + infinitive and sein + infinitive. Thus, a single sentence can elicit several translations, such as the following translations for Gilbert (1972) sentence 31 (These sentences also show the variability of case assignment in present-day TxG.):
(1) He’s helping me now.
(1a) Er helft mich jetzt. (1-56-2-31)
(1b) Der ist mich am Helfen. (58-371-1-31)
(1c) Der tut mir jetzt helfen. (17-177-1-31)
(1d) Er tut mir helfen. (11-126-2-31)
(The above data comes from the Texas German Dialect Archive (TGDA) [http://www.tgdp. org/archive/ index.php]. The number following each example is the example’s file number in the archive.)

I show that while present tense was the most commonly used construction to express progressive aspect, it appears to be most commonly used when the Aktionsart is an achievement. Also, if the word “now” is in the Gilbert elicitation sentence, then jetzt is normally used in the TxG translation of the sentence (93% of the responses for the Gilbert sentences with “now” contained jetzt, while only 4% of the responses contain jetzt when the elicitation Gilbert sentence did not contain “now”). The frequency of the use of each progressive construction can be summarized as in (2):

(2) present tense > am + nominalization of verb > jetzt > tun + infinitive >
sein + infinitive > gerade

(Note that there is no evidence of bei, in, momentan or dabei to express progressive aspect, although they are viable options in the standard language.)

The number of constructions used also appears to correlate with the speaker’s age and the language they first spoke at home. Speakers tend to choose one way to express progressive aspect and use it in all relevant situations. That is, 13 out of the 30 total speakers used only one construction type for all 10 Gilbert elicitation sentences. (Twelve people exclusively used present tense, and one person exclusively used tun + infinitive. Nine speakers used two constructions and eight speakers used three constructions.) All of the speakers who used the present tense progressive construction in every sentence spoke solely German at home. The average birth year of those who used one construction throughout the ten elicitation sentences is 1930, for those who used two constructions, it is 1935, and for those who used three constructions, it is 1942.

While the observations made in this paper can act as a step towards further understanding verbal aspect in TxG, further research is necessary. The following questions remain unanswered: (1) How does the data in this paper compare with translations from TxG speakers from other counties in Texas? (2) How is progressive aspect expressed in TxG in other scenarios, such as past tense or in interrogative sentences? (3) How does the data in this paper compare with data from the open-ended interviews of the same 30 speakers in the TDGA? (4) How does it compare with the original Gilbert (1972) data? This paper is therefore a first step towards a complete understanding of progressive aspect in TxG in particular, and the aspect system of TxG in general.

Boas, Hans C. 2009. The Life and Death of Texas German. Durham: Duke University Press.
Gilbert, Glenn G. 1972. Linguistic Atlas of Texas German. Austin: University of Texas Press.