Workshop on Tenselessness 2

3rd and 4th October 2019

Free Entrance








Hosted by Centro de LinguĂ­stica da Universidade de Lisboa (CLUL)

in collaboration with

Centre for Research & Enterprise in Language (CREL), University of Greenwich

In this second edition of the series Tenselessness, inaugurated at the University of Greenwich in 2017, we aim to continue the discussion about temporal interpretation that is not rooted in typical tense marking.

Many languages have been argued to be tenseless in some way, e.g., Mandarin Chinese, Salishan Lillooet, Halkomelem, Gitksan in British Columbia, Algonquian Blackfoot in Alberta, Kalaallisut in Greenland, GuaranĂ­ and Ayoreo in Paraguay, Yucatec Maya in Mexico, Navajo in Southern US, or Hausa in West Africa among many others, and the challenge has been to devise what it means to be tenseless, whether lack of morphological tense amounts to lack of syntactic/semantic tense and to identify what other linguistic means procure information that contribute to establishing temporal location.

As is known, the theoretical takes differ. For example, for Blackfoot, while Matthewson (2006) argues that tense content cannot be ruled out, Ritter & Wiltschko (2014) argue that it is deictic features of person and location that constitute the substance of Inflection in that language. For Kalaallisut, Fortescue (1984) posits the existence of tenses but Bittner (2005, 2014) defends that they are inexistent. In the absence of tense, temporal interpretation has been proposed to come about through other categories, e.g., mood in Kalaallisut (Bittner 2014) or Hausa (Mucha 2015) or aspect (Smith & Erbaugh 2005 or Lin 2006, 2012 for Chinese). While the solidarities between aspect and tense have been acknowledged in many languages, whether they are mere tendencies and how exactly this should be formalised (Klein et al 2000) is debated.

Furthermore, parallels between the properties of the clause and those of nominals have been established, with evidence from both well-studied and understudied languages. This comparison has been proposed at various levels, namely the syntactic structure (Abney (1987; Ritter 1991; Longobardi 1994) and the speech act structure (Ritter & Wiltschko 2018), but also the semantic domains of tense, aspect and mood (Lecarme 1996, 2004, 2008; Nordlinger & Saddler 2004; Tonhauser 2006, forthcoming).

This Tenselessness 2 continues the discussion about the lack of overt tense marking in main clauses found in some languages, about those constructions existing in tensed languages that lack tense marking but have a temporal interpretation (e.g., gerunds, participles, infinitival clauses, noun phrases), and about other linguistic units that affect temporal meaning (e.g., prefixes).

Aim of the workshop

To bring together researchers working on tenseless languages, uninflected clauses and other units (e.g., word) together to discuss the following questions concerning tenselessness:

1. What counts as evidence of a null Tense or no Tense at all?

2. How is temporal interpretation obtained and acquired in the absence of explicit cues?

3. How does temporal interpretation work in uninflected cases within tensed languages? What light can this shed onto tenselessness in general?

4. What role does the various temporal interpretations of nominals (both within nominal phrases and nominalized verb forms, such as gerunds) play in this picture?

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