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  • When is a temporal marker not a tense? Reply to Tonhauser 2007*
  • Rachel Nordlinger and Louisa Sadler

1. Introduction

In her recent Language paper, Tonhauser (2007, henceforth T07) provides a comprehensive in-depth discussion of the semantics of two nominal temporal markers occurring in Paraguayan Guaraní, based on her fieldwork study and subsequent Ph.D. T explicitly situates her article as arguing against the claims of our Language article (Nordlinger & Sadler 2004, henceforth NS04), which presents a crosslinguistic study of the inflectional categories of tense, aspect, and mood on nominal categories, and classified Guaraní as having nominal tense markers. T argues that while the Guaraní nominal markers can be shown to ‘affect the temporal interpretation of the noun phrase they attach to’ (p. 831), they are not in fact markers of nominal tense.

The primary purpose of our original study was to highlight the phenomenon of tense/aspect/mood marking on nominal elements (nominal inflections), which although mentioned in the descriptive literature of individual languages for some time (e.g. Boas 1947on Kwakiutl, Guasch 1956 on Guaraní—see NS04:776 for further references) and also in recent typological literature (e.g. Evans 2000, Lehmann & Moravcsik 2000, Raible 2001, among others), had been relatively ignored by linguistic theory. Although we titled our article ‘Nominal tense in crosslinguistic perspective’, our study was concerned not just with temporal marking, but also with marking on nominal elements showing some affinity with the categories of aspect and mood. The purpose of our study was thus to bring together as many examples of inflectional tense/aspect/mood (TAM) marking on nominals that we could find in the descriptive literature, determine their morphosyntactic and functional properties (where possible from existing sources), and provide a typological framework within which further research could be conducted. NS04 did not seek to make a contribution to the further understanding of the semantics of such morphology, beyond the broad descriptive classification that we outlined, and thus we see T07 very much as complementing our previous work.

However, the different perspectives of the two articles raise some interesting questions about the terms we use to describe natural language phenomena, and how best to integrate ‘new’ phenomena into current terminological practice. It is these questions that we want to focus on in this reply, but first we turn to a brief description of the central arguments of each article.

2. Nordlinger & Sadler 2004

In our survey of TAM marking on nominals across the world’s languages, we identified two broad functions for such morphology: independent nominal TAM and propositional nominal TAM. The former specifies information relevant to the nominal itself, independently of the TAM of the proposition as a whole. Here the morphology is expressing a temporal (or aspectual or modal) category inherent to the nominal itself. This is the type of TAM marking for which we mentioned Guaraní as one example (along with several others), based on the descriptive work of [End Page 325] Guasch (1956) and Gregores and Suárez (1967). Examples of this type of nominal TAM from Tariana (Arawak, Brazil) are given below, from Aikhenvald 2003.1

  • 1. Thepi di-ma3eɾpidana eta-miki-ɾi-nuku. to.water caus = rem.p.rep eagle-pst-nf-top.non.a/s‘He threw the remains of the eagle (lit. the ‘ex-eagle’, what used to be the eagle) into water.’

  • 2. Kayu-maka hĩ waɾipeɾe unyane-pena di-kakwa = pidana. so-aff dem:anim Walipere flood-fut = rem.p.rep ‘Thus Walipere was planning the future flood.’

Propositional nominal TAM, by contrast, is a distinct type of nominal TAM marking. A nominal inflected with propositional nominal TAM provides information about the tense/aspect/mood of the whole proposition, often (but not always) in conjunction with the verb. When attached to a dependent nominal (i.e. an argument or adjunct), this involves a nonlocal interpretation of the TAM marker since it is not interpreted with respect to the nominal to which it is attached, but rather with respect to the higher clause within which it is embedded (NS04:790). Nominal TAM marking with this function is found in a range of languages, including...


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