Languages with tonal inflection for tense/aspect/mood occasionally have tones associated with certain inflectional categories which are realized on pronouns, e.g. Ngbaka, where the imperfect and the jussive are distinguished only by the tone on a 1st/2nd person subject pronoun (Mid for imperfect, Low for jussive)

mi[M] gOmO[H.H] te[M] "i am cutting the tree"
mO[L] gOmO[H.H] te[M] "you should cut the tree"
(Henrix et al 2007, "Description grammaticale de la langue Ngbaka)
(the source does not give two examples with the same pronoun, but assume that mO[M] gOmO[H.H] te[M] is grammatical and means "you are cutting the tree")

My question is whether anyone can give an example of a segmental analogue, say where there are segmentally distinct versions of a free pronoun whose appearance is conditioned by the tense/aspect/mood of the verb.

  • In a language with proximal and distal demonstrative pronouns, it's pretty much standard to use the distal forms for more distant times, or for remote hypothetical situations. Now, in most languages the proximal forms can still be used in talking about the distant past or future, so it's not fully grammaticalized. But at least a loose correlation between proximality and TAM is pretty widespread. – Leah Velleman Nov 9 '11 at 18:51

While a relatively rare phenomenon, there are numerous examples of languages where the selection of a pronoun depends on the TAM of the clause (I say 'clause' as it is not always the case that it is also marked on the verb).

In Pitta-Pitta (Australian family) all core case-marking is split according to whether it marks future or non-future and this also applies to pronouns. (1a) and (1b) show non-future and future examples respectively:

(1a)  WaiRa -nha      ngathu       thari -nya  nhana        -yi    
     heart  -nfut.acc 1sg.nfut.erg spear -past 3sg.nfut.acc -prox

     wakira   -nha
     kangaroo -nfut.acc 
     "I speared the kangaroo in the heart."
(1b)  Tyira     -maru -ngu     nganyu      karnta -ø   
      boomerang -prop -fut.erg 1sg.fut.erg go     -fut
     "I'll be going with the boomerang."

(Bowern, C. 2004. 'The origins of tense-based case marking in Pitta-Pitta and Wangkajutjuru'. Australian Journal of Linguistics, 24:2)

There are a number of other Australian languages with similar behaviour. Another example is Gurnu:

(2) bulga -nguna -ngadhu         bulga -ngaw -adhu
    hit   -pres  -1sg.pres       hit   -past -1sg.past
     "I hit (present)."     vs.  "I hit (past)."

Blevins (2004) suggests that this is probably due to a combination of factors, including a fixed verb-pronoun word order and the phonological form of verbs causing sandhi changes on following pronouns. (Blevins, J. 2004. 'Evolutionary Phonology'. CUP.)

Iai (Austronesian family, New Caledonia) also has tensed pronouns, but this is reported to be similar to the English pronouns with (what has been called) propositional marking of tense: "I'll, I'd, I'm, I".

Scottish Gaelic has two forms of the 2sg pronoun, /tu/ and /thu/, the former occurring only with future/present habitual verbs. Similar to the situation with Gurnu, these have arisen through phonological change caused by the adjacent verb, Gaelic having VSO order in the clause.

Hausa (Afro-Asiatic family) and Wolof (Niger-Congo family) also have distinct sets of pronouns for indicating different tense/mood. These are sometimes known as 'temporal pronouns'.

Upriver Halkomelem (Salishan family) has tense marking on nouns and pronouns.

On a slightly different tack, it has been shown that two tense-marking auxiliaries in Panare (Cariban family) derive etymologically from demonstrative pronouns. (Gildea, S. 1993. 'The development of tense markers from demonstrative pronouns in Panare (Cariban)'. Studies in Language, 17:1)


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