January 13, 2015

Guest speaker: Guillaume Thomas (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro)

Guillaume Thomas is a postdoctoral researcher at Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro. He received his Ph.D. from MIT in 2012 under the supervision of Irene Heim and his research centres around semantics, pragmatics, morphosyntax, and the Tupi languages of South America. He will be giving a talk in SS 560A on Friday the 16th, starting at 3:00 PM: Tense as a nominal category: Evidence from Mbyá. Afterwards, there will be a reception in the department lounge.

This talk will explore the grammar of nominal tense in the Mbyá dialect of Guarani, a Tupi language spoken in Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay (see Thomas 2014). As in other Guarani languages, nouns in Mbyá can be suffixed with the morphemes -kue and -rã, that shift their predication time in the past or in the future of the time of evaluation of the DP. This is illustrated in (1) and (2).

(1) A-echa mburuvicha-kue.
A1.SG-see leader-KUE
‘I saw the ex-leader.’

(2) Kuee, a-jogua che-ro-rã.
Yesterday, A1.SG-buy B1.SG-house-RA
‘Yesterday, I bought my future house.’

According to Tonhauser’s (2007) prominent analysis, these morphemes are not tenses but quasi-aspectual temporal markers. A central piece of Tonhauser’s argument is that the use of -kue and -rã triggers inferences that are not commonly associated with tense across languages. Focusing on the past tense marker, I will show to the contrary that the additional inferences triggered by –kue can be analyzed as a combination of implicatures and presuppositions, that are also attested with the English past tense under the guise of lifetime effects.

I will argue that once these pragmatic effects have been factored out, -kue can be analyzed as a simple relative past tense. I will then explore the hypothesis that the functional category of tense is exclusively nominal in Mbyá. Support for this claim will come from the fact that although there is no tense inflection on verbs, -kue is attested on nominalized propositions, in which case it is interpreted as bona fide relative past tense, which locates the reference time of the proposition in the past of a local temporal anchor, as illustrated in (3) and (4).

(3) Juan o-icha’ã Maria o-mba’eapo-a-gue
Juan A3-think MariaA3-work-NLZ-KUE
‘Juan thought that Maria was working.’

(4) Juan o-ipytyvõ ava re Maria i-jayvu va’e-kue pe
Juan A3-help man OBL Maria B3-talk VAE-KUE OBJ
‘Juan helped the man that Maria talked about.’

This analysis has important consequences for the typological relevance of the grammar of tense in Guarani languages, as it has been argued that Paraguayan Guarani is a tenseless language (Tonhauser 2011). If I am correct, the relevant point of variation here is not the presence or absence of tense in the inventory of functional categories of the language, but rather the identification of tense as a verbal or as a nominal functional category. I will defend this view against arguments that tense is an inherently verbal category.

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