Tense, mood, and aspect expressions in Nafsan (South Efate) from a typological perspective: The perfect aspect and the realis/irrealis mood
AffiliationSchool of Languages and Linguistics
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusOpen Access
Completed under a Cotutelle arrangement between the University of Melbourne and Humboldt-Universitat zu Berlin
© 2019 Ana Krajinovic Rodrigues
In this thesis I study the meaning of tense, mood, and aspect (TMA) expressions in Nafsan (South Efate), an Oceanic language of Vanuatu, from a typological perspective. I focus on the meanings of the perfect aspect and realis/irrealis mood in Nafsan and other Oceanic languages, as case studies for investigating the cross-linguistic features of these TMA categories. Given the diversity of TMA systems in languages of the world, the status of many TMA categories as cross-linguistically valid has been disputed in the linguistic literature. Two such debates concern the cross-linguistic validity of the perfect aspect and the realis/irrealis distinction. Oceanic languages feature some of the most controversial aspects of the semantics of these categories. For instance, many Oceanic languages, including Nafsan, have perfects that denote the meaning of change of state, a property which has recently been attributed to a new TMA category called “iamitive” (Olsson, 2013). Regarding the realis/irrealis distinction, Nafsan and other Oceanic languages are said to express this distinction by portmanteau subject markers. Both the validity of the realis/irrealis mood and its expression by subject markers have been criticized in the literature (Bybee, 1998; Cristofaro, 2012). In order to analyze the meanings of the perfect aspect and the realis/irrealis mood in Nafsan, I studied the Nafsan grammar (Thieberger, 2006) and corpus by Thieberger (1995–2018), followed by my own fieldwork (Krajinovic, 2017b) which relied on semantic elicitation through storyboards (see Burton & Matthewson, 2015) and questionnaires (e.g. Dahl, 2000c). These types of elicitation methods were used to target fine-grained TMA meanings of Nafsan, which were then analyzed through some formal semantic models, such as branching-times, and compared with descriptions of other Oceanic languages through typological methods, such as semantic maps. Regarding the perfect aspect, I found that the Nafsan marker pe has all the functions considered to be typical of the English-style perfect, except for the additional meaning of change of state. I place the analysis of the Nafsan perfect in the debate about the cross-linguistic validity of iamitives, defined by the meaning of change of state akin to ‘already’ and lacking experiential and universal perfect functions (Olsson, 2013). Based on the data from Nafsan and other Oceanic languages, I show that when language-internal processes, such as aspectual coercion, are considered, the semantic definition of perfect aspect proposed by Klein (1994) is sufficient to account for additional perfect functions, without the need to posit the new iamitive category. Moreover, by creating a semantic map of the perfect based the data from five Oceanic languages, I found that the spread of the proposed iamitive functions is not attested in the Oceanic sample studied here, which means that the change-of-state meaning as the proposed core iamitive meaning does not uniquely define this category, which can be taken as evidence against adopting iamitives as a new cross-linguistic category. Regarding the realis/irrealis distinction, expressed by portmanteau subject markers in Nafsan, I have found that the “realis” category is semantically underspecified in Nafsan, as it can occur in irrealis contexts that should be incompatible with realis meanings. I propose that “realis” subject markers are in fact only subject and person marking that occasionally receives realis meanings through pragmatic competition with the irrealis subject markers. This analysis has the potential to explain similar problems attested in other Oceanic languages of Melanesia. By adopting a branching-times model that unites the expression of modality and temporal reference (von Prince, 2019), I show that Nafsan and several other Oceanic languages provide evidence that irrealis as a mood category referring to non-actual worlds is a semantically meaningful category. The contribution of this work is to the areas of TMA semantics, typology, Oceanic languages, language description and methodologies used in language documentation. Besides the theoretical contribution to the understanding of cross-linguistic properties of the perfect aspect and realis/irrealis mood, this thesis can also be used as a methodological guide to testing and assigning linguistic categories in language description and documentation.
KeywordsNafsan; South Efate; Vanuatu; realis; irrealis; mood; perfect; iamitive; aspect; tense; semantics; typology; Oceanic; Melanesia; fieldwork; language documentation; language description; elicitation; methodology
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