Jo-Wang Lin

in The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195381979
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks


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  • Linguistics
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Language can employ a variety of tense markings to locate situations in time. In some languages, these markings express a past vs. non-past distinction, and in some others a future vs. non-future distinction. However, not all natural languages employ “verb forms” or tense markings to locate situations in time. This article examines the syntax and semantics of some (potentially) tenseless languages, and the ways in which tenselessness is identified. It also discusses possible mechanisms and variations in which temporal location is expressed in tenseless languages, syntactic properties associated with such languages, and possible challenges in establishing that a language is tenseless, with a special focus on Mandarin Chinese, Kalaallisut, and St'át'imcets. After considering the criteria for tenselessness, the article looks at Chinese as a tenseless language, present time reference, past time reference, and future time reference. It also describes four syntactic properties associated with lack of tense: the existence of bare nominal predicates, lack of expletive subjects, lack of finite/non-finite distinction, and lack of case-motivated movement.

Keywords: tenseless languages; tenselessness; tense; syntax; semantics; temporal location; Mandarin Chinese; Kalaallisut; St'át'imcets; time reference

Article.  11014 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Semantics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology

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