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Bookmark and Share Paper 3512

Encoding Time in Tenseless Languages: The View from Zapotec
Maziar Toosarvandani
21-41 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


Many Western American languages lack morphological tense. Such "tenseless" languages are usually taken to vary only superficially from languages with tense, with both making reference to a contextually salient topic time. But if a language has no morphological tense, it is possible, at least in principle, that it does not make reference to a topic time at all. Pancheva and Zubizaretta (2020) offer an account of Paraguayan Guaraní along these lines, arguing that the language describes past events using the same mechanism that enables the present tense (in its historical use) in other languages to describe past events. This paper explores whether this temporal system is found in other tenseless languages, with a focus on Sierra Zapotec. While Sierra Zapotec shares a restriction on the interpretation of future marking with Guaraní, its temporal system must make reference to a topic time. This conclusion is supported by the interpretation of narratives, which exhibit more interpretive flexibility than is enabled by the mechanism underlying the historical present. Future marking in Sierra Zapotec is restricted to a present temporal perspective for independent reasons, as epistemic modals are.

Published in

Proceedings of the 37th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by D. K. E. Reisinger and Marianne Huijsmans
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00