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Sociolinguistics from the Periphery "presents a fascinating book about change: shifting political, economic and cultural conditions; ephemeral, sometimes even seasonal, multilingualism; and altered imaginaries for minority and indigenous languages and their users."
Review of Tense, Aspect and Modality in Nepali and Manipuri
AUTHOR: Poudel, Tikaram TITLE: Tense, Aspect and Modality in Nepali and Manipuri SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Asian Linguistics 73 PUBLISHER: LINCOM Europa YEAR: 2007
Michael W Morgan, Managing Director, Ishara Foundation, Bombay/Mumbai, India
SUMMARY This book, written by a Nepali speaker married to a Manipuri native speaker, is based on the author's 2006 Tribhuvan University Ph.D. dissertation. As indicated by the title of the book, it deals with the tense-aspect-mood systems of two unrelated Himalayan languages: Indo-Aryan Nepali and Tibeto-Burman Manipuri (more properly known as Meithei). Both are well documented languages with accessible descriptive grammars: for Manipuri most notably Chelliah (1997); for Nepali the list is quite long. The present volume may, however, be the first focused description of this particular part of the verb system of these languages, and is surely the first attempt to contrast these specific languages' tense-aspect-mood systems.
The theoretical approach taken falls generally within the functional / functional-typological framework. As such, it will be of interest not only to linguists interested in the tense-aspect-mood systems of these particular two languages, but more generally to linguists working on issues of tense-aspect-mood from either a more general (theoretical) perspective or a comparative-typological perspective.
The organization of this book follows the standard dissertation template. Chapter One is a brief statement of the topic being examined and research goals, as well as a statement of the (very general) hypothesis: ''If there are prototypical common communicative goals, then there are chances that languages use similar strategies to express them'' (p. 2). It also includes a short review of literature on the topic - ten works on Nepali and seven for Manipuri (and two of those from the early years of the twentieth century), a description of method (data collection, analysis and description), and ends with an outline of the remaining chapters.
Chapter Two then goes on to review the theoretical framework, and, in particular to introduce those works which have informed the author's approach. Although numerous works are mentioned, two authors stand out not only by the amount of space allotted to discussion of them here in the introduction, but more so by repeated citation in the remaining chapters: Givon (1984, 2001) and Bybee et al (1994). The inclusion of the latter should make clear that ensuing discussion treats grammaticalization paths in the Nepali and Manipuri tense-aspect-mood systems, pointing out where the facts (and real and proposed histories) of these languages provide support or not for Bybee et al's conclusions.
Chapter Three through Five deal with modality in the two languages. In Chapter Three, Poudel makes a distinction between mood ( a verbal category) and modality (a sentential category), and illustrates that modality can be marked by mood, but also lexically by modal and lexical verbs. His main categories are declarative versus non-declarative and realis versus irrealis. He goes on to discuss the grammaticalization paths for modal verbs, as well as syntactic tests to distinguish them from other types of verbs. In Chapter Four, Poudel discusses the Nepali and Manipuri modal systems in terms of epistemic, deontic and evidential modality. He also makes the distinction between agent-oriented and speaker-oriented modality. Finally, Chapter Five is an interesting addition, arguing that modality is a dependent category. Thus, for example, some lexical (i.e. non-modal) verbs have inherent modality (e.g. implication verbs like 'want', 'plan'; manipulation verbs like 'cause', 'make'; and perception-cognition-utterance verbs like 'know', 'believe', 'ask'), and when strong tend to take realis complements but when weak tend to take irrealis complements. Also, modality is shown to depend on clause types.
Chapter Six and Chapter Seven discuss the aspect systems of these languages. Poudel, following Vendler (1967) and Givon (2001), distinguishes inherent aspect (i.e. the fact that given verbs tend to describe states, activities, accomplishments achievements, etc) and grammatical aspect. In both Nepali and Manipuri, inherent aspect can be determined by a number of tests, including co-occurrence with grammatical aspect markers (e.g. activity and accomplishment verbs can cooccur with the progressive aspect marker -dai in Nepali, while state, activity and accomplishment verbs can cooccur with the durative aspect marker -li in Manipuri). In both Nepali and Manipuri, Poudel argues that perfectivity has completive, anterior, and resultative subdivisions. Imperfectivity includes generic (which Poudel argues is clearly not a tense in either language), durative and habitual subdivisions. Poudel argues that aspect is not only a morphological category, but also one that operates on the level of sentence and discourse. At these levels it can be understood in terms of the notions terminativity and sequentiality. While to be terminative a sentence must have perfectivity, the reverse is not the case, and not all perfectives are terminative.
Chapter Eight deals with the category of tense in Nepali and Manipuri. Chapter Eight also provides the conclusion, namely that while Nepali is a normal ''tenseful'' language (with past and non-past tense), Manipuri is a tenseless language. This conclusion regarding Manipuri is not out of keeping with the analysis presented in Chelliah (1997) where Manipuri's complex system of three levels of more than forty verbal derivational suffixes are analyzed in categories of aspect, mood, etc – but not tense. For Manipuri, Poudel argues, the ''major distinction is between realis and irrealis'' (p. 234).
EVALUATION This book is a valuable contribution to discussions of time-aspect-mood systems within the broader comparative and typological framework. Like many dissertations before it, it seems that Poudel's main task has been to apply notions of tense, aspect and mood worked out by others (in his case: Givon 1984, 2001), as well as to validate grammaticalization paths proposed by Bybee et al (1994). This, however, does not reduce the novelty of Poudel's treatment, since, although it does not present many new theoretical ideas, it does provide a new (Himalayan) angle on the ''old'' theoretical ideas which will perhaps promote further discussions. Also, it gives a wealth of examples from both languages.
As a confirmed (American Prague School/Jakobsonian/Sign Theoretic) structuralist, at times I find that the functionalist analysis in this book comes up short in two ways. First, some of the discussions of whether a certain form (e.g. the Nepali present) belongs to one category (e.g. tense) or another (e.g. aspect) is like arguing whether a zebra is black or white; the reality of the language tells you (or at least, they tell me) that, for example, Nepali present is both present tense and imperfective aspect. Second, and more troublesome to me (both because I don't like it when I see it, and also because I myself cannot always come up with a solution to the problem), is the nonchalant way many separate forms are categorized as manifestation of a single linguistic entity (i.e. the question of suppletion and also (grammatical) homomorphy). Thus, I suspect Nepali hu-, ch-and th-, all glossed as copula, are in fact three separate lexical entities, one (semantically) unmarked, and the other two with additional semantic marking. The fact that they are found in complementary distribution is not, as American structuralism would have argued, evidence that they are a single entity. Rather it arises from the incompatibility of the semantics of the lexical root with the semantics of specific grammatical endings (e.g. the semantics of ch- is incompatible with the semantics of the past tense marker -y-). Unfortunately at present I am not ready to provide supporting argumentation for this; so I only raise the issue. Also in Poudel's defense, on at least one occasion, when treating Nepali progressives forms V-i rah-e-k- and V-dai, which are often described as having the same meaning, Poudel proposes that the former adds a reference to the time of inception (i.e. has one additional semantic marking).
Other negative criticism of the present work, generally speaking, is limited to matters of editing. It would seem, based on my reading of the present work and also Kedar Prasad Poudel's (2006) Dhankute Tamang Grammar that LINCOM' s editorial policy (at least with regards to Asian linguistics books) can be summarized in one word: ''Don't.'' While such a policy may be warranted for works of belles lettres (imagine trying to ''correct'' the English of _Finnegan's Wake_), it is probably not the best policy for academic works, especially when written by non-native speakers. Fortunately, it appears that the dissertation on which this publication is based went through a much better editing process than Poudel (2006).
Still, vexing errors are not hard to find. These can be categorized into:
1) Typographical errors, which are not overly numerous. They only present a problem when they occur in Nepali or Manipuri forms which the reader may not be familiar enough with to catch and correct. While I cannot judge the Manipuri examples, such typographical errors are relatively few in the Nepali examples. Among those I found were gahra for 'house' in example (54d) on p. 69 and gayu instead of gayau 'you went' in example (17b) on p. 141. Unmarked retroflex consonants provide further examples: Nepali 'old' is transcribed in examples (61a) on p. 198 and (62a) on p. 199 as budho rather than the correct buDho, and on p. 189 example (43b) 'door' is given as dhokaa when it should be Dhokaa. While ''normal'' typographical errors are largely forgivable, mistakes in linguistic examples which will probably go unnoted by those unfamiliar with the languages being described (or even passed on into future linguistic literature in the form of quoted examples) are not.
2) Mislabeling of examples. For instance, examples (4a) on p. 48 and (62a) on p. 199 are Nepali, despite being labeled as Manipuri.
3) Minor inconsistencies in transcription. For Nepali these largely concern the question as to whether or not to transcribe the ''inherent'' vowel in words. Thus, alongside several dozens of examples of Nepali 'house' transcribed as ghara, it is transcribed as ghar in about a fifth as many instances. (budho and dhokaa discussed under (1) above may in fact be examples of inconsistent transcription rather than typographical errors.) As I am not qualified to judge the Manipuri examples, I cannot say how widespread typographical errors and transcriptional inconsistencies are in examples from that language. I did however note in example (44) on page 65 that 'tomorrow' is given as haying in the example sentence but as hayeng in the morpheme-by-morpheme analysis.
4) Unresolved font problems. As all of us who work with languages with nasal e's know, poor planning on the part of the computer industry folks has given us a problem which, even in today's UNICODE world, still persists. In the present work, although a few non-e nasal vowels have gone unmarked (e.g. the first long a of khaadai- in example (53b) on page 195), with nasal e, the problem has been multiplied - including one case where a nasal e is printed as an underscore (exactly the ''solution'' my computer used to come up with ... three computers ago).
5) English language errors (grammatical and other). In addition to numerous ''minor'' errors (such as the ubiquitous wrong or missing definite/indefinite article), there are also more grave errors which either change the meaning, or make the meaning opaque. Thus, as one illustrative example, in note 2 on p. 157 Poudel writes that ''This is not the typical case of Nepali.''. This should surely read ''This case is not typical only of Nepali''.
6) Misleading English translations. For example, in comparing examples (51a) and (51b) on pp. 193-194, Poudel states that(51a) does not refer to what a particular prime minister does on a given occasion but to what (generic) prime ministers normally do as part of their job. However, both sentences are translated as ''The Prime minister inaugurates the bridge''. In my (native) English, (51a) should have been translated with both subject and object in the plural and without a definite article). In example (28) on p. 255 Poudel's translation reads ''(The cook) says he wants salt''. The Nepali example, however, starts off malaai 'to me' and thus clearly indicates that it should be: ''(The cook) told me ...''
7) Inconsistencies (and mistakes) in analysis and presentation. For example, when discussing the Manipuri imperative, in the chart on p. 55 Poudel gives -lu as the non-honorific, -lo as the mid-honorific and -piyu as the high-honorific suffixes. Just two pages later on p. 57 in example (25a) -lo is labeled imp.nh, that is, non-honorific imperative, and in (25b) we have -u, which is not on the chart on page 55 labeled as imp.mh, that is mid-honorific imperative. Also on p. 248 Poudel states that ''The past tense marker -y- occurs immediately after the root and is preceded by an agreement marker.'' While the first half of this statement is entirely true, the second half is contradicted by each and every one of the many dozens of past tense examples found in the book. The problem is clearly that ''preceded'' should read ''followed''.
8) A few irrelevant examples (whose irrelevance may not be apparent to anyone not sufficiently acquainted with the language of the example). Thus, in discussing resultatives in Nepali, on p. 189 Poudel gives the example (43b) dhokaa [sic!] banda cha 'The door is closed'. While this may well describe a result, the form banda is adjectival, and so probably does not belong in this discussion of verbal resultatives. At least, it does not illustrate any aspect of the verbal aspect system under discussion.
In addition to the above noted mistakes, this monograph is also missing (at least) two things which would greatly enhance its usefulness: 1) an index (and most especially an index of forms discussed in the two languages - pp. 259-260 gives a list with glosses, but no page references; the absence of an index of topics is partly alleviated by a more-or-less adequate table of contents), 2) an introduction (however brief) to such basics of the language as are necessary to fully appreciate the examples and discussion - such as a presentation of the transcription system used. (The present reviewer is familiar with it from his days long ago as a Peace Corps volunteer in southern Nepali; general linguists and even those educated in traditional Indological transcription systems might be less well served.) Finally, the list of (grammatical) abbreviations used is missing quite a few items (e.g. caus, COMP, dur, hab, imper, pot, ptr, q are not in the list), in addition, the last two items in the list (cl = classifier and nf = non-feminine) should have (in this age of computer-assisted sorting) been inserted into the list alphabetically rather than just tacked on at the end.
REFERENCES Bybee, J., R. Perkins & W. Pagliuca. (1994) _The evolution of grammar - tense, aspect, and modality in the languages of the world_. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Chelliah, S.L. (1997) _A Grammar of Meithei). (Mouton Grammar Library 17) Berlin-New York: Mouton de Gruyter.
Givon, T. (1984) _Syntax_ vol. 1 Amsterdam: Johns Publishing.
Givon, T. (2001) _Syntax_ vol. 2 Amsterdam: Johns Publishing.
Poudel, K.P. (2006) _Dhankute Tamang Grammar_. Munich: LINCOM Europa.
Vendler, Z. (1967) _Linguistics in Philosophy_. Ithaca: Cornell University press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Mike Morgan, a Slavicist-cum-Indo-Europeanist by training, is a comparative linguist interested in issues historical, areal and typological, and has been involved in sign language linguistics for approximately fifteen years. At present he is taking leave from academia, and is managing director of Ishara Foundation (Bombay/Mumbai, India), an educational NGO/NPO dedicated to bilingual literacy and tertiary education for Deaf through sign language and written English. In connection with these duties, he continues to be active in comparative sign language research.