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Review of  Tense, Aspect and Modality in Nepali and Manipuri

Reviewer: Michael W Morgan
Book Title: Tense, Aspect and Modality in Nepali and Manipuri
Book Author: Tikaram Poudel
Publisher: Lincom GmbH
Linguistic Field(s): Morphology
Subject Language(s): Manipuri
Issue Number: 19.1071

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AUTHOR: Poudel, Tikaram
TITLE: Tense, Aspect and Modality in Nepali and Manipuri
SERIES TITLE: LINCOM Studies in Asian Linguistics 73
YEAR: 2007

Michael W Morgan, Managing Director, Ishara Foundation, Bombay/Mumbai, India

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

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).

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, 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.

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.

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.

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