Title

Tenselessness in Tagalog

Presentation Type

Presentation

Abstract

“Tenseless” languages are typically defined as those which lack obligatory tense morphemes. English would be considered a tensed language because it requires a morphological distinction between past (-ed) and present (-s). Tagalog verbs obligatorily encode for aspect and focus, features that convey how an event occurs and who or what is the most important participant in that event. However, Tagalog does not require tense marking, giving rise to the contested claim that Tagalog is a tenseless language. Resolving this debate requires answering the question as to whether the lack of obligatorily realized tense morpheme truly qualifies Tagalog as tenseless. Because context (and not overt morphology) dictates the temporal interpretation of a verb, I argue that it is unlikely that tense functions as a feature built into Tagalog syntax. I propose that Tagalog lacks the syntactic feature tense, distinguishing it typologically from languages like English which do morphologically encode temporal information.

The Parametric Substantiation Hypothesis (PSH), proposed in Ritter and Wiltschko (2009), states that tense itself is not a universal inflectional feature across the world’s languages. Instead, tense exists as one of several possible inflectional categories that help speakers interpret their relationship to the events described in a discourse. Following the PSH, I propose that Tagalog speakers employ focus to convey relationships between participants in described events and participants in a discourse. In other words, verbal inflection in Tagalog orients speakers with respect to which noun in a clause is most perceptually salient to participants in the discourse, rather than conveying when an event occurred. My analysis contributes to the ongoing discussion of the syntax of tenselessness both in Tagalog and cross-linguistically and offers further support for the PSH.

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Tenselessness in Tagalog

UC 326

“Tenseless” languages are typically defined as those which lack obligatory tense morphemes. English would be considered a tensed language because it requires a morphological distinction between past (-ed) and present (-s). Tagalog verbs obligatorily encode for aspect and focus, features that convey how an event occurs and who or what is the most important participant in that event. However, Tagalog does not require tense marking, giving rise to the contested claim that Tagalog is a tenseless language. Resolving this debate requires answering the question as to whether the lack of obligatorily realized tense morpheme truly qualifies Tagalog as tenseless. Because context (and not overt morphology) dictates the temporal interpretation of a verb, I argue that it is unlikely that tense functions as a feature built into Tagalog syntax. I propose that Tagalog lacks the syntactic feature tense, distinguishing it typologically from languages like English which do morphologically encode temporal information.

The Parametric Substantiation Hypothesis (PSH), proposed in Ritter and Wiltschko (2009), states that tense itself is not a universal inflectional feature across the world’s languages. Instead, tense exists as one of several possible inflectional categories that help speakers interpret their relationship to the events described in a discourse. Following the PSH, I propose that Tagalog speakers employ focus to convey relationships between participants in described events and participants in a discourse. In other words, verbal inflection in Tagalog orients speakers with respect to which noun in a clause is most perceptually salient to participants in the discourse, rather than conveying when an event occurred. My analysis contributes to the ongoing discussion of the syntax of tenselessness both in Tagalog and cross-linguistically and offers further support for the PSH.