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I'd like to know what are some extremes. My mother tongue is Japanese, and it's quite less tense-sensitive compared to English since it doesn't have the past-perfect. But I wonder what some even less tense-sensitive languages are like. And I'm also curious what kind of other tenses does some languages that are even more tense-sensitive than the English ones.

  • By "tense-sensitive", do you mean "makes the most / fewest tense distinctions"? And are you only interested in time-reference distinctions encoded morphologically? – user6726 Jan 19 '16 at 23:05
  • I think there are at least two dimensions here: the number of tenses available, and the freedom/requirement to use them. (eg, English "I speak" and "I am speaking" map very well to Spanish "hablo" and "estoy hablando", but there are many cases where present progressive is almost obligatory in modern English but in Spanish either is fine.) Finally there is the issue of which are actually used. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 20 '16 at 14:34
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English only has two tenses, not unlike Japanese; but definitely unlike Japanese, it is only now in the process of developing an aspect system from idioms and auxiliary constructions. Japanese verbal morphology is largely a matter of aspects, and English doesn't have an aspectual system anywhere near as neatly-organized as Japanese does.

Japanese is SOV, English is SVO; both are inflected, but not too much.

Another kind of language with no tenses but a very full aspect system is Lushootseed, which is polysynthetic and verb-initial. But it's not VSO, because it doesn't allow full noun NPs of both Subject and Direct Object in the same sentence. If both are referenced, one must be a pronoun, usually expressed by inflecting the root.

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  • By what method are you counting only two in English? – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 20 '16 at 14:31
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    @A.M.Bittlingmayer it's pretty standard now to analyse the English tense system as having only the past and non-past tenses. Of course, this is based in the meaning of 'tense' as a technical term in linguistics. – Gaston Ümlaut Jan 20 '16 at 20:51
  • Some other time we should discuss the question of the English future tense. Since the OP specifically noted English's past/past perfect contrast as an example of what he is measuring, I think it's more helpful to edit the question to replace or define "tense" to capture what he means ("tense-aspect-mood combination"?), instead of answering a question he's not really asking. (Especially given that the question is marked as too broad.) Unfortunately I do not know any Japanese so I cannot add more. – Adam Bittlingmayer Jan 21 '16 at 16:56

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