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The Expression of Tense and Aspect in Shona
Carmela Toews
32-41 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


In this paper, the Shona tense and aspect system is analyzed using a framework of relations between event time (E), reference time (R), and speech time (S) (Hornstein, 1990; Klein, 1994). Tense (e.g., past, present, future) is defined as the relation between S and R, and aspect (e.g., progressive, perfect) is defined as the relation between R and E. Three observations are made: First, there is a class of morphemes (aka-, a- and cha-) that can mark either tense or aspect, depending on their syntactic position. These morphemes encode precedence (aka- and a-) or subsequence (cha-) relations. Secondly, Shona distinguishes between progressive and imperfective aspect. The third observation is that the present tense is unmarked. Exemplifying the first point, for example: in the phrase nd-aka-nga ndi-cha-tamb-a ("I was going to dance"), the morpheme aka- expresses past tense, and cha- expresses prospective aspect (to be going to do something). If these morphemes are reversed, as in ndi-cha-nga nd-aka-tamb-a ("I will have danced"), then cha- expresses future tense, and aka- expresses perfect aspect (to have done something) (Fortune, 1984). This work provides insight into the organization of temporal relations in Shona, as well as contributing to work on tense and aspect in general.

Published in

Selected Proceedings of the 39th Annual Conference on African Linguistics: Linguistic Research and Languages in Africa
edited by Akinloye Ojo and Lioba Moshi
Table of contents
Printed edition: $270.00