query: complex tenses and tense/aspects

David Gil gil at EVA.MPG.DE
Mon Sep 26 23:06:35 UTC 2011

Dear all,

Consider the English sentences:

(1) Fred said John was reading a book
(2) When Fred walked in, John was reading a book

In the above sentences, the verbal form "was reading" is commonly 
characterized as being in the "past progressive", combining past tense 
and progressive aspect in both form and meaning.  (Though under an 
alternative analysis, by Halliday, it is analyzed as expressing a 
complex "present-in-past" tense.)

In Hebrew there are no aspectual distinctions; verbs are marked for 
past, present or future tense.  In the translations for (1) and (2), the 
verb "read" would be marked in the present tense in (1) but the past 
tense in (2).

Is anybody familiar with a (description of a) language in which, in the 
situation described in (2), the "read" verb would also be marked for (a 
"relative") present tense, without any additional aspectual marking?  
Alternatively, is anybody familiar with a (description of a) language 
that has a dedicated tense for situations such as in (2), without any 
additional aspectual marking?  (Such a tense might be characterized as a 
"present-in-past", following Halliday's analysis of English.)

The reason I'm interested in this is that I am wondering whether a 
similar tense-based analysis might be possible for the corresponding 
sentence in Tagalog.  In Tagalog, the form of the "read" verb 
("nagbabasa") in the translation of (2) is the same as that which would 
occur in a translation of "John is reading a book", leading Tagalog 
scholars (eg. Schachter and Otanes) to characterize this form as bearing 
aspectual rather than tense information.  More generally, Tagalog (and 
other Philippine languages) are traditionally described as displaying 
(mostly) aspectual rather than tense distinctions.    Which leads to ...

Is anybody familiar with explicit arguments to the effect that the 
relevant verbal inflections in Tagalog (and other Phiippine languages) 
are indeed aspectual, rather than combining tense and aspect 
information, or perhaps even expressing complex tenses (such as, for 
example, the "present-in-past").  In particular, can anybody point me to 
explicit arguments why Tagalog verb forms such as "nagbabasa" should be 
analyzed as aspectual rather than expressing (a sometimes relative) 
present tense?

As always, thanks for your time and comments,


David Gil

Department of Linguistics
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
Deutscher Platz 6, D-04103 Leipzig, Germany

Telephone: 49-341-3550321 Fax: 49-341-3550119
Email: gil at eva.mpg.de
Webpage:  http://www.eva.mpg.de/~gil/

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