Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited: New Answers to Old Questions

Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited: New Answers to Old Questions

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Over the past several decades, linguistic theorizing of tense, aspect, and mood (TAM), along with a strongly growing body of crosslinguistic studies, has revealed complexity in the data that challenges traditional distinctions and treatments of these categories. Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited argues that it’s time to revisit our conventional assumptions and reconsider our foundational questions: What exactly is a linguistic category? What kinds of categories do labels such as “subjunctive,” “imperative,” “future,” and “modality” truly refer to? In short, how categorical are categories?

Current literature assumes a straightforward link between grammatical category and semantic function, and descriptions of well-studied languages have cultivated a sense of predictability in patterns over time. As the editors and contributors of Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited prove, however, this predictability and stability vanish in the study of lesser-known patterns and languages. The ten provocative essays gathered here present fascinating cutting-edge research demonstrating that the traditional grammatical distinctions are ultimately fluid—and perhaps even illusory. Developing groundbreaking and highly original theories, the contributors in this volume seek to unravel more general, fundamental principles of TAM that can help us better understand the nature of linguistic representations.

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ISBN-13: 9780226363660
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 01/12/2017
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
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Pages: 400
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About the Author

Joanna Błaszczak is professor at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland. Anastasia Giannakidou is professor of linguistics at the University of Chicago. Dorota Klimek-Jankowska is assistant professor at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland. Krzysztof Migdalski is assistant professor at the Institute of English Studies at the University of Wrocław, Poland.

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Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited

New Answers to Old Questions

By Joanna Blaszczak, Anastasia Giannakidou, Dorota Klimek-Jankowska, Krzysztof Migdalski

The University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-36366-0


TAM Coding and Temporal Interpretation in West African Languages

Anne Mucha and Malte Zimmermann

1 Introduction

This chapter discusses the temporal interpretation and the grammatical coding of tense, aspect, and modality (TAM) in two West African languages Hausa (Chadic, Afro-Asiatic) and Medumba (Grassfield Bantu, Niger-Congo). We chose these two languages because their tense-marking systems are radically different. As demonstrated in Mucha (2012, 2013), Hausa belongs to the typological class of tenseless languages, in which tense is not grammatically marked and temporal interpretation is pragmatically resolved, relying on aspectual and contextual cues. By contrast, Medumba belongs to the typological class of graded-tense languages (Comrie 1985; Cable 2013), which are able to express more fine-grained distinctions in past- and future-oriented interpretations, such as recent past or remote past. As a result, temporal interpretation in Medumba is expected to rely less on aspectual and contextual cues. Despite this striking difference in tense coding, we will show that the two languages are surprisingly similar in other respects. First, both languages have clearly identifiable linguistic categories of aspect and modality, which shows that the presence of these categories in a language is in dependent of the presence or absence of the category of tense. Second, both languages express future-oriented readings with a modal element, showing that there is no future tense in these languages and, perhaps, cross-linguistically (Enç 1996; Matthewson 2006; Copley 2009). Third, both languages rely on aspectual and contextual cues for temporal interpretation, providing support for the analysis of tense as a deictic category, relating the reference time (RT) to the utterance time (UT).

The chapter is structured as follows. In the remainder of the introduction, we lay out the background assumptions concerning the semantic concepts under lying tense, aspect, and modality, as well as the notion of linguistic categories in natural language. We also identify a number of problems that are often encountered in semantic field research on TAM categories. Section 2 presents our analysis of Hausa as a tenseless language, which follows the more detailed account by Mucha (2013). The central claims are that Hausa does not have a linguistic category of tense, such that temporal interpretation is determined by the interaction of Aktionsart, aspect, and context, and that the so-called future marker is in fact a modal marker. Section 3 presents the first ever sketch of a formal-semantic analysis of tense-aspect marking in Medumba, comparing it with another graded-tense language, Gikuyu, as discussed by Cable (2013). We propose that some of the temporal markers in Medumba are indeed tense markers. In addition, Medumba has two sets of aspectual markers located in different structural positions. From a theoretical point of view this means that what is perceived as a unified typological class of graded-tense languages splits up into various subclasses that make use of different formal means for expressing temporal information. In addition to tense, Medumba has two aspectual categories, and, as in Hausa, future-oriented readings are expressed by means of a modal marker. Section 4 concludes.

1.1 Semantic Concepts Under lying Tense, Aspect, and Modality

We adopt the following definitions for the semantic concepts underlying the notions of tense, aspect, and modality, respectively. Following Reichenbach (1947) and Klein (1994), tense markers express the temporal relation between the utterance time (UT) and the reference time (RT) relative to which the proposition expressed is evaluated. There are three basic relations between UT and RT (Comrie 1985): simultaneity (UT = RT, or UT [not subset] RT) for present time reference, anteriority (RT < UT) for past time reference, and posteriority (UT < RT) for future time reference. As for grammatical coding, we follow Partee (1973) and Kratzer (1998) in treating tense as introducing a variable expression ti in T. This indexed tense variable gets a value g(i) by means of a contextual assignment, where g(i) corresponds to RT. Possible value assignment to ti in a given context is restricted by tense specifications. The tense specification adjoins to ti and denotes a partial identity function giving back a value if and only if g(i) stands in the relevant relation to UT as illustrated for the past tense in (1) (see Heim 1994):

(1) T


ti PAST λ:t < UT. t

Aspect refers to the temporal relation between RT and the event time (ET), which is the time at which the described event takes place (Klein 1994). The temporal relations involved are subset ([not subset]) or precedence relations (<). Basic aspects frequently found in natural languages are imperfective/progressive (RT [subset] ET), perfective (ET > RT), perfect (ET < RT), and prospective (RT < ET) aspect (Kratzer 1998; Cable 2013). Syntactically, aspectual heads are located in a position above vP. Semantically, aspect maps an event property of type onto a property of times (<i, st>), as illustrated for progressive and perfective aspect.

(2) a. [[PROG]] = λP<>.λt.λw.[there exists]e [P(e)(w)& t [not subset] time(e)]

b. [[PFV]] = λP<>.λt.λw.[there exists]e [P(e)(w)& time(e) [not subset] t]

The semantic concept of modality is frequently subdivided into the classes of epistemic modality and root modality (Hoffmann 1966; Hacquard 2009; Kratzer 2012a). Epistemic modality includes evidential interpretations, and root modality subsumes all deontic, bouletic, and inertial interpretations. In addition, some scholars assume a metaphysical modality, which they argue shows up with future marking in natural languages; see, for example, Thomason (1984), Condoravdi (2002), and Giannakidou and Mari (2014 and this volume). Semantically, modal elements denote quantifiers over possible worlds, which are restricted by a realistic or metaphysical modal base (MB), depending on the theory, and by a stereo typical, deontic, bouletic, or inertial ordering source (O) (Kratzer 2012a). With respect to future marking, we follow Copley (2009) and assume that the commonly observed interpretive effects of intention and prediction are triggered by bouletic or inertial ordering sources. By way of illustration, the bouletic modal in (3) takes a proposition and a time-world pair as arguments and yields the value '1' if all worlds w' that satisfy the circumstantial (realistic) MB and that are ranked highest on the scale of bouletic preferences, specified by MAX, are also p worlds. Syntactically, we locate root modals in a functional projection between AspP and TP, such that we end up with the functional architecture of the extended vP projection in (4):


4 [TPT ... [ModP MODROOT ... [AspP Asp ...[vP]]]]

1.2 Linguistic Categories

A major problem for any formal semantic fieldwork on tense, aspect, and modality consists in the fact that the coding of the semantic concepts under lying tense, aspect, and modality in natural language is not always categorical and transparent. Because of this, fieldworkers will often have difficulty identifying tense, aspect, and modality as linguistic categories. Here, we define a linguistic category as a class of form-and-meaning pairs in which a paradigm of subforms expresses a paradigm of submeanings from the same conceptual space. In the ideal case, there is a clear-cut 1:1 correspondence between a given meaning and a (possibly covert) grammatical marker expressing it, such that the expression of the meaning requires the presence of the marker, and vice versa. Typically, grammatical markers expressing tense, aspect, or modality come in the form of syntactic heads, affixes, or particles. Another reliable means of establishing the existence of two different categories is to check whether formal markers from each category can co-occur. Both identification strategies are employed in our investigations of Hausa and Medumba in sections 2 and 3.

1.3 Methodological Considerations

Research on tense, aspect, and modality in semantically under-researched languages confronts a number of methodological, theoretical, and empirical problems. Beginning with methodological issues, cross-linguistic semantic research can rarely rely on existing traditional descriptions of a given language, as these tend to focus on the interpretation of paradigms of overt forms, without checking systematically for the ways in which a given interpretation can be coded in a language. Descriptive grammars typically do not control for the bi-directionality between form and meaning, which we take to be the defining criterion of a linguistic category. Nor do such grammars provide negative semantic evidence in order to control for the limits of interpretive possibilities.

The theoretical problems revolve around the question of the universality of TAM categories, which can take either of two forms. First, do the semantic concepts under lying tense, aspect, and modality constitute cross-linguistic universals, and do languages differ only in which categorical distinctions are overtly grammaticalized (Jakobson 1959; von Fintel and Matthewson 2008)? Second, are the relevant TAM concepts universally coded in particular functional positions, which are projected in every language (Ritter and Wiltschko 2004; von Fintel and Matthewson 2008)? In this chapter we adopt the universalist position regarding the first question and assume that the semantic concepts under lying the temporal interpretation of Hausa, Medumba, and English sentences are essentially the same. Regarding the second question, we postulate the possibility of cross-linguistic variation. In particular, we argue that tense is a linguistic category in Medumba, but not so in Hausa, and that Medumba has two different linguistic categories of aspect, where Hausa has but one.

The empirical problems are of crucial concern for our present undertaking of identifying TAM categories in Hausa and Medumba. The following problems may arise in connection with attempts to tie a particular linguistic coding to a particular interpretation: (i) underspecification — a single form can be used to express several temporal, aspectual, or modal concepts; (ii) covert marking — a specific conceptual meaning is coded by the absence of formal marking. A well-known example is the covert non-future tense marker in St'át'imcets (Matthewson 2006); (iii) overcoding (periphrasis) — a single concept is linguistically coded by more than one expression; (iv) undercoding — two meaning components are coded in one form. An example in point is the English will-future, which expresses a modal shift (inertial or bouletic ordering source) and a temporal shift simultaneously, according to some analyses (e.g., Enç 1996; Copley 2009); (v) meaning similarities — separate linguistic categories may share some conceptual building blocks, which makes it sometimes difficult to differentiate the categories on empirical grounds. For instance, the temporal anteriority relation '<' is involved in the expression of past tense (RT UT) and perfect aspect (ET RT). The notions of underspecification, overcoding, and meaning similarities are of crucial importance in our discussion of temporal and aspectual interpretation in Hausa and Medumba.

In response to the empirical problems discussed, we adopted the methodological principles for semantic fieldwork advocated in Matthewson (2004, 2011). Semantic data were collected in controlled elicitations with at least four consultants for each language. The elicited data consist of grammaticality judgments, truth-value judgments, and felicity judgments of object language sentences relative to a given context, and they also come in the form of contextualized translations into and from the object language. The elicitation methods employed allow not only for the identification of negative evidence in the form of impossible readings for a given sentence, but also for the uncovering of ambiguities and marked interpretations, which are difficult or impossible to detect using corpora consisting only of naturally occurring language.

2 TAM Categories and Temporal Interpretation in a Tenseless Language: Hausa

Drawing on the detailed discussion by Mucha (2012, 2013), we make the following three central assumptions concerning temporal interpretation in Hausa. First, Hausa is a genuinely tenseless language: temporal interpretation is not restricted by means of overt or covert tense marking. Second, temporal interpretation in Hausa is pragmatically resolved, depending on a number of factors, such as the Aktionsart of the predicate, grammatical aspect, and contextual information. Third, future time reference is expressed by a combination of two elements, neither of which belongs to the category of tense: a modal marker taking a bouletic or inertial ordering source used for the expression of plans and predictions, respectively, and a prospective aspect marker, which shifts the event time relative to the reference time. In sum, the analysis provides evidence for the linguistic categories of modality and aspect in Hausa, but not tense.

2.1 Hausa: Background and Questions

The Chadic language Hausa is spoken by more than 30 million people, mainly in the northern parts of Nigeria and in Niger. Two excellent reference grammars (Newman 2000; Jaggar 2001) provide ample information on its aspectual and modal markers. Hausa is a tone language with two tones (H, L'), pro-drop, and the basic word order SVOX as illustrated in (5). The verbs in (5) and (6) are preceded by the so-called person-aspect complex (PAC) (Newman 2000), marked in bold, which consists of a weak subject pronoun and an aspectual marker often in the form of a portmanteau morpheme.

(5) (Háwwa dá Déelu) sun dafà waakee jiiyà Hawwa and Delu 3PL.PFV cook beans yesterday

'Hawwa and Delu / They cooked beans yesterday.'

With instances of A'-movement, the PAC takes a special relative form in progressive and perfective clauses, as illustrated for focus-fronting in (6).

(6) Waake (nèe) Hàwwa dà Déelu su- dafàa jiiyà beans PRT Hawwa mand Delu 3PL-PFV.REL cook yesterday

'It was BEANS that Hawwa and Delu cooked yesterday.'

Notice that PAC marking, and hence explicit aspect marking, is obligatory in Hausa. Next to the progressive and the perfective aspect shown in (5) and (6), other aspects in (7) are the habitual (kàn) and a form that is traditionally called 'subjunctive' in the Hausa literature (e.g., Newman 2000), and which is consistently expressed by L-tone on the subject pronoun. Following Schuh (2003), we analyze this form as a prospective marker in section 2.5 and therefore gloss it as such throughout the chapter. By contrast with the other TAM markers, the future marker zaa in (8), which is regularly found in future-oriented sentences, is located in a position preceding the subject pronoun, indicating that it is not an aspectual marker. Zaa must co-occur with prospective aspect marking. Its combination with progressive or perfective aspect leads to ungrammaticality (Mucha 2013):

7 Su-nàa / Sun / Su-kàn / Sù gudù 3PL-PROG 3PL.PFV 3PL-HAB 3PL.PROSP run (Schuh 2003)

'They are running./They ran./They run./Let them run!

(8) Zaa sù /*su-náa / *sun gudù FUT 3PL.PROSP 3PL-PROG 3PL.PFV run

'They will run.'

Most important, there is no evidence for tense marking in the surface realization of Hausa sentences, with the exception of a future marker zaa in (8), making them superficially tenseless sentences (STSs) in the sense of Matthewson (2006). This raises the question of (i) whether Hausa is a genuinely tenseless language, without overt and covert tense morphology that would restrict the location of RT relative to UT, as has been convincingly argued for the unrelated languages Mandarin (Smith and Erbaugh 2005), Navajo (Smith, Perkins, and Fernald 2007), Yucatec Maya (Bohnemeyer 2002, 2009), and Guaraní (Tonhauser, 2011a); or (ii) whether Hausa is only superficially tenseless and does in fact possess covert tense morphology restricting the location of RT relative to UT. On the latter analysis, Hausa would pattern with the Salish languages St'át'imcets and Gitxsan, for which Matthewson (2006) and Jóhannsdóttir and Matthewson (2008) have argued that a covert non-future tense morpheme requires RT to be located at a time prior to or simultaneous to UT.

2.2 Covert Tense in Superficially Tenseless Languages: St'át'imcets

Matthewson (2006) argues for the existence of a covert tense morpheme with the semantic specification in (9) in St'át'imcets. This morpheme restricts RT to a point in time before or simultaneous to the utterance time t, where the restriction comes in form of a presupposition on possible values for the temporal variable provided by TENSE.

(9) [[TENSEi]]g,c = g(i); only defined if no part of g(i) is after tc (Mattewson 2006, p.680)

Effectively, the temporal restriction in (9) makes the tense-morpheme act as a non-future tense. A similar informal proposal for a covert non-future tense marker in Gungbe (Kwa, Niger-Congo) is found in Aboh (2004).

Matthewson (2006) provides the following empirical arguments in favor of the covert tense analysis. First, past tense and present tense readings are equally available for STSs in St'át'imcets, irrespective of aspectual marking (IPFV vs. PFV) (cf. (10)). A future interpretation iscategorically ruled out for superficially tenseless sentences (STSs) in St'át'imcets (cf. (11)).


Excerpted from Mood, Aspect, Modality Revisited by Joanna Blaszczak, Anastasia Giannakidou, Dorota Klimek-Jankowska, Krzysztof Migdalski. Copyright © 2016 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
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Table of Contents


PART I. Tense, Aspect, and Modals: Their Categorial Status and Cross- linguistic Variation

Chapter 1. TAM Coding and Temporal Interpretation in West African Languages
Anne Mucha and Malte Zimmermann

Chapter 2. Modals: Meaning Categories?
Valentine Hacquard

Chapter 3. Epistemic Future and Epistemic MUST: Nonveridicality, Evidence, and Partial Knowledge
Anastasia Giannakidou and Alda Mari

PART II. Irrealis Moods: Subjunctive and Imperative

Chapter 4. On Finiteness and the Left Periphery: Focusing on Subjunctive
Manuela Ambar

Chapter 5. Evaluative Subjunctive and Nonveridicality
Anastasia Giannakidou

Chapter 6. The Essence of a Category: Lessons from the Subjunctive
Martina Wiltschko

Chapter 7. Imperatives as (Non-)modals
Mark Jary and Mikhail Kissine

Chapter 8. Approaching the Morphosyntax and Semantics of Mood
Ilse Zimmermann

PART III. Aspectual Recursion and Aspectual Coercion

Chapter 9. Aspectual Composition and Recursion
Henriëtte de Swart

Chapter 10. Can Semantic Theories Be Tested Experimentally? The Case of Aspectual Coercion
Oliver Bott

Chapter 11. Aspectual Coercion versus Blocking: Experimental Evidence from an ERP Study of Polish Converbs
Joanna Błaszczak and Dorota Klimek- Jankowska

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