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41

Does English really have only two tenses. It depends how you define "tense", but to most linguists, yes. All languages can mark the time when an event occurs, to any degree of specificity you want. You can say "I played a game", or "I played a game yesterday", or "I played a game at 11:35am on September 4th", and so on. Linguists generally only call it "...


22

Short answer: Not at all! Some languages only have two: past and non-past (English, Japanese). Others have past, present, and future (Ancient Greek). Still others have separate "recent" and "distant" past tenses (Lingála, Swahili). And some have no tense at all (Proto-Indo-European, Mandarin). Long answer: There are two important things to note here. One ...


15

A common saying in linguistics is, languages don't vary in what they can express. They only vary in what they must express. In English, it's morphologically impossible to have a finite verb without specifying when it happened/happens/will happen (*). In Chinese, that's not an issue: the default state of a verb has no information about the timing. However, ...


14

Yes. A minimal pair is meant to differ in one phoneme, to demonstrate that a speaker of the language can distinguish between the two words, and therefore that the contrast is phonemic. Since the difference between the words is on the level of phonology, it doesn't matter whether the difference in meaning is grammatical or lexical.


13

Tense vs. aspect vs. mood Let's first clarify what the different categories mean in the first place: Tense is a category that locates events on a timeline. Distinctions between different tenses are often described by means of relations between event time (E), speech point (S) and reference point (R). For example, when I utter something like I realized that ...


13

The argument that the English "will + infinitive" construction should not be considered a future tense is fairly complex. It is not an obvious matter, and I think the rejection of this classification is usually based on several criteria, not just one. I believe a tense is usually defined as something like a grammaticalized construction used for time ...


12

In Wolof, a language spoken in Senegal, Gambia, and Mauritania, the verbs never change their form, it is the pronouns that have the tense. In Wolof there is I-which-is-now, I-that-will-be, I-that-was, and so on, each pronoun has the 5 Wolof tenses, each tense having 2 aspect variants, perfect and imperfect. In other words, you take a past tense pronoun and ...


10

Having one or more remoteness distinctions in the past tense is reasonably common, particularly in Papua, parts of the Amazon and parts of Africa: http://wals.info/feature/66A (note that the map is quite sparse with data points). I'll give examples mostly from Papuan languages as I'm more familiar with those than the other areas. See e.g. The Papuan ...


9

I teach my pupils the matter like this (and I hope it’s useful for anyone who reads this thread): Greek has three ways of representing actions (I’m leaving out future tense because it merely expresses tense). [1] as actions in process or repeated actions – durative [all forms beloning to the præsens stem] e.g. θνῃσκ- = to be dying [2] as (merely) ...


9

There is no real way to predict the perfect stem or the supine stem (past-participle stem) of a Latin verb; there are only probabilities. One normally learns the past stems of a verb along with its present stem and conjugation group if they are irregular. The regular suffix to form the perfect stem is by adding -v- to the present stem, so after the theme ...


7

The short answer: centuries of use of Old Church Slavonic instead of Latin or Romanian as a written language BUT note there is a tendency towards analytic tenses in spoken languages across Europe. The long answer: Questions of the form "Why?" in historical linguistics are not necessarily answerable, but we can try. One theory could be that there was some ...


6

For most Romance languages at least, there's a totally separate set of conjugation forms called the "subjunctive mode", used to indicate things that could/should/might be, could/should/might become, or that somebody wishes they did as opposed to the "indicative mode" which usually indicates stuff the way it is. Usually, subjunctive present has nothing to do ...


6

Robert's answer leaves us with a puzzle. Since this construction of a perfect with "have" is so rare, it would be a very strange coincidence that it is present in French, German, English, Italian, etc. just by chance. The obvious solution would be to assume that this construction in those language appeared only once, in a language parent of these modern ...


6

As usual in language evolution, having two auxiliaries wasn't a goal, things just happened this way (and in fact the long-term evolution is towards a single auxiliary). There is an article in French Wikipedia that explains how the compound past tenses evolved in French (and to various extents in other Romance languages). My answer here is mostly a summary ...


6

"Based" here is either the past/passive participle of the verb base used in the passive construction "BE + past participle", or an adjective derived from the past participle (a departicipial adjective—also known as a "participial adjective"). "The film is based on a novel by Pat Conroy" means approximately the same thing as "[The creators of the film] ...


6

Well, the issue is not as clear as the preceding answer states. One issue here is morpheme-boundary. It's not good policy to look for minimal pairs that involve morpheme boundaries. For example, drink drank drunk is ok because there is no boundary involved here, but there is the well-known case of Scottish English where vowel length normally does not exist, ...


5

As luck would have it, I'm just preparing a talk on aspect at a conference. The problem, with your question is that you're looking at aspect in isolation. Your sentence (as a sequence of words) is perfectly grammatical. It only becomes ungrammatical (in as much as that means anything) when you put it in context. And what do they do? They build a house next ...


5

Languages change, it's inevitable. Even an almost geographically isolated language will change: maybe in a limited way, or at a slower pace, but it will. Some changes are more visible and happen in a shorter time, like acquisition of vocabulary through loaning or calques, but other changes will take more time, like sound shifts and so on. However, I'm ...


5

I suspect subjunctive merged with indicative in English simply due to phonetical reasons. Look at Old English: "I ate" (indicative) - Ic æt "I ate" (subjunctive) - Ic æte or "we beat" (indicative) - bēoton "we beat" (subjunctive) - bēoten (according to wiktionary) Then vowel reduction happened, and unstressed vowels in affixes all turned ...


5

The Max Plank Institute's Department of Linguistics has a few resources, including a questionnaire, for dealing with questions of tense and aspect. But as Dominik hinted, tense and aspect are a tricky thing, and a often very intertwined to the point that it gets quite difficult to pick them apart, and even linguists can disagree (for instance, many sources ...


5

First, it is important to be clear on what "most basic form" as described above covers. One notion is "structurally simplest", that is, "having the fewest added things". The other is "phonologically best for predicting other variants". Mixtec seems to qualify as an example of the future being "most basic" because (a) the future has no prefixes or suffixes, (...


5

As Draconis explained quite clearly, English is a tense language, which requires finite verbs (in matrix clauses) to be gramatically tensed to specify its temporal conditions. And I'd like to talk more about Chinese. To say Chinese is a tenseless language means that modern Chinese lacks grammaticalized tense which overtly inflects verbs in different temporal ...


5

Because language changes gradually. So for some features (in this case the mentioned Spanish tenses) there is first some alternative to express them, and this alternative becomes more frequent than the old form over time, until the old form sounds bookish and archaic or even obsolete. In the final step, the old form is no longer available and sounds ...


5

Japanese appears to be an obvious counter-example: no plural morphology but tenses.


4

You need to distinguish between tense, aspect and time reference. For instance, the English present continuous combines a present time reference with an imperfective aspect. However, it is often used to denote future time reference as well in some contexts. E.g. "We're leaving at 8 sharp tomorrow morning." What you need to do is a functional analysis of the ...


4

English and French pluperfect constructions are not descended from a common ancestor The English pluperfect tense (along with all the other composite tenses made with "have") is not what is called "genetically" related to the French past composite tense (or any of the other composite tenses made with "avoir"). The use of "genetically" in the preceding ...


4

It is basically pretty similar thing to English present perfect, i.e. the auxiliary verb have + some sort of past or passive participle of a content verb to express some sort of past. But in many non-Western European languages, this has been just an emerging feature with stronger influences here and there (I believe this is something present in these ...


4

Chinese is the one. Like many asian-oceaninc languages, it is a modal rather than tense language. Verbs in chinese do not change according to time of the action.


4

In English, at least, the ordinary simple present is imperfective; but there are genres in which a perfective use is common. In sports broadcasts, for instance: "He shoots, he scores!" describes an ongoing course of action but the individual events are expressed immediately after they happen. Oral storytelling has always alternated frequently between ...


4

There is an argument for distinguishing morphological tenses from periphrastic tenses. The English verb “to be” has five morphological tenses: present: I am past: I was present subjunctive: (if) I be past subjunctive: (if) I were imperative: be! Periphrastic tenses combine a form of the verb with a battery of auxiliaries, giving: present continuous: I ...


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