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Linguist's Lounge / Re: Introduction Thread
« Last post by Fiddlestix McWhiskers on January 19, 2018, 04:47:05 PM »

I feel a bit underdressed here.  I am a 44 year old antique restorationist, ex musician, former alcoholic/drug addict and a high school dropout. 

I have been having a sort of lawnmower man experience for about six years now.  I have been developing almost instant and insatiable interests in things that used to bore me to tears.

A few months back, I decided to start learning Spanish and started using Dulingo, not knowing anything about languages or the learning of them.  Then, my brother told me about Esperanto being an introductory language and that sent me down a relatively deep rabbit hole, in which I discovered The Ling Space on YouTube and, within the last few days, Steven Pinker.

With my head still spinning in the fresh bliss of a neophyte, I am seeking to go from an almost completely uneducated idiot to, well, not that.

I would like to start at the very beginning and develop a strong base in understanding the building blocks of English grammar.  When I say building blocks, I mean the definitions of the terms noun, adjective, modifier, infinitive &c..  My goal is to try to understand the basic underlying terms and rules that grammar in all languages share and build on that by dissecting sentences and examining their structures &c..

Can anyone recommend a good go to book to help me start my journey?  Or, conversely, can anyone point out the folly of my itinerary in a way that won't completely soar above my head?

Morphosyntax / Re: How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by Daniel on January 19, 2018, 01:42:51 PM »
Almost all descriptive grammars written since 2000 make a distinction between tense and aspect (where applicable). They don't always do it precisely the way that a semanticist would, but the terms are there.

As for misuse of "aspect" to cover other terms, I know it well. And yes, it should be split for clarity also. I'm doing research on motion affixes (associated motion, directionals, etc.), and oddly enough one in a while (or not even so rarely) these are lumped in with "aspectual suffixes" (etc.). Really odd. At least they're not (often) called "tenses".
Morphosyntax / Re: How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by panini on January 19, 2018, 12:03:01 PM »
In the realm if language description, I think it's an open question whether the use is increasing or decreasing. It probably depends on what kinds of systems are lurking out there waiting to be discovered, i.e. in how many languages is the matter purely a matter of tense and aspect, and in how many languages do you have to expand the classes of meaning properties that are part of the event-inflectional systems? When negation, focus and disbelief get called "aspect", I assume there would be a similar objection that that misconstrues the concept "aspect", so the descriptor has to grow in length. Some of us are of the opinion that enough is enough and it's time to simplify. The nice thing about "tense" as the broad term is that is is already there and is traditional, and you can still use "time reference" if you mean that sense of "tense".
Morphosyntax / Re: How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by Daniel on January 18, 2018, 07:56:42 AM »
Having a narrower label is helpful when you want to be precise. Having a broader label is helpful when you want to list out all forms.

I think you make a good point. However, I will add that it isn't just technical usage by semanticists. It's also standard practice in typology, and increasingly common in language description by fieldworkers. Less common in, say, theoretical work by morphologists on verb paradigms, and maybe some syntacticians looking at clause structure broadly but actually crucially distinguished by those trying to figure out how the verb gets various features (sometimes to the point of much more narrowly distinguishing categories within aspect, etc.).
Morphosyntax / Re: How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by panini on January 17, 2018, 10:49:59 PM »
I will add that as a linguist, I use "tense" to cover the entire panoply of inflectional distinctions about the action, following traditional (millenia-old) use of the term. At some point when general linguists "discovered" aspect, there was a move to replace the term "tense" with "tense-aspect", but eventually it was realized that even this is inadequate and we'd have to talk about "tense-aspect-mood". Well, that ignores the fact that many languages also mark negation on verbs via the same means, hence the monstrosity "tense-aspect-mood-polarity" was born. Needless to say, it really has to be "tense-aspect-mood-polarity-focus-clause type-propositional attitude", and we are constantly discovering all sorts of other meaning and structural features about events that can get encoded in verbal inflectional systems.

If you are deeply interested in just the semantic properties, the correct term to use would be "time reference" (as one example). If you're interested in what is signaled by a particular morphological pattern, it's a bit of semantic un-realism to expect that a particular morpheme signals only time reference. Some languages use syntactic expressions to encode event-related meanings (e.g. "used to"), and some encode them with morpheme selection (many Bantu languages, for example).

I agree that there is a dominant and narrow technical convention in the field of semantics that tense is about event time, but I think that narrow definition misses the boat and doesn't actually benefit semantics in the slightest.

Morphosyntax / Re: How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by Daniel on January 17, 2018, 05:31:03 PM »
It depends on the definition of "tense".

In a narrow technical sense, linguists define "tense" as an indication of when the action described by the verb occurs. (It's slightly more complicated than that, but that's close enough for the moment.) Since the present progressive really does take place during the present, it's just the present tense. In other words, tenses are just windows of time-- generally only past, present and future, although actually some languages have multiple past (or future) tenses such that there might be a "since yesterday" tense versus a "distant past" tense, etc. -- still, those refers to windows of time.
But then there is aspect which further adds information about how the verb interacts with time, or how the events are carried out relative to the tense. The progressive is an "ongoing" aspect, versus for example the perfective which is an "already completed" aspect. So "I have eaten" is present perfective, because it's a present tense but perfective aspect (the eaten finished before now, with the idea of "present relevance" explaining why this is present tense). Compare also the past perfective "I had eaten", referring to some time in the past, before which the eating had already been done.
If you want to read more you can find information on Wikipedia, etc., but there are two very good books to refer to, simply named Tense and Aspect, written by Bernard Comrie. (They're popular and well known so it won't be hard to find them at any academic library.)

On the other hand, more loosely, many non-linguists, especially language teachers (for practical purposes, and sometimes casually a few linguists, will define "tense" as simply any sort of verb form. Usually it's limited to actual prefixes or suffixes on the verb, so you might hear someone say, for example, "has" is the "third-person tense" of "have" (instead of "person agreement"), or the "subjunctive tense" (which is a mood). That's sort of a bizarre use of the word and confusing, but makes sense when you know they just mean "verb form".

It's rarer, but still happens sometimes, that people will describe a complex form like "be + V-ing" as a "tense", although more common as a "complex tense" (or similar wording). More technically we'd call that a periphrastic (multi-word) verb form.

In short, language teachers (and others) just use the shortcut term "tense" to refer to "ways we say verbs". It's not very precise or clear, but when your goal is just explaining different verb suffixes in a textbook I guess it works.

Or is it a Oxford comma situation, where it just depends on who's rules you accept at the start?
Yes, sort of. But there isn't much uncertainty about the data (at least for linguists). Instead, in this case, it's about which labels you use for what. The actual things you're describing don't change. (The oxford comma is a separate issue, related to prescriptivism, telling people how to write, rather than describing how people actually write. Although the label itself just describes that usage I suppose.)


As for the broader question of "how many" tenses English has, it of course depends on the definition.

Narrowly, English clearly has three tenses (plus various aspects, etc.).

More broadly, there are dozens of possible verb forms if you include multi-word forms: for example, "used to", or "gonna", etc.
Morphosyntax / How many tenses? (english)
« Last post by josephusflav on January 17, 2018, 02:25:27 PM »
So I have run across contradictory information about what is and is not a tense.

Some websites say there are six and treat present continuous as something else.

Others claim the present  continuous forms of verbs are tenses.

Who's right?

Or is it a Oxford comma situation, where it just depends on who's rules you accept at the start?
Phonetics and Phonology / Re: superscript x in ipa
« Last post by 「(゚ペ) on January 17, 2018, 09:15:07 AM »
Thanks you guys! I understand now. I just didn't read the page on suomen phonology carefully enough. I agree with panini that this is the sort of thing that someone should discover on the suomen phonology page and should not be represented in the IPA transcription of suomen words. Anyway, at least my confusion has been alleviated.
Phonetics and Phonology / Re: superscript x in ipa
« Last post by Daniel on January 14, 2018, 01:07:28 AM »
Sounds exactly like redoppiamento sintattico, then, except that the etymology of the 'mystery consonant' may be unknown, while for Italian it is known (from Latin) but varies for different words.
Phonetics and Phonology / Re: superscript x in ipa
« Last post by panini on January 13, 2018, 11:14:16 PM »
Phonetically it doesn't mean anything. Phonologically, it refers to the fact that it's in the class of words with the "mystery consonant", sometimes claimed to be /h/, which causes gemination. But that is a phonological detail, not an audible facts. I think it is annoying that someone would claim to be phonetically transcribing when they are phonologically analyzing, but Wiki is full of annoyances.

Clements & Keyser in CV phonology have a decent analysis of this, and Kiparsky (naturally) has written up most of the relevant fact, in possibly two papers (which will be available on his web page).
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