zero-marked verbs

jaw300t jaw300t at SMSU.EDU
Wed Jan 22 19:35:07 UTC 2003

>===== Original Message From Tom Givon <tgivon at OREGON.UOREGON.EDU> =====
>Dear JW--
>Now we are talking. But, I think, about a different topic. In clause-chains
>discourse in an SVO language (like English), the first clause in the chain is
>typically fully marked with all the finite trimmings. Most of the
>clauses dispense with TAM marking, or use an invariant (less finite)
>marker that simply indicate "same as in the previous clause". Sort of like
>anaphora (or anaphoric pronouns). [In OV languages the tendency is to mark
>last clause in the chain more fully. But still chain-medial clauses tend to
>less marked].
>In fact, you can show this in English too, but only up to a point. Notice how
>auxiliary TAM marker in English--just like the more-marked subject--do not
>  a. She was sitting there, eating dinner and minding her business, thinking
>   b. She had come earlier, looked around and decided to....
>   c. She will come tomorrow, check the place out and then make her move...

Exactly!  These are just the kind of English examples that I've been reminded
of, especially after reading Kiparsky's 1969 article about Tense and Mood in
Indo-European Syntax.  He says that in ancient writings (he gives examples
from Greek, Sanskrit, old Irish, maybe others), what scholars call alternation
between past tense & present are really examples of "conjunction reduction",
like the English sentences you've mentioned.  While English & Kiparsky's
Indo-European examples allow only these very short chains, many African
languages allow discourse-length chains.  Longacre calls them "consecutive"
tense or "narrative" tense, depending on if you can use them only in
narratives or if you can use them in other kinds of discourse as well.
>In English (alas?) one cannot dump the more obligatory -ing (a) and -en (b)
>English. But in other languages clitic TAM morphology can be dumped or
>neutralized. In Swahili almost all  major TAM markers can be replaced with
>"narrative" -ka- in chain-medial clauses. But in Akan, two of the main TAM
>cannot be dumped in chain-medial contexts. The other two can be replaced with
>invariant "narrative" marker, however.

Yes, while in Kuche you can dump as little or as much as needed to get your
message across.  If the first few story clauses are marked "past" (more
strictly, the form seems to be perfective, but in narratives it always sets up
a past time reference)--then it's like the whole discourse is "infected" with
past tense, both zero-marked verbs and variously-marked verbs.  A verb marked
"habitual" can be assumed to be past habitual, and one marked progressive can
be assumed to be past progressive.  The only thing that's immune to past
tense, then, is an embedded discourse that's marked some other way.  For
instance, I have a short narrative embedded within a procedural text, embedded
within a hortatory text.  The short narrative begins with the perfective
marker (to switch time reference from the future-oriented procedures to past
narrative) and ends with a rhetorical cue translated something like "That's
it" or "That's why. . ."

What I find interesting is embedding discourse within discourse within
discourse. One of the other recent postings (my e-mail server doesn't allow me
to switch back & forth easily from composing to reading), said something about
narrative being different somehow, and how it would not be practical to signal
tense or aspect at the beginning of a conversation.  But see, that's just it:
oral narrative IS embedded in conversation, and then dialog is embedded in the
narrative, and we somehow have to signal our listeners when we've switched
from one to the next. In Kuche it's ok just to draw the lines and leave most
of the interior blank (zero-marked), while in English we mostly have to color
in the whole area.

Before my e-mail server bumps me off once again.

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