[Lingtyp] Non-present lexemes

Tom Koss Tom.Koss at uantwerpen.be
Fri Dec 2 11:15:19 UTC 2022

Dear all,
I’m looking for any kind of linguistic item (TMA markers, particles, adverbials etc.) that can convey both past- and future-time reference but that do not appear in present contexts.
The items I’m looking for do not have to be “non-present tense” markers in the strict sense, i.e., bound morphemes which have non-present time reference as their core meaning - even though this would be most interesting of course. They can also be more loosely connected to the verb phrase, have additional, more specific meanings, and/or be compatible with other tense markers.
The only criterion is that the items in question allow for both past and future interpretations of the clauses they appear in (the choice between the two depending on non-linguistic or grammatical context), while a present interpretation is generally not possible. I would also be interested in languages where the expression of a certain grammatical category is similar in the past and future tense(s), while the present tense behaves differently in some way (see e.g. the Awa Pit example below).
Below are a few examples for the phenomenon I am referring to:

  *   Nez Perce (Sahaptian) has a lexeme watiisx ‘one day away’ that can mean ‘tomorrow’ or ‘yesterday’, depending on the tense marking in the respective clause (Deal 2010: 120). The same thing seems to happen with the lexeme kel in Hindi (Indo-Aryan) (Kachru 1997: 95) and with ejo in Kinyarwanda (Bantu) (Nkusi 1995: 580). All three languages have separate lexemes meaning ‘today’.
  *   The lexeme hibajata in Jarawara (Arawá) is interpreted as ‘later today’ in the absence of tense marking, and as ‘just now’ in combination with the immediate past marker -ra (Dixon 2004: 224). There are no examples given where it is translated as ‘right now’ or ‘at this moment’.
  *   Awa Pit (Barbacoan) has several strategies to mark clausal negation. One of them, the negative suffix -ma, indicates past-time reference in the absence of tense marking, and future-time reference in combination with the future marker -ni (Curnow 1997: 332/33). In my assessment, it cannot combine with the imperfective suffix -mtu, which is the default marker to express present-time reference in the language.

If you can think of similar examples in languages you are familiar with, I would be very interested in knowing more about them, so as to get a better idea about how common such items with non-present semantics are cross-linguistically, and what their distribution might be. So far, I have mostly found them in the Americas.
Many thanks in advance!

Best wishes,
Tom Koss
PhD candidate at the University of Antwerp

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