[Lingtyp] “at last” and “only now”

Alex Francois alex.francois.cnrs at gmail.com
Tue Feb 23 22:01:10 UTC 2021

dear Sergey,

> *Are you aware of cross-language or einzelsprachlich studies of the
semantics/pragmatics of particles like “at last” “only now”, and similar.
I.e., ‘particles’ that combine phasal and focus semantics.*
I will reply specifically on “*only now*”.
In many Oceanic languages of Vanuatu, the construction equivalent to “*only
now*” is a special case of a construction that can be glossed “only then”.
Its semantic function is to create a contrastive focus on the time
anchoring of an event  (*only then ~ only now*), whether it is anchored in
the past, the present or the future.

In several languages I've studied, this construction actually belongs to
the TAM system; I labelled that category *Time Focus* [TmFoc].  It is not a
tense (since Vanuatu languages are mostly tense-less) but an aspect
combined with pragmatic implications.

Thus *Mwotlap *has a TAM particle *qoyo  *[k͡pʷɔjɔ] – variant *tiqyo
– glossed Time Focus (TmFoc).
Its default anchoring is in the Future, which is then equivalent to a *dilatory
future* “will (do) eventually, but not yet”:

(1)  Kamyō  *qoyo*  wēl  nēk  talōw.
     1ex:du   TmFoc   pay    you    tomorrow
       “We will pay you tomorrow [but not before].”

This contrasts with the plain future with *te-,* which doesn't have
contrastive semantics on time:
(2)  Kamyō  *tē-*  wēl  nēk  talōw.
     1ex:du   FUT    pay    you   tomorrow
       “We'll pay you tomorrow.”

The difference between those two futures is subtle, and essentially
The pragmatic orientation of (1) is “we'll pay you as late as tomorrow”  =>
“Sorry, we can't pay you now”;
whereas (2) could be paraphrased “we'll pay you as early as tomorrow” =>
“Good news, you'll be paid soon.”

The sort of contrast here reminds me of what Oswald Ducrot (1980) called
“les orientations argumentatives”, where the same objective event can be
assigned different pragmatic / "argumentative" orientations, e.g. with
quantifiers (compare *I've seen several of her films*  vs. *I've seen only
some of her films*)

   - Anscombre, Jean-Claude & Oswald Ducrot. 1983. *L’argumentation dans la
      langue* (Philosophie et Langage). Bruxelles: Mardaga.
      - Ducrot, Oswald. 1980. *Les échelles argumentatives* (Propositions).
      Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit.

If the TimeFocus particle *qoyo* combines with a time adverbial with realis
reference (present/past) then its contrastive semantics will be rendered as
“*only now*” (present) or “*only then*”. This quite often translates as
“for the first time” ('inaugurative use'):

(3)  Nok  *qoyo*  gen  na-bago  *ēgēn*.
     1sg   TmFoc    eat   ART-shark   now
       [lit. I am eating shark NOW (and not before)]
       = “This is the first time (ever) I'm tasting shark meat.”

(4)  Nok  *qoyo*  et  inti    *lō-qōn̄  anen*.
     1sg   TmFoc   see   child:2sg  LOC-day    DIST
       [lit. I saw your child THAT DAY (and not before)]
       = “I met your son that day for the first time.”

Finally, the combination of TmFoc + a restrictive particle (Eng. *just,
only*) yields the immediate past:

(5)  Kē  *qoyo*  vap  *ēwē*   me    hiy no.
     3sg  TmFoc   say    RESTR   hither  Dat  1sg
       [lit. he said it only (TmFoc) to me]
       = “He *just* said it to me.”

Note that the verbs in these sentences have no other TAM marker (Complete,
Perfect etc.):  that's because the Time Focus is itself a TAM category
[combining aspect+ pragmatics] and is mutually exclusive with other TAM

In my view, the same cluster of meanings  {dilatory future + only now  +
inaugurative + immediate past }  can be captured by analysing *qoyo* as a
focus on temporal anchoring, glossable
“[happening] *at time T and only at time T*  (*i.e*. not earlier)”

I described these Mwotlap constructions in the chapter on Time Focus
("Focus Temporel"), pp.199-216 of my description of Mwotlap's TAM system:

   - François, Alexandre. 2003. *La sémantique du prédicat en mwotlap
   (Vanuatu)* Collection Linguistique de La Société de Linguistique de
   Paris, 84. Paris, Louvain: Peeters. [online

Interestingly, the very same semantic cluster is also colexified in many
other *Oceanic languages of Vanuatu*, with a single particle or TAM marker
in each language:  Araki *pa*, Dorig *k͡pʷra*, Lakon *lak*, Vera'a *mak*,
Vurës *kara*, Lo-Toga *akə
<https://marama.huma-num.fr/Lex/Lo-Toga/a.htm#%E2%93%94ake>*, Hiw *takə*…,
As happens often in this region, the forms of words can differ strikingly
across languages, yet their grammatical structures and constructions will
be perfectly parallel.  In fact, "Time Focus" was precisely one of the
examples I chose to illustrate precisely that point (diversity of forms,
isomorphism of structures), in a comparative study of languages of the area:

   - François, Alexandre. 2011. Social ecology and language history in the
   northern Vanuatu linkage: A tale of divergence and convergence. *Journal
   of Historical Linguistics *1(2). 175–246. DOI: 10.1075/jhl.1.2.03fra. [
   link <https://www.academia.edu/3256435/>]

(see pp.221-223 for the short section on Time Focus)
Thus, the Mwotlap sentences above would have their exact equivalent with
*take *['takə] in *Hiw* (Torres Is.):

(1')  Kamar̄e  *take*  tin  ike  mer̄ën.
      1ex:du    TmFoc    pay   2sg    tomorrow
         “We will pay you tomorrow [but not before].”

(2')  Kamar̄e  *peon*  tin  ike  mer̄ën.
      1ex:du     FUT     pay   2sg    tomorrow
         “We will pay you (as early as) tomorrow.”

(3')  Noke  *take*  gon  ne pegëwe *qetukn̄waëne pene*.
      1sg     TmFoc   eat   ART  shark    now             PROX
         “This is the first time (ever) I'm tasting shark meat.”

(4')  Noke   *take  *yō  keko  nome   *taketimer̄ën penëne*.
      1sg    TmFoc   see  child   Pos:2sg   moment          DIST
         “I met your son that day for the first time.”

(5')  Nine *take*  gatēt  *n̄wutuye* ti  noke.
      3sg    TmFoc   say      RESTR      Dat  1sg
         “He just said it to me.”
Finally, when a grammatical category is found across Vanuatu languages,
there are good chances that it will also be found in *Bislama*, the
creole of Vanuatu  (cf. Camden 1980).

   - Camden, William. 1980. Parallels in structure and lexicon and syntax
      between New Hebrides Bislama and the South Santo language spoken at
      Tangoa.  *Occasional Papers *57, Pacific Linguistics. Series A. [link

And indeed, Bislama has calqued the TAM/Pragmatic mechanism of the "Time
Focus" through relexification based on English *jes*  [ʧɛs] < Eng. *just*.
Thus the Bislama equivalent of the five sentences above would involve *jes*:

(1")  Mitufela bae i   *jes*  pem  yu  tumoro.
      1ex:du      FUT  Pred TmFoc   pay   2sg  tomorrow
         “We will pay you tomorrow [but not before].”

(2")  Mitufela bae i   pem  yu  tumoro.
      1ex:du      FUT  Pred  pay   2sg   tomorrow
         “We will pay you (as early as) tomorrow.”

(3")  Mi  *jes  *kakae  shak  *naoia  nao*.
      1sg  TmFoc  eat      shark    now      FOC
         “This is the first time (ever) I'm tasting shark meat.”

(4")  Mi  *jes  *luk  pikinini blo yu  *lo  taem  ia nao*.
      1sg  TmFoc  see    child       Poss 2sg  PREP  moment  DX FOC
         “I met your son that day for the first time.”

(5")  Hemi *jes*   talem  *naoia* *nomo*.
      3sg    TmFoc   say      now     RESTR
         “He just said it.”

In his dictionary of Bislama, Terry Crowley (1995) described *jes* as
having 4 meanings :

1. recent past, only, just // 2. inceptive // 3. subsequent event in a time
> // 4. later future

   - Crowley, Terry. 1995. *A New Bislama Dictionary*. Port-Vila:
      University of the South Pacific.

While these four meanings of Bislama *jes* don't intuitively cluster
together, I believe that they are also best explained as a mechanism of *Time
Focus *(i.e. “happening at time T and not earlier”) — a combination of
verbal aspect and focus pragmatics.


Alex François

LaTTiCe <http://www.lattice.cnrs.fr/en/alexandre-francois/> — CNRS–
–Sorbonne nouvelle
Australian National University
<https://researchers.anu.edu.au/researchers/francois-a>Academia Europaea
<https://www.ae-info.org/ae/Member/François_Alexandre> – Academia.edu
Personal homepage <http://alex.francois.online.fr/>


On Tue, 23 Feb 2021 at 19:20, Sergey Loesov <sergeloesov at gmail.com> wrote:

> Dear colleagues,
>  Are you aware of cross-language or *einzelsprachlich* studies of the
> semantics/pragmatics of particles like “*at last*” “*only now*”, and
> similar. I.e., ‘particles’ that combine phasal and focus semantics.
>  Best wishes,
>  Sergey
> _______________________________________________
> Lingtyp mailing list
> Lingtyp at listserv.linguistlist.org
> http://listserv.linguistlist.org/mailman/listinfo/lingtyp
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