Aspectuo-Temporal Underspecification in Anindilyakwa: Descriptive, Theoretical, Typological and Quantitative Issues

TitreAspectuo-Temporal Underspecification in Anindilyakwa: Descriptive, Theoretical, Typological and Quantitative Issues
Publication TypeArticle de revue
Année de publication2022
AuthorsCaudal, Patrick, and James Bednall
Start Page8
Date de publication12/2022
Type of ArticleTheoretical, quantitative, descriptive
Mots-clés(un)boundedness, aspect, aspectual underspecification, Australian languages, event structure, temporal underspecification, zero tense

Many so-called ‘zero tense’-marked (which we define as morphologically reduced and underspecified inflections) or untensed verb forms found in tenseless languages, have been characterized as context dependent for their temporal and aspectual interpretation, with the verb’s aspectual content (either as event structure or viewpoint properties) being given more or less prominent roles in their temporal anchoring. In this paper, we focus on a morpho-phonologically reduced inflectional verbal paradigm in Anindilyakwa (Groote Eylandt archipelago, NT, Australia), which is both temporally and aspectually underspecified, and constitutes an instance of zero tense as defined above. On the basis of a quantitative study of an annotated corpus of zero-inflected utterances, we establish that in the absence of independent overt or covert temporal information, the temporal anchoring of this ‘zero tense’ exhibits complex patterns of sensitivity to event structural parameters. Notably we establish that while dynamicity/stativity and telicity/atelicity are to some extent valuable predictors for the temporal interpretation of zero tense in Anindilyakwa, only atomicity (i.e., event punctuality) and boundedness categorically impose a past temporal anchoring—this confirms insights found in previous works, both on Anindilyakwa and on other languages, while also differing from other generalisations contained in these works. Our analysis also shows that unlike several zero tenses identified in various languages (especially in Pidgins and Creoles), Anindilyakwa zero tense-marked dynamic utterances do not correlate with a past temporal reading. Rather, we show that Anindilyakwa seems to come closest to languages possessing zero tensed-verbs (or tenseless verbs) where boundedness monotonically enforces a past temporal anchoring, such as Navajo and Mandarin Chinese. We also show that aspect-independent temporal information appears to determine the temporal anchoring of all zero tense-marked unbounded atelic utterances (both stative and dynamic) in Anindilyakwa—a fact at once conflicting with some claims made in previous works on zero tenses, while confirming results from past studies of Indigenous languages of the Americas (especially Yucatec Maya), concerning the role of temporal anaphora in the temporal interpretation of ‘tenseless’ verb forms.