The present work examines (with the exception of Bantu) tense, aspect, and mood (alias TAM) in Benue-Congo languages. The motivation for this project stems partly from the long-standing thesis as formulated, for example by Comrie (1976) who claims that generally, aspect is more relevant than tense in the majority of African languages. The following languages are at the centre of the investigation: Hone, Igbo, Kana, and Yoruba, all, according to Blench & Williamson (2000), belong to the Benue-Congo language family. As part of the methodology, the present study plans to consider (where applicable) the future/non-future and past tenses in relation to the imperfective and perfective aspects.
The goal of this project is manifold: primarily to examine, compare, contrast, and document the TAM systems of Benue-Congo languages minus Narrow-Bantu. Likewise, it intends to examine the extent to which TAM interacts with other phenomena, such as tonology, morphology, syntax, as well as focus arrangements. A third analytical approach consists of the examination of the degree to which each of the following TAM components - tense, aspect, and modality - are central to the Benue-Congo languages. Finally, it will be examined whether or not, and to what extent the notion of "Aktionsart" also applies to the languages under consideration.
This study shows that in the majority of the Benue-Congo languages described here, it is rather aspect that is grammatically prominent. Igbo marks both past and future tenses formally. On the contrary, in the Hone verb system tense is only marked marginally in the future and perfect/past tenses, whereas in Kana this applies exclusively to future tenses. By contrast, in Yoruba, tense does not occur; all "future" markers in this language are indeed modal, and are thus not marked for tense. Concerning the present tense, cross-linguistically, there seems to be a tendency on the part of speakers to interpret both the progressive and the habitual as present tense.