14.1205, Sum: Tense Marking on Pronouns

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Tue Apr 29 18:29:22 UTC 2003

LINGUIST List:  Vol-14-1205. Tue Apr 29 2003. ISSN: 1068-4875.

Subject: 14.1205, Sum: Tense Marking on Pronouns

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Date:  28 Apr 2003 15:47:11 -0000
From:  David Palfreyman <f7385 at zu.ac.ae>
Subject:  Tense Marking on Pronouns

-------------------------------- Message 1 -------------------------------

Date:  28 Apr 2003 15:47:11 -0000
From:  David Palfreyman <f7385 at zu.ac.ae>
Subject:  Tense Marking on Pronouns

	From f7385 at zu.ac.ae  Tue Apr 22 03:44:54 2003
	Delivered-To: linglike at linguistlist.org
	Delivered-To: linguist at linguistlist.org
	Content-type: text/plain
	Date: Tue, 22 Apr 2003 03:43:56 +0000
	From: David Palfreyman <f7385 at zu.ac.ae>
	Subject: Tense marking on pronouns - Part 1
	To: linguist at linguistlist.org
	My original query (Linguist 14.1024) concerned a reference in
a paper I was editing to a language of New Caledonia called Iaca, in
which there are have sets of pronouns marked for different tenses,
contradicting Western notions of physical continuity [of the self].  I
couldnt find any reference to a language called Iaca anywhere else, so
my query took three distinct directions:
a) Which language might the author be referring to?
b) Are there other languages which mark tense on pronouns?
c) If languages do mark tense on pronouns, does this contradict
Western notions of physical continuity?
Because of the length limit, I am including the answers to these three
questions in separate postings.  Thanks very much for all the replies
'' I hope I have acknowledged everyone appropriately.
David Palfreyman, Zayed University, Dubai.

a) Which language might the author be referring to?
None of the people who responded were familiar with a language called
Iaca.  Some mentioned a language called Yaka (Ethnologue appears to
cite two different languages called Yaka: one spoken in Central
African Republic and Congo, the other in Congo and Angola).  Louisa
Sadler suggested Iai, which she says has tensed pronouns (with
propositional readings) [see below], and is described in D.T Trynon
(1968) Iai Grammar.  Pacific Linguistics, ANU.

b) Are there other languages which mark tense on pronouns?

In one sense, English marks tense on pronouns, as follows (David
Kaiser <dwkaiser at midway.uchicago.edu>):

FUT             COND            PROG            PRES
I'll            I'd             I'm             I#

Louisa Sadler and Rachel Nordlinger have called this 'propositional'
marking of tense, in that these markings tell us when the *event*
happened (or when the state existed, or whatever), as distinct from
'non-propositional' tense marking on nouns and pronouns, which specify
the past reference of just the nominal.  Interested readers are
invited to read their draft paper at


and to contribue feedback, comments and further data.  Louisa gave the
following examples of TAM marking on pronouns: "Yag Dii (Bohnhoff
1986) has pronominals which reflect a range of clausal TAM
distinctions, and Supyire (Carlson 1994) has mood-encoding pronouns.
Gurnu, a dialect of the moribund Pama-Nyungan Ba:gandji language has
pronouns and demonstratives which encode clausal tense."  Note that
again, these are all cases of prepositional marking.  Other
respondents gave the following examples, which seem also to refer to
prepositional/clausal marking of TAM, and in some cases highlight the
historical evolution of these, as TAM marking initial ly on the verb
influences the form of, and may migrate to, the pronoun:

John Lynch <lynch_j at VANUATU.USP.AC.FJ>:

"Oceanic languages quite often show SUBJECT prefixes or preverbal
particles which vary for tense/mood. These are presumably portmanteau
forms, but are now unanalysable. In Manam (Papua New Guinea), for
example, the singular realis subject prefixes are u- 1sg, ?u- 2sg and
i- 3sg. The corresponding irrealis forms are m-, go- and 9a. (? =
glottal stop and 9 = velar nasal).  See p. 376 of John Lynch,
Malcolm Ross and Terry Crowley, The Oceanic Languages (London: Curzon
Press, 2002)."

Tom Pullman <tjop2 at cam.ac.uk>:

"In Scottish Gaelic, there are two forms of the 2sg pronoun: "thu"
/hu/ and "tu" /tu/. SG is a VSO language, and where historically the
verb ended with one of a certain set of consonants, "tu" is used,
"thu" being used elsewhere. This results in "tu" being exclusively
used in the future/present habitual (although not in all
circumstances) and conditional/past habitual tenses.

Future/present habitual:

molaidh tu /moli tu/ "you will praise/you praise (habit.)"
mholas tu /volas tu/ "which you will praise/which you praise (habit.)"
but an mol thu /a mol hu/ "will you praise?/do you praise?"
nach mol thu? /nax mol thu/ "will you not/do you not praise?"
and similar examples with other preverbal particles.

Brian Curnain <bcurnain at celt.dias.ie> provided another Celtic
example: "Some Irish dialects develop pronouns from verbal
suffixes. During this process the pronoun can be confined to a
particular tense or mood. For example, 1pl past habitual:

chuireamuist (synthetic)
chuireadh muist (analytic with tense specific dependent pronoun)
chuireadh muid (analytic independent pronoun)"

Mikael Parkvall <parkvall at ling.su.se> mentions languages which mark
mood on their pronouns:

"Wolof has a pronoun series which is used only with questions,
subjunctives, conditionals, etc., which could thus be said to carry
some kind of modal value. Also, Caddo and Supyire mark their
pronominal prefixes for either realis or irrealis. Keres is said to
have no less than six different moods in its pronoun series."

"MAGNUS LIW" <magnusliw at hotmail.com>:

"Hausa, the largest of the indigenous lggs of Africa, is such an
example; when you want to change tense or mood you employ different
pronominal sets. Check out the link


Here these pronouns are referred to as "Complex Verbal Particles" and
the phenomenon is perhaps common to many other West African lggs, for
instance Wollof:


*Non-propositional* (or nominal scope) tense marking should be
distinguished from the examples above.  Louisa Sadler:
The core case of [non-propositional marking is] where a TAM marker on
a nominal temporally locates the nominal itself independently of any
clausal TAM specification, as e.g. in
	I see-future the house-past
	= I will see that which used to be the house
Louisa and Rachel did not recall any similar examples for pronouns,
and some respondents expressed doubt that such purely pronominal
marking of tense would be meaningful, for example Rachel: It's hard to
imagine what they could mean... 'formerly me', 'formerly him/her'?).
Plausible examples of tense on nouns and adjectives seemed to be
easier to find:

Beate Waffenschmidt <bwaffenschmidt at t-online.de>: is the phenomenon
comparable to any patterns in Western languages - as in ''my
bride-to-be'', ''their ex-landlord'', ''the then President'', ''my
former self'' ? (you can find a vast number of such forms in Douglas
Adams's novels, esp. ''The Restaurant at the end of the Universe'',
including a mock grammar for time travellers in ch. 15!).  On a more
serious note, Latin even makes systematic distinctions in the
participles (futurus, moriturus etc.) - so why not mark a pronoun?.
Similarly Magnus Liw <magnusliw at hotmail.com> : Japanese has similar
features among adjectives, e g atarashii ''new'', atarashikatta ''new
(in the past)''. This is however explained as a verbal stigma in
adjectives; atarashii might be interpreted as a participle ''being
new'' and atarashikatta ''been new''.
However, the following example from Martina Wiltschko''
<wmartina at interchange.ubc.ca> may be an example of purely pronominal
tense marking:
In Upriver Halkomelem, personal pronouns can be marked with a tense
marker, just like nouns (see Strang Burton's NELS paper in 1996 on
past tense on nouns)
(1) Kwú-tlò-lh
    that was him (deceased)

(2) Kwsú-tlò-lh
    that was her (deceased)

(3) Kwthú-tlòlèmè-lh
    that was them (deceased)

These data are from Galloway's 1993 Grammar on upriver Halkomelem
(p.383).  In the above, -lh is the past tense marker, tl'o is the core
of the pronoun, meaning 3rd person, and the preceding element is a
In these examples, both the pronoun and the clause as a whole seem to
be marked for past, so its not clear whether speakers could say things
like That is him (deceased), with a specific tense marking for the
pronoun distinct from that for the clause.

c) If languages do mark tense on pronouns, does this contradict
Western notions of physical continuity of the self?
Propositional tense marking does not seem to be related to notions of
physical continuity of the self.  Regarding non-propositional marking,
however, the difficulty which respondents had in even conceptualizing
the meaning of a tensed pronoun suggests that it contradicts some kind
of basic cognitive schema, whether Western or universal.  Beate
Waffenschmidt commented that I thought the literature took it as read
that temporal continuity of the self was a ''cognitive universal'',
while Martina Wiltschko commented of the examples above from Upriver
Halkomelem that this doesn't contradict the physical continuity of the
self, it just means that the ''self'' is deceased.
Philip Riley (University of Nancy 2, France) cites an interesting
sounding book related to this topic: Mühlhaüsler, P. and Harré,
R. (1990). Pronouns and People: The Linguistic Construction of Social
and Personal Identity. Oxford: Blackwell.  Amazon.co.uk gives the
following synopsis for this book: In recent years the idea of a
determinate relation between language and reality, both social and
physical, has been revived, and in consequence the writings of Sapir
and Whorf have once again come to be of interest. In this book Rom
Harre and Peter Muhlhausler defend a version of the Sapir-Whorf
hypothesis, with emphasis on the role of language in the creation and
maintenance of social relations. Since pronouns are, they believe, the
main grammatical devices by which acts of speaking are tied to the
persons who are engaged in the conversation, they investigate how
pronouns are employed as a means of coming to understand the ways that
speech and society are related. Their book has a second simultaneous
concern with the social and situational contexts of grammar. Using
this approach in the study of pronouns, several assumptions, such as
the hypothesis of the independence of grammar, the choice of the
sentence as the unit of analysis and the ''substitution'' theory of
pronoun use, have all come into question. The conclusions drawn in
this book are based on a broad corpus of data from many and diverse
cultures, coupled with a survey of the literature concerning this

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