Author Topic: Tensless languages  (Read 146 times)

Offline josephusflav

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Tensless languages
« on: May 10, 2018, 03:42:42 PM »

I'm trying to wrap my min around the idea of a tenseness language.

It is my understanding that in  a tensless language you would have one verb form to represent the all variations of the idea ("work" would mean works, worked, is working)  but use something like adverbs to qualify the sentence as being about the past.

So for example,here is a attempt at a English sentence with a tensless form of work, stop and run.

" I work (worked) yesterday and two days after today I work (will work) again."

"I run (ran) all the days of my youth,  I not stop (will not stop) in the future."

Is this a good basic understanding?

Offline Daniel

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Re: Tensless languages
« Reply #1 on: May 10, 2018, 05:40:51 PM »
Superficially, yes. But languages aren't just like English minus some features. There are usually other features that balance that out, or at the very least conventional expectations about how to interpret things.

Most "tenseless" languages have aspect marking instead, indicating whether the event is completed, ongoing, habitual, yet to begin, etc. Like if in English we said "I have eaten, am drinking, and gonna sleep". The same ideas of pastness and futurity can be expressed, but in a grammatically different way. That's the case in Chinese, where aspectual particles are (optionally) used when needed.

On a theoretical level you can find a lot of research about 'tensenessless' if you search for the term, and it is an open debate whether any language really is tenseless (regardless of how it is manifested grammatically). See this recent discussion: http://linguistforum.com/morphosyntax/evidence-for-universality-of-tp-dp-etc/

But thinking of a 'tenseless' language as one just lacking something English has... why not think about things English lacks? For example, many languages have evidentiality which is (in some cases obligatory) encoding of the source of knowledge of the speaker on the verb. So you might have five different verb forms (regardless of, in addition to tense, aspect, etc.) that encode things like "I'm certain" or "I heard it from someone else" or "I'm just supposing". We can of course mark that in English with adverbials. But in some languages it is obligatory. So speaking a tenseless language is like speaking evidentialityless English-- it's normal for the speakers, and they have no problem communicating, although they don't use the same system as found in some other languages.
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