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Since "present tense" might not be meaningful for some languages, the question could better be phrased as "Are there languages that wouldn't describe the actions in a picture with the same tenses or structures that they would use to describe actions happening in the present?".

This question is inspired for this one in English Learners SE, where the OP asked why English uses present continuous to describe the actions in a picture painted long ago, even if those actions actually happened long ago. Somebody asking that about English seems to mean that it is not an universal feature of all languages, and in fact it seems that other ways could be possible.

I've checked Wikipedia articles on pictures in the languages I can grasp (some Romance and Germanic languages and Basque) and as far as I can tell all of them describe what happens in the pictures using the equivalents to present simple or present continuous, as if the actions in the pictures were happening right now.

Are there languages that do otherwise?

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    I think it's the same in Japanese, like 「あれ、おかしな帽子かぶってるね」 rather than 「…かぶってたね」. – Aeon Akechi Jun 2 at 14:30
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    Depending on what you see on the picture you can describe it differently even in English ("a man stared to a dog", "a man who just fell from a rock", "one man killed another one"), – Anixx Jun 3 at 9:42
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    Maybe languages with a perfective/nonperfective system do this. I'm thinking of Arabic, but don't actually know the language. – phipsgabler Jun 3 at 14:37
  • A weird question, and it's weird why such a question would be asked. If the picture described exists now, why not use the present tense??? The only case I can imagine using the past tense is when one describes a picture that had been destroyed and using the future to describe a planned but not yet created picture. – Yellow Sky Jun 4 at 11:10
  • @YellowSky - That's seems to be the convention in a lot of languages, but it doesn't need to be that way in all of them. I think it sounds weird because it's different from our languages, but it doesn't seem more weird than what sounded some actual features of languages different than my own the first time I learned about them. – Pere Jun 4 at 11:29
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The question most likely came from a person who has one present tense in their language, and in English classes they usually strictly teach foreigners that present continuous is only used for things that are happening now, at the moment. So, the formal logic suggested that person that present indefinite or another tense would be possibly better suited, even if in their native language they would use just present.

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  • I don't see how this answers the question. – TKR Jun 3 at 19:44

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