Hi there,

Here's a sentence from a book "The Articulate Mammal: An Introduction to Psycholinguistics"

In speech, three processes, at the very least, are taking (1) place simultaneously: first, sounds are actually being (2) uttered; second, phrases are being (3) activated in their phonetic form ready for use; third, the rest of the sentence is being (4) planned.

What I don't understand at all, is why the author uses the present continuous tense in these places that I've marked in bold... I'd say this sentence like this:

1) [...] take place [...]
2) [...] sounds are uttered [...]
3) [...] phrases are activated [...]
4) [...] the sentence is planned.

The reason for this, I suppose, is that we use the present simple tense when (we're?) talking about general rules... and the author seems to be describing (seems to describe) some general rules when she talks (when she's talking?) about what processes take place (again: taking place?) in speech.

Hope that somebody will explain it to me, thx in advance!
1 2
The writer has the option here of using present simple or present continuous. The latter makes the process more immediate, more graphic for the reader.
my opinion is that the author is just talking about what happens while you speak. If you use the simple present, it sounds like a general fact, something that applies to all similar cases and most of the time too.
When you speak, your brain translates your thoughts into series of familiar phonemes. (= this is what generally happens every time)
When you speak, your brain is translating your thoughts into series of familiar phonemes. (= that "when" is more like a "while", and here the stress is on the process... "what is happening while you speak, whenever you speak")

It's just a matter of "while" versus "when", "the description of a process" versus "a general statement". That's my opinion. Emotion: smile
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thanks everyone,

hmm, but what about this one:

When a person learns English as a second language, they are speaking English filtered through their first language.

It's driving me mad :/ (or maybe: It drives me mad, generally) I have more and more doubts wheter to use the PSimp. or the PCont.
anglista2008 It's driving me mad :/ (or maybe: It drives me mad, generally) I have more and more doubts wheter to use the PSimp. or the PCont.
In this case there seems to be an importantant difference in the process.
It's driving me mad means each time it happens (the filtering process) I travel farther along the path toward insanity. (a progression)

It drives me mad means each time it happens I experence the same sort of maddening frustration.

- A.
anglista2008Hope that somebody will explain it to me
The simple tense makes the sentence sound more academic and scholarly -- more 'objective'. It keeps some distance between the writer and reader.
The progressive tense makes the sentence sound more as if the writer and reader were good friends talking about something actually happening as they converse about it. In some ways, the progressive also 'speaks down' to the reader, almost treating him like a child that has to be held by the hand as the explanation is made step by step.

In this case, I would go so far as to make a comparison with the use of the "tu" (like the progressive) and "vous" (like the simple) forms in the Romance languages.

(I have exaggerated in my explanation above, but I believe something vaguely like that is happening.)

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this is getting a bit confusing... what about this one:

Older children hardly ever sound like native-born speakers even when they are talking the same language.

why not "when they talk"


However, this plain overgeneralization interpretation may be too simple a view of what is happening when the child says BA.

Here, I'm totally confused. It looks to me as if the usage of PC and PS was completely accidental. I don't get it why she says (or is saying???) "what is happening" and "says"

Yes, you could call it 'accidental'. Native speakers never stop to think about this where the 2 forms are both reasonable choices. As has already been implied above in different ways, the -ing form often carries nothing more than a mood or image of duration/movement while simple states a generality/condition. Nevertheless, these are the analyses of linguists; they are subtle and often non-existent for the speaker. There is no good reason why the writer of your latest examples did not use simple present; she could just as easily have so.
I think it's fair to say that what goes through the speaker's head in choosing simple vs. continuous is on a par with what goes through the listener's head in interpreting it. The extent to which it rises to the conscious level probably depends on the individual and the situation.
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