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Summary Details

Query:   Tense marking on pronouns - Part 3
Author:  David Palfreyman
Submitter Email:  click here to access email
Linguistic LingField(s):   Morphology

Summary:   My original query (Linguist 14.1024) concerned a reference in a paper I was editing to a language of New Caledonia called Iaca, in which there are have sets of pronouns marked for different tenses, contradicting Western notions of physical continuity [of the self]. I couldnt find any reference to a language called Iaca anywhere else, so my query took three distinct directions:

a) Which language might the author be referring to?
b) Are there other languages which mark tense on pronouns?
c) If languages do mark tense on pronouns, does this contradict
Western notions of physical continuity?

Because of the length limit, I am including the answers to these three questions in separate postings. Thanks very much for all the replies '' I hope I have acknowledged everyone appropriately.

David Palfreyman, Zayed University, Dubai.

a) Which language might the author be referring to?

None of the people who responded were familiar with a language called Iaca. Some mentioned a language called Yaka (Ethnologue appears to cite two different languages called Yaka: one spoken in Central African Republic and Congo, the other in Congo and Angola). Louisa Sadler suggested Iai, which she says has tensed pronouns (with propositional readings) [see below], and is described in D.T Trynon (1968) Iai Grammar. Pacific Linguistics, ANU.

b) Are there other languages which mark tense on pronouns?

In one sense, English marks tense on pronouns, as follows (David Kaiser ):

I'll I'd I'm I#

Louisa Sadler and Rachel Nordlinger have called this 'propositional' marking of tense, in that these markings tell us when the *event* happened (or when the state existed, or whatever), as distinct from 'non-propositional' tense marking on nouns and pronouns, which specify the past reference of just the nominal. Interested readers are invited to read their draft paper at
and to contribue feedback, comments and further data. Louisa gave the following examples of TAM marking on pronouns: ''Yag Dii (Bohnhoff 1986) has pronominals which reflect a range of clausal TAM distinctions, and Supyire (Carlson 1994) has mood-encoding pronouns.
Gurnu, a dialect of the moribund Pama-Nyungan Ba:gandji language has pronouns and demonstratives which encode clausal tense.'' Note that again, these are all cases of prepositional marking. Other respondents gave the following examples, which seem also to refer to prepositional/clausal marking of TAM, and in some cases highlight the historical evolution of these, as TAM marking initial ly on the verb influences the form of, and may migrate to, the pronoun:

John Lynch :

''Oceanic languages quite often show SUBJECT prefixes or preverbal particles which vary for tense/mood. These are presumably portmanteau forms, but are now unanalysable. In Manam (Papua New Guinea), for example, the singular realis subject prefixes are u- 1sg, ?u- 2sg and i- 3sg. The corresponding irrealis forms are m-, go- and 9a. (? = glottal stop and 9 = velar nasal). See p. 376 of John Lynch, Malcolm Ross and Terry Crowley, The Oceanic languages (London: Curzon Press, 2002).''

Tom Pullman :

''In Scottish Gaelic, there are two forms of the 2sg pronoun: ''thu'' /hu/ and ''tu'' /tu/. SG is a VSO language, and where historically the verb ended with one of a certain set of consonants, ''tu'' is used, ''thu'' being used elsewhere. This results in ''tu'' being exclusively used in the future/present habitual (although not in all circumstances) and conditional/past habitual tenses.

Future/present habitual:

molaidh tu /moli tu/ ''you will praise/you praise (habit.)''
mholas tu /volas tu/ ''which you will praise/which you praise (habit.)''
but an mol thu /a mol hu/ ''will you praise?/do you praise?''
nach mol thu? /nax mol thu/ ''will you not/do you not praise?''
and similar examples with other preverbal particles.

Brian Curnain provided another Celtic example: ''Some Irish dialects develop pronouns from verbal suffixes. During this process the pronoun can be confined to a particular tense or mood. For example, 1pl past habitual:

chuireamuist (synthetic)
chuireadh muist (analytic with tense specific dependent pronoun)
chuireadh muid (analytic independent pronoun)''

Mikael Parkvall mentions languages which mark mood on their pronouns:
''Wolof has a pronoun series which is used only with questions, subjunctives, conditionals, etc., which could thus be said to carry some kind of modal value. Also, Caddo and Supyire mark their pronominal prefixes for either realis or irrealis. Keres is said to
have no less than six different moods in its pronoun series.''


''Hausa, the largest of the indigenous lggs of Africa, is such an example; when you want to change tense or mood you employ different pronominal sets. Check out the link

Here these pronouns are referred to as ''Complex Verbal Particles'' and the phenomenon is perhaps common to many other West African lggs, for instance Wollof:

*Non-propositional* (or nominal scope) tense marking should be distinguished from the examples above. Louisa Sadler: The core case of [non-propositional marking is] where a TAM marker on a nominal temporally locates the nominal itself independently of any
clausal TAM specification, as e.g. in
I see-future the house-past = I will see that which used to be the house

Louisa and Rachel did not recall any similar examples for pronouns, and some respondents expressed doubt that such purely pronominal marking of tense would be meaningful, for example Rachel: It's hard to imagine what they could mean... 'formerly me', 'formerly him/her'?). Plausible examples of tense on nouns and adjectives seemed to be
easier to find:

Beate Waffenschmidt : is the phenomenon comparable to any patterns in Western languages - as in ''my bride-to-be'', ''their ex-landlord'', ''the then President'', ''my former self'' ? (you can find a vast number of such forms in Douglas Adams's novels, esp. ''The Restaurant at the end of the Universe'', including a mock grammar for time travellers in ch. 15!). On a more serious note, Latin even makes systematic distinctions in the participles (futurus, moriturus etc.) - so why not mark a pronoun?

Similarly Magnus Liw : Japanese has similar features among adjectives, e g atarashii ''new'', atarashikatta ''new (in the past)''. This is however explained as a verbal stigma in adjectives; atarashii might be interpreted as a participle ''being new'' and atarashikatta ''been new''.

However, the following example from Martina Wiltschko'' may be an example of purely pronominal tense marking:

In Upriver Halkomelem, personal pronouns can be marked with a tense marker, just like nouns (see Strang Burton's NELS paper in 1996 on past tense on nouns)

(1) Kw?-tl?-lh
that was him (deceased)

(2) Kws?-tl?-lh
that was her (deceased)

(3) Kwth?-tl?l?m?-lh
that was them (deceased)

These data are from Galloway's 1993 Grammar on upriver Halkomelem (p.383). In the above, -lh is the past tense marker, tl'o is the core of the pronoun, meaning 3rd person, and the preceding element is a determiner.

In these examples, both the pronoun and the clause as a whole seem to be marked for past, so its not clear whether speakers could say things like That is him (deceased), with a specific tense marking for the pronoun distinct from that for the clause.

c) If languages do mark tense on pronouns, does this contradict Western notions of physical continuity of the self?

Propositional tense marking does not seem to be related to notions of physical continuity of the self. Regarding non-propositional marking, however, the difficulty which respondents had in even conceptualizing the meaning of a tensed pronoun suggests that it contradicts some kind of basic cognitive schema, whether Western or universal. Beate
Waffenschmidt commented that I thought the literature took it as read that temporal continuity of the self was a ''cognitive universal'', while Martina Wiltschko commented of the examples above from Upriver Halkomelem that this doesn't contradict the physical continuity of the self, it just means that the ''self'' is deceased.

Philip Riley (University of Nancy 2, France) cites an interesting sounding book related to this topic: M?hlha?sler, P. and Harr?, R. (1990). Pronouns and People: The Linguistic Construction of Social and Personal Identity. Oxford: Blackwell. gives the
following synopsis for this book: In recent years the idea of a determinate relation between language and reality, both social and physical, has been revived, and in consequence the writings of Sapir and Whorf have once again come to be of interest. In this book Rom Harre and Peter Muhlhausler defend a version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, with emphasis on the role of language in the creation and maintenance of social relations. Since pronouns are, they believe, the main grammatical devices by which acts of speaking are tied to the persons who are engaged in the conversation, they investigate how pronouns are employed as a means of coming to understand the ways that speech and society are related. Their book has a second simultaneous concern with the social and situational contexts of grammar. Using this approach in the study of pronouns, several assumptions, such as the hypothesis of the independence of grammar, the choice of the sentence as the unit of analysis and the ''substitution'' theory of pronoun use, have all come into question. The conclusions drawn in this book are based on a broad corpus of data from many and diverse cultures, coupled with a survey of the literature concerning this topic.

LL Issue: 14.1205
Date Posted: 29-Apr-2003
Original Query: Read original query


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