This study presents a comparative approach to a universal theory of TENSE,
ASPECT and MOOD, combining the methods of comparative and historical linguistics, fieldwork, text linguistics, and philology. The book is arranged in four parts. Part I: The concepts of TENSE, ASPECT and MOOD;
Part II: The Tibetan system of RELATIVE TENSE and aspectual values, with main sections on Old and Classical Tibetan, "Lhasa" Tibetan, and East
Tibetan (Amdo and Kham); Part III: West Tibetan (Ladakhi, Purik, Balti);
Part IV: The comparative view.
Discussing the similarities and differences of temporal and aspectual concepts, the study rejects the general claim that ASPECT is a linguistic universal and more basic than ABSOLUTE TENSE. Instead of changing the traditional definition of ASPECT, a new linguistic concept, FRAMING, is introduced in order to account for the aspect-like conceptualizations found in, e.g., English. The concept of RELATIVE TENSE or taxis, i.e. the temporal ordering of events in relation to a contextually given reference point, may likewise not be universal, but the author argues that it is much closer to the concept of ABSOLUTE TENSE and thus more likely to be its evolutionary or developmental predecessor than ASPECT.
Among the Tibetan varieties, West Tibetan is unique in having fully grammaticalized the concept of ABSOLUTE TENSE. West Tibetan is compared diachronically with Old and Classical Tibetan (documented since the mid 8th century) and synchronically with several contemporary Tibetan varieties.
The grammaticalized forms of each variety are described on the basis of their employment in discourse. The underlying general function of the
Tibetan verbal system is thus shown to be that of RELATIVE TENSE. Secondary aspectual functions are described for restricted contexts. A special focus on the pragmatic or metaphorical use of present tense constructions in
Tibetan leads to a typology of narrative conventions. The last part also offers some suggestions for the reconstruction of the Proto-Tibetan verb system.
Date of publication: June 2004
Bettina Zeisler is working in a research project at the University of
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