NOMINAL TENSE IN CROSS-LINGUISTIC PERSPECTIVE
AND LOUISA SADLER
University of Melbourne
and University of Essex
November 18, 2003
It is a general assumption in linguistic theory that the categories of tense, as-
pect and mood are inﬂectional categories of verbal classes only.
there are a number of languages around the world in which nominals and other
NP constituents are also inﬂected for tense, aspect and mood (henceforth TAM).
That nominals may be inﬂected for TAM has been noted in the grammatical de-
scriptions of individual languages for some time (e.g. Boas (1947) on Kwaki-
utl, Guasch (1956) and Gregores and Su
arez (1967) on Guaran
ı, Hockett (1958)
on Potawatomi, Firestone (1965) on Sirion
o, among others), and, more recently,
in various typological works (e.g. Anderson 1985, Mel’
cuk 1994, Evans 2000,
Lehmann and Moravcsik 2000, Raible 2001). Nevertheless, the possibility of
TAM as an inﬂectional category of nominals has remained largely omitted from
general linguistic discussion.
The purpose of this paper is therefore to provide a
detailed survey of the phenomenon of nominal TAM and its properties in a variety
of the world’s languages. We argue that, while certainly unusual, the phenomenon
is far less marginal than the general paucity of discussion in the literature might
lead one to expect.
Some parts of this paper build on previous work reported in Nordlinger and Sadler (2000)
and Sadler and Nordlinger (2001). For comments, suggestions and many interesting leads we
thank Alexandra (Sasha) Aikhenvald, D.N.S. Bhat, Joan Bresnan, Alec Coupe, Matthew Dryer,
Nick Evans, Dan Everett, Brent Galloway, John Hajek, Dagmar Jung, Jacqueline Lecarme, Hit-
omi Ono, Bill Palmer, Tom Payne, Nick Piper, Joachim Sabel, Ruth Singer, Andy Spencer, Lesley
Stirling, Judith Tonhauser, audiences of LFG00 and LFG01, and members of the LINGTYP dis-
cussion list. We are especially grateful to Joan Bresnan, Nick Evans, Brian Joseph, Lesley Stirling,
Greg Stump, Judith Tonhauser and two anonymous Language referees for extensive comments on
an earlier version of this paper leading to signiﬁcant improvements in presentation and analysis;
and to Sasha Aikhenvald, Sebastiana Ertel (via Dagmar Jung), Nick Evans, Brent Galloway, P.J.
Mistry, Hitomi Ono, Tom Payne and Joachim Sabel for providing access to unpublished data.
Needless to say, none of these people are to be held responsible for any remaining inadequacies
of this paper, and we apologise if we have not always been able to do justice to their comments.
Nordlinger would like to acknowledge the ﬁnancial support of the Australian Research Council
(APD F9930026) and the University of Melbourne, and Sadler the University of Essex for a period
of sabbatical leave during which this paper was prepared.
Throughout this paper we use the terms ‘nominal’ and ‘nominal constituent’ to refer to either
nouns or other constituents of NP/DPs (e.g. articles, pronouns, etc.). The term ‘nominal TAM’
thus refers to the inﬂectional encoding of tense, aspect or mood information on nouns or any other
The existence of tense/aspect/mood as an inﬂectional category for nominals
has signiﬁcant implications for many aspects of linguistic theory. It challenges
theories of word class categorization which see nouns as inherently time-stable,
and therefore not open to temporal modiﬁcation, unlike verbs (Giv
on 1979, 2001);
as well as those that consider distinct inﬂectional categories to be central to the
establishment of distinct word classes of nouns and verbs. TAM-inﬂected nomi-
nals also have interesting implications for semantic theories that consider nouns to
be semantic predicates with their own temporal interpretation independent of that
of verbs (e.g. Enc¸ (1981, 1986), Musan (1995), among others); and for formal
grammatical architectures that assume that clausal tense information must nec-
essarily be associated with the clausal head (usually the verb). These and other
implications are discussed in further detail in section 4.
The primary purpose of this paper is to establish the existence of the phe-
nomenon of nominal TAM, by demonstrating the formal and functional properties
of TAM marking on nominals in a variety of languages of the world. With this
in mind, we have largely restricted our discussion here to what we take to be the
most central or ‘core’ instances of this phenomenon, namely those cases in which
(constituents of) dependent NPs are inﬂected for (standardly deﬁned) categories of
tense, aspect and/or mood. These constitute the core cases of TAM-inﬂected nomi-
nals since they would seem to preclude traditional analyses that treat tense, aspect
and mood as only inﬂectional properties of verbs, verbal auxiliaries or functional
heads such as particles.
If the encoded TAM category is a part of the inﬂectional
system of the nominal, then it clearly belongs to the NP/DP in the syntax. Fur-
thermore, if the NP/DP in question is a dependent of the clause (i.e. functioning
as an argument or adjunct of a clause headed by a verb), then the presence of TAM
marking can not be attributed to it being a clausal predicate or head.
There are many other ways in which tense, aspect and mood can come to
be associated with nominals which could quite properly be included in a compre-
hensive typology of nominal TAM, but are not discussed here in any great detail.
These include the cross-linguistically common situation in which clausal TAM is
encoded on nominal predicates in verbless clauses. This type of TAM on nominals
is simply the nominal equivalent of regular verbal tense on verbal predicates, and
is therefore less challenging for standard conceptions of TAM, and less interesting
for our present purposes. However, it is clearly an example of the encoding of
Opinions differ as to whether tense, aspect and mood should be considered properties of the
clause itself, or of the clausal head (i.e. the verb). Foley and Van Valin (1984:224) and Van Valin
and LaPolla (1997:47) treat all three differently: for them, aspect is a property of heads (‘nuclear
layer’), tense a property of the clause, and (root) modality a property of the ‘core’ (including
the head and its core arguments). It is important, however, to distinguish between the seman-
tic/syntactic scope of a category, and its morphological realisation. Tense, aspect and mood, when
encoded morphologically in a language, are usually inﬂectional properties of verbs, despite the
fact that their syntactic and semantic scope may be clausal (or otherwise).
regular TAM on nominal constituents. This type of nominal TAM marking is found
in many Austronesian languages (e.g. Mwotlap (Franc¸ois 2003)) and numerous
other languages such as Abaza (O’Herin 1995), Bininj Gun-wok (Evans in press),
Tundra Nenets (Salminen 1997), Turkish (Lehmann and Moravcsik 2000:742),
Tzutujil (Daley 1985, cited in Baker 2003:51), as well as in many of the languages
which we discuss here.
A second type of TAM marking on nominals that will not be discussed in
detail here involves elements which might be considered (clausal) TAM clitics
that are phonologically attached to nominal constituents. Examples include the
Serbo-Croatian auxiliary, and the clitic auxiliary ’ll in English, as in ‘John’ll be
home tomorrow’. Such elements are, by deﬁnition, syntactically and morpholog-
ically independent, attaching to their hosts at a purely prosodic level. Clitics of
this sort (Halpern’s (1995) ‘bound words’) are syntactic rather than inﬂectional
elements, and are therefore excluded from discussion here, though they do raise
many interesting issues in their own right.
Indeed many languages do have ﬂoat-
ing TAM clitics which may attach to a variety of constituents including dependent
NPs. Languages in which such clitics attach to dependent nominals to encode
the TAM for the clause include the Australian language Garrwa (Furby and Furby
1977), and the Arawak languages Apurin
a (Facundes 2000) and Tariana (Aikhen-
vald 2003, see also section 2.1).
Further, we do not consider as examples of nominal TAM such vestiges of
verbal tense/aspect/mood marking as may be retained in deverbal nominalisations.
In Polish, for example, the imperfective/perfective aspectual distinction encoded
with verbs is retained in derived action nominals. Thus, corresponding to the
verbal pair czyta
c (perfective) ‘to read’ are the derived
action nominals czytanie/przeczytanie. While both could be translated into En-
glish as ‘the reading’ (e.g. ‘The reading of the book gave me much pleasure’),
czytanie refers to the process of reading, while przeczytanie refers to the totality
of the act of reading (Comrie and Thompson 1985:363). This aspectual distinction
is clearly an inﬂectional category of the original verb, rather than of the nominal
word class to which the derived forms belong.
The languages discussed in this paper together provide a good illustration of
what we take to be core cases of nominal TAM and share (at least) the following
Of course it may well be that some cases of TAM clitics turn out on closer analysis actually
to be morphological rather then syntactic elements, such as Halpern’s (1995) ‘unusually placed
inﬂectional afﬁxes’, which he terms ‘lexical clitics’. These may therefore be properly treated as
inﬂectional elements in some (extended) model of inﬂection (see for example Anderson’s treat-
ment of clitics as phrasal afﬁxes (Anderson 1993)). In this case, such elements would constitute
further core examples of the phenomenon we address in this paper, butwe err on the side of caution
here in omitting them from the present discussion.
In the interests of space, we illustrate aspects of the phenomenon with a small number of
languages, but end each major section with a listing of all the languages which we have found to
(i) nouns(or other NP/DP constituents) showa distinction in one or more of the
categories of tense, aspect and mood, where these categories are standardly
deﬁned as they would be for verbs (e.g. Crystal 1997);
(ii) this TAM distinction is productive across the whole word class, and not sim-
ply restricted to a small subset of forms;
(iii) the TAM distinction is not restricted to nominals functioning as predicates
of verbless clauses, but is encoded on arguments and/or adjunct NP/DPs in
clauses headed by verbs;
(iv) the TAM marker is a morphological category of the nominal word class, and
cannot be treated as a syntactic clitic that merely attaches to the NP/DP
The encoding of TAM on nominals can have one of two broad functions. In
one it speciﬁes information intrinsic to the nominal itself, independently of the
TAM of the clause. We refer to this type as ‘independent nominal TAM’ (section
Alternatively, it may function to provide TAM information for the whole
proposition, often (but not always) in conjunction with the TAM of the verb. We
term this type ‘propositional nominal TAM’ (section 3). In the remainder of this
paper we discuss the formal and functional properties of these two types in some
detail, exemplifying from a range of typologically and genetically diverse lan-
guages. In section 4 we discuss the implications of this nominal TAM data for
linguistic theory in general.
2 Independent nominal TAM
2.1 Independent nominal tense
Since nominal (semantic) predicates as well as verbal predicates may be tempo-
rally located (e.g. ‘ex-soldier’, ‘former friend’, ‘future President’, ‘wife-to-be’),
date with the relevant type of nominal TAM marking. Since the aim of this paper is not to carry
out a typological survey based on an areal or genetic sampling methodology, the list of languages
we survey here is certainly not exhaustive. Neither is it fully representative in the geographical,
genetic and typological distribution it reﬂects. Nonetheless, we aim to show here something of
the formal and functional properties of TAM marking on nominals and thereby stimulate further
research in the area of TAM-inﬂected nominals, and the use of TAM with other non-verbal con-
stituents more generally.
Thus we exclude forms like ‘ex-’ in English, which apply only to a small semantically deﬁned
class of nominals: ‘ex-wife’, ‘ex-boss’, but not ? ‘ex-dog’, ? ‘ex-desk’. See section 2.1 for further
In precursors of this work this type of nominal TAM-marking was referred to as ‘non-
propositional nominal TAM’.
there is no reason in principle why nominals could not bear TAM inﬂection of their
own. Indeed, contrary to widely-held assumptions, such nominal TAM marking is
attested across a range of languages, including many from North and South Amer-
ica. Nominal TAM inﬂection in this function operates completely independently
of the TAM of the clause, and serves to locate the time at which the property de-
noted by the nominal holds of the referent or, in the case of possessive phrases, the
time at which the possessive relation holds. Thus, it provides temporal informa-
tion local to the NP to which the nominal belongs. In this sense, it is functionally
analogous to regular verbal tense which provides information local to the phrase
headed by the verb (namely, the clause).
A straightforward example of independent nominal TAM inﬂection is pro-
vided by Tariana, an Arawak language from north-west Amazonia, Brazil.
in Tariana can be inﬂected for either past or future tense (unmarked nouns are un-
speciﬁed for tense) (Aikhenvald 2003).
The occurrence of tense morphology on
nominals is very widespread, indeed Aikhenvald reports that around 40% of nouns
in texts are tense-inﬂected.
There is a single form for nominal future tense, -pena, which speciﬁes that
the property denoted by the nominal holds in the future: wa- ima i-pena (1PL-
son.in.law-FUT) ‘our future son-in-law’; pi-ya-dapana-pena (2SG-POSS-house-
FUT) ‘your future house’. Nominal past tense has three forms: miki- i for mas-
culine singular nouns, -miki- u for feminine singular nouns, and -miki for plural
nouns. It is used more with animates than inanimates, but possible with both. Ex-
amples include correio-miki- i (post ofﬁce-PST-NF) ‘old/former post ofﬁce’ and
du-sa-do-miki- u (3SG.NF-spouse-FEM-PST-FEM) ‘his late spouse’ (Aikhenvald
In contrast, propositional tense is encoded via ﬂoating tense/evidentiality cl-
itics, which attach phonologically to the verb or any other focused constituent
(including nominals). The nominal tense system is much simpler than that of the
propositional tense/evidentiality clitics, and the forms are quite distinct from their
propositional counterparts (see Aikhenvald (2003) for discussion).
Examples of the use of these nominal tense markers in regular verbal clauses
are given below. The fact that the temporal reference of the nominal can be inde-
pendent of that of both the verb and the clause within which it appears, is illus-
trated by (2) in which a future tense nominal co-occurs with a verb carrying the
reported remote past clitic:
The data provided is courtesy of Sasha Aikhenvald, and is taken from her grammar (Aikhen-
vald (2003)). At the time of writing the published grammar was not yet available and so we are
unable to provide page numbers for the examples that we cite.
Although Aikhenvald describes these nominal tense markers as clitics they appear inside
oblique case markers, which she considers to be sufﬁxes (Aikhenvald 1999) and so for our pur-
poses are clearly part of the inﬂectional morphology of nouns.
Non-obvious abbreviations in these examples include: AFF ‘afﬁx’, CL.ANIM ‘animate
‘He threw the remains of the eagle (lit. the ‘ex-eagle’, what used to be the
eagle) into water.’
wa ipe e
‘Thus Walipere was planning the future ﬂood.’
Such data raises the question of how (or even whether) this type of nominal
tense marking is to be distinguished from derivational afﬁxes such as the English
‘ex-’ (e.g. ‘ex-husband’, ‘ex-President’). The distinction is not at all straightfor-
ward – the two types of afﬁxes clearly cover some of the same semantic ground
– but it is possible to identify some signiﬁcant differences.
nominal tense markers are fully productive, inﬂectional afﬁxes that attach to all
(regular) members of the nominal word class. The preﬁx ‘ex-’ in English, on
the other hand, is quite restricted in its semantics and more clearly derivational
in function. It is most common with nouns denoting occupations (‘ex-President’,
‘ex-director’, ‘ex-teacher’) and non-kin relationships (‘ex-wife’, ‘ex-boyfriend’).
It is substantially less appropriate with common nouns such as ‘dog’ and ‘house’
(?ex-dog, ?ex-house). Such restrictions are not found in the true nominal tense
examples, as can be veriﬁed in the examples throughout this section. Further
evidence for the inﬂectional status of nominal tense afﬁxes can be found on a
language speciﬁc basis. In some languages nominal tense forms portmanteaux
with other inﬂectional nominal categories, such as possession and deﬁniteness
(see the discussions of Hixkaryana and Somali below, respectively). In some lan-
guages independent nominal tense is encoded with the same afﬁxes that are used
to encode regular verbal tense with verbs (see the discussion of Potawatomi and
Halkomelem Salish below, for example). And in other languages independent
nominal tense can be shown to be syntactically active, triggering adjectival agree-
ment (see Somali).
A similar nominal tense constrast to Tariana is found in Guaran
ı, a Tup
ı language which is widely spoken in Paraguay (Guasch 1956, Gregores
arez 1967, de Canese 1983, see also the brief discussion in Mel’
ı has the nominal tense sufﬁxes -kw
e PST (sometimes -r
FUT and -rangue for a future which is not to be realized (that is, an irrealis future),
which occur on nominal arguments and on nominalisations. Examples include:
classiﬁer’, DEM.ANIM ‘demonstrative animate’, NF ‘non-feminine’, PAUS ‘pausal’, PRES.VIS
‘present visible’, REL ‘relative’, REM.P.REP ‘remote past reported’, TOP.ADV ‘topic advancement’,
TOP.NON.A/S ‘topical non-subject clitic’.
We are grateful to Matthew Dryer for discussion of some of these issues.
For the typesetters: a here and in example (4) should be
a with ´ superimposed.
‘his former house’ (Gregores and Su
‘his future work’ (ibid)
maker of clothes-PST
‘the one who made the clothes’ (ibid)
In possessive examples such as (3) and (4), there are two semantic predi-
cates with respect to which the tense marker may logically be interpreted. One
possibility is that the tense marker temporally locates the nominal referent itself
(e.g. ‘former house’). Another possibility is that the tense marker refers not to
the nominal, but rather provides the time at which the possessive relation holds
(e.g. ‘formerly possessed’). These Guaran
ı examples are in fact ambiguous: ex-
ample (3) can mean either ‘my thing which used to be a house (e.g. it has burned
down)’ or ‘the house which used to be mine (but now belongs to somebody else)’.
Such ambiguity appears to hold in the large majority of languages which combine
independent nominal TAM marking with possessor inﬂection (including Tariana
The independence of the nominal tense from the TAM of the whole proposi-
tion in Guaran
ı is illustrated by the following examples, in which the propositional
and nominal tense vary independently of each other.
‘He will move into my former house.’
‘I have moved into his future house.’
In the above languages, the independent nominal tense system is formally
distinct from the tense marking system of verbs. However, if such nominal inﬂec-
tion is truly encoding tense categories similar to those more familiarly encoded
on verbs, then we might expect to ﬁnd the same markers encoding tense cate-
gories with both nouns and verbs. This has in fact been reported for a number
The following Guaran
ı examples, including (37) below, were kindly collected for us by Dag-
mar Jung from Sebastiana Ertel, a native speaker of Guaran
ı from Asunci
on now resident in
Cologne, Germany. The examples from Gregores and Su
arez (1967) ((3) - (5)) are written in
what was at the time standard Guaran
ı orthography, while the informant data is represented in the
current standard orthography.
of North American languages including Potawatomi (Hockett 1958), Kwakw’ala
(Anderson 1985) and Halkomelem Salish (Galloway1993, Burton 1997).
ett provides the following illustrative examples from Potawatomi (1958:238):
(8) a. nk
‘I am happy (verb)’
sats p n
‘I was formerly happy (but not now)’
(9) a. n
‘my canoe (noun)’
‘my former canoe, now lost, destroyed, or stolen’
Brent Galloway (p.c.) provides examples from Halkomelem Salish showing
that both nouns and verbs can be tense-inﬂected (with the same set of forms) in the
same clause. The tense-inﬂection on the verb (or verbal auxiliary) encodes propo-
sitional tense, and that on the noun encodes independent nominal tense. Example
(10) contains both propositional past tense marking (encoded on the negative aux-
iliary) and independent nominal past tense marking (encoded on the object NP),
thus illustrating that the same form can be used in two functions in the same
‘He didn’t see my late grandmother.’ (Brent Galloway, p.c.)
This is contrasted with the following example, in which the object NP re-
mains in the past tense while the verb is encoded for future tense. This clearly
demonstrates that the nominal and verbal tense systems are independent of each
other (despite the identity of form), otherwise we would expect such cases of con-
ﬂict in tense values to result in ungrammaticality.
‘ I’ll be dreaming about my late grandmother.’ (Brent Galloway, p.c.)
Outside of North America, the use of a single set of tense markers to encode both regular
tense on verbs and independent tense on nominals has been reported for the Amazonian language
Jarawara (Dixon 2004).
Interestingly, Joseph (1979) discusses the use of a similar sufﬁx in Cree (-ipan), which also
means ‘former, past’. However, in Cree the marker is more similar to English ‘ex-’, being possible
only with nouns that denote living entities. Thus nimos
om-ipan ‘my late grandfather’ is possible,
but not *nitospw
akan-ipan ‘my former pipe’.
2.2 Independent nominal tense and possession
In the languages discussed above, we’ve seen examples in which the interpreta-
tion of the nominal tense inﬂection is ambiguous between the temporal location
of the nominal referent itself, or the temporal location of the possessive relation
of which the nominal is the object. In some languages this latter use has been
grammaticised such that it is the only interpretation possible for nominal tense
inﬂection. This is the case for many Carib languages, and we illustrate this for
Hixkaryana (Derbyshire 1979,1999).
In Hixkaryana independent nominal tense is expressed with a series of port-
manteau nominal sufﬁxes which mark present, past and remote past possession,
The possessor is coded by a preﬁx which expresses person,
and which co-occurs with the sufﬁxal possession/tense markers. Here the tense
marker serves to temporally locate the possessive relation, rather than the prop-
erty denoted by the nominal, so that ro-kanawa-tho ‘1-canoe-POSS.PAST’ means
‘canoe which used to be mine’, rather than ‘my thing which used to be a canoe’.
The following examples are provided by Derbyshire (1979:98-99).
‘the canoe that used to be mine’
(15) ow-wo-t -th
‘that meat which used to be yours’
(16) -he-t e
(17) -he-t e-nh r
‘his former wife’
Similar facts to the Hixkaryana ones discussed here pertain in the other Carib languages in-
cluding Apalai (Koehn and Koehn 1986), Macushi (Abbott 1991), Wai Wai, Carib, Dekwana, Trio,
and Wayana (Derbyshire 1999).
According to Derbyshire (1999) the depossession sufﬁx appears (although rarely) on inalien-
ably possessed nouns to indicate more general reference.
In the examples in this section, some minor alterations have been made in the glosses in order
to increase glossing consistency across the languages discussed. Non-obvious abbreviations in
these examples include DEV ‘devalued’, REM ‘remote’. Note that the simple past sufﬁx normally
follows all allomorphs of the possessor sufﬁx except r , which it replaces. When this occurs we
gloss it as POSS.PST.
(19) -katxho-ø-th r
‘his old things’
The following examples show nominal and verbal tense marking varying in-
dependently – present possession on a nominal co-occurs with verbal past tense.
‘You took my canoe, the canoe that belongs to me’ (ibid:129, 288)
‘I went with Waraka’s brother’ (ibid:11, 22b)
2.3 Independent nominal mood and evidentiality
In all of the languages with independent nominal TAM systems that we have dis-
cussed above, the only TAM category encoded is the category of tense. In fact,
all languages we have found with some independent nominal TAM encode min-
imally the distinction between past and non-past tense. In some languages this
is the only distinction encoded (e.g. Hixkaryana); others have a future tense also
(e.g. Tariana, Guaran
ı). We have found no languages in which independent aspect
is marked on nominals.
However, there appears to be no principled reason as
to why this should be the case, given that such meanings can be encoded by ad-
jectives in languages without inﬂectional nominal TAM systems (e.g. my ongoing
journey, my completed journey, my continuing journey), and may simply be an
accidental gap in the data. It is possible, however, for languages to encode (some)
independent mood information on nominals. Two such languages include Iat
which marks possibility, and Nambiquara which marks evidentiality.
however, these languages also mark nominals for independent tense.
e (sometimes Yat
e) is a Macro-J
e language spoken in the vicinity of Per-
nambuco (Brazil). According to Lapenda (1968), nouns in Iat
e can be inﬂected
for one of three tenses (past, present and future) and one of two moods (‘realis’
The system of verbal tense marking in Hixkaryana is considerably complex, see Derbyshire
(1979: 136) for details.
In one language, Jarawara (Dixon 2004), a sufﬁx glossed ‘habitual, customary’ is used with a
predicate nominal in apparent independent function, see (36) below. While this sufﬁx appears to
have an aspectual meaning, it does not form part of a systematic aspectual contrast in the language,
and so we do not consider it to be a clear-cut example of independent aspect on nominals.
Jarawara also marks nominals for independent mood and evidentiality, see Dixon (2004).
and ‘possible’). The realis mood (which is unmarked) has three tenses (with the
present also unmarked), and the possible mood has just two: present and past. The
different possibilities and their meanings are given in Table 1, using the noun seti
‘house’. Note that the possible mood forms involve taking the realis equivalent
and adding the sufﬁx -k
a (Lapenda 1968:77).
Table 1: Nominal tense and mood sufﬁxes in Iat
pres seti that which is a house or serving as a house
e that which was once a house;
that which stopped being a house
eti-he future house, will be a house;
house which is being built
a a possible house; something which has the
possibility of being a house
past se‘ti-s -k
a something which would have been a house but wasn’t;
something which had the possibility of being a house
Non-propositional evidentiality on nominals (in combination with tense) is
reported by Lowe (1999) for Nambiquara, a small family of dialects from the
Northern Mato Grosso, Brazil. According to Lowe, nouns in Nambiquara are
optionally sufﬁxed for deﬁniteness, and deﬁnite nouns may be further inﬂected
for tense and evidentiality, using a distinct set of forms from those used with
verbs (Lowe 1999:275).
The relevant sufﬁxes found on Nambiquara deﬁnite
nouns are listed in Table 2 (after Lowe 1999:282) in which ‘unmarked’ seems to
contrast with ‘current’ (which Lowe interprets as ‘at the time and place reached
in the discourse’). Examples of the use of these afﬁxes are given below:
‘This manioc root that both you and I saw recently.’ (Lowe: 1999:282,
The past tense morph in the ‘possible past’ is a regularly conditioned allomorph of the past
tense sufﬁx -s
Although Lowe notes that only a limited number of tense and evidentiality combinations are
attested in his (large) corpus (1999:282).
The superscripted numbers in these examples are tone markers.
‘The manioc root that must have been at some time past, as inferred by
me (but not by you).’ (ibid:282,35)
‘Today I planted the manioc roots that we both saw earlier in the day.’
Table 2: Nambiquara Deﬁnite Nominal Endings
observational,recent past, given
observational, mid past, given
observational, mid past, new
a inferential, deﬁnite, unmarked
quotative, mid past, given
Note however that in another grammatical description of this language by
, there is no mention of evidentiality being encoded on nouns at
all. Kroeker mentions only the use of tense on nouns, providing examples such as
the following (2001:45-46):
(25) a. wxa
‘your bow (that you had in the past)’
For the typesetters: The
ı in the ﬁnal word of the last example has also got a ˜ underneath it
(as well as one on top).
In this description, the language name is spelt Nambikuara.
Some of these tense forms clearly resemble the ‘observational’ tense and
evidentiality sufﬁxes of Lowe, but are only described as tense markers by Kroeker.
Further research is required to determine the exact nature of the nominal TAM
morphology in this language (that is, it is not clear whether these are differences
of dialect or analysis).
The nominal TAM systems of Iat
e and Nambiquara demonstrate that mood
and evidentiality may be non-propositional, modifying a nominal independently
of the mood of the proposition as a whole. However, these languages exhibit
only a small subset of the range of mood/evidentiality distinctions associated
with verbal constituents cross-linguistically. An important question for further
research is whether there are any restrictions on the moods that can function non-
propositionally, and what these restrictions may be.
2.4 Independent nominal tense and deﬁniteness
While the large majority of languages we have found with independent nominal
TAM are from the Americas, languages from other parts of the world also exhibit
this type of tense marking.
A particularly intricate example of independent nominal tense is found in
the Cushitic language of Somali, in which tense interacts morphologically with
the nominal category of deﬁniteness, a phenomenon which we have already men-
tioned in connection with Nambiquara. Lecarme provides extensive discussion
of this phenomenon in a series of papers (Lecarme 1996, 1999), and so we il-
lustrate it only brieﬂy in this section. In Somali, deﬁnite determiners encode a
past/non-past distinction for tense, as shown in Table 3 (Lecarme 1999: 335)
Table 3: Somali Deﬁnite Articles
Case NON-PAST PAST
NOM -ku/-tu -kii/-tii
NON-NOM -ka/-ta -kii/-tii
The tensed determiners shown in this table are in paradigmatic opposition
with a separate deictic system involving near/far demonstratives, which do not
have a temporal interpretation. Somali also has a set of possessive determiners
which are sufﬁxed to nominal heads which do show past/nonpast distinctions: g
‘your house’ g
aagii ‘your house.PST’ (Saeed 1999:115), with the meaning
‘your former house’.
The k-initial forms occur with masculine stems, and the t-initial forms with feminine stems.
It is not clear from Saeed’s description whether these constructions have the same ambiguity–
The following examples illustrate the basic system. The use of the non-past
determiner in (26) ia appropriate where the crisis is ongoing, while in (27) the
head noun is inﬂected with a past tense determiner, which locates the nominal
reference in the past (note that we follow Lecarme’s glossing practice in providing
an explicit morphemic gloss only for the past tense).
‘The crisis of the Gulf still persists.’ (Lecarme 1999:335)
‘The (past) crisis of the Gulf ended.’ (ibid)
Similarly the choice of determiner in (28) and (29) depends on whether the
speaker believes the exhibition is closed or open at utterance time. These exam-
ples also demonstrate the independence of the nominal and propositional tense
systems. In (28) and (29), for example, the propositional tense (as marked on the
verb) remains the same, while the nominal tense varies to signal the change in
meaning (Ut = utterance time).
‘Have you seen the exhibition (closed at Ut)?’ (Lecarme 1999:338)
’Have you seen the exhibition (still running at Ut)?’ (ibid:338)
One of the particularly interesting aspects of independent nominal tense in
Somali is that it is an agreement category within the NP: attributive adjectives
agree in tense (and gender) with the nominal that they modify, sharing the tense
endings of the highly irregular verb ‘be’ (ø -PST, -aa PST.M, -ayd PST.F) (Lecarme
1996:4, 1999:343). This is the only language we have found which shows agree-
ment in independent nominal tense. The following examples show gender and
tense agreement with masculine singular and feminine plural nouns respectively.
Tense concord of this type provides very clear evidence that (nominal) tense mark-
ing is an inﬂectional property in Somali DPs.
i.e. between ‘house which used to be mine’ and ‘my thing which used to be a house’–discussed
above for many other languages with independent nominal TAM.
Number may be marked through optional reduplication in Somali adjectives.
the good student
(31) a. ard
the good students
Further evidence that deﬁnite determiners in Somali have a temporal function
comes from their interaction with overt temporal modiﬁers, which must occur
with a matching tense marking. In the examples below, the temporal modiﬁer
‘next year’ selects a non-past determiner, while ‘last year’ selects a past deter-
last year (Lecarme 1999:342)
The past tense marking on Somali determiners interacts with the discourse
in ways that extend what we have reported for other languages in the discussion
so far, and which raise many open questions for future research. In (35), for ex-
ample, the past tense marked noun does not have the interpretation ‘ex-students’,
but rather is used anaphorically to refer to a past time already mentioned in the
discourse and taken as the reference point (Lecarme 1999).
‘The students (who are present/I am telling you about) did not understand
‘The students (I told you about) are present.’ (ibid:335)
The discourse interaction of nominal TAM inﬂection in Somali is possibly
linked with its association with deﬁnite determiners, which have, by deﬁnition, a
strong discourse function and are frequently anaphoric (Giv
A full discussion of the semantic relationship between nominal tense and determiners is be-
2.5 Tense Stacking
In a small number of the languages with independent nominal TAM we ﬁnd ex-
amples of tense stacking of a rather different nature than the simple combina-
tion of tense and mood/evidentiality exempliﬁed above for Iat
e and Nambiquara.
These more complex cases involve scoped sequences of TAM markers attached
to a single nominal and are thus morphologically encoded equivalents of English
complex phrases such as ‘future ex-husband’ or ‘former future President’. This
sort of stacking appears to be possible in (at least) one Tup
Tupinamba, which is mentioned brieﬂy by Lehmann and Moravcsik (2000). The
nominal TAM system in Tupinamba appears largely similar to that of Guaran
as described above, although Tupinamba is reported to have no TAM marking on
verbs, showing that nominal TAM inﬂection can exist in a language independently
of verbal TAM inﬂection. Lehmann and Moravcsik (2000:742) provide (only) the
following examples showing the use of past and future tense with nominals: r
er-a ‘former house’, r
am-a ‘future house’. In addition they
provide one example which appears to contain two tense markers, future and past:
er-a ‘what was to be a house, ex-future house’. The translation implies
that the outer sufﬁx (past) has scope over the inner tense sufﬁx (future), that is, the
property of being a future house is temporally situated at some point in the past.
This appears to be an example of the stacking of two independent nominal tense
markers on a single nominal stem.
A similar example is found in the Amazonian language Jarawara (Araw
The following example shows a nominal inﬂected with the ‘customary’ marker
(glossed HAB) plus future tense plus past tense.
‘She was to become (his) wife’ (Dixon 2004)
As with the Tupinamba example, the outer past tense sufﬁx here has scope
yond the scope of this paper, but it is a topic in need of much further research. Other languages
which show a type of association between nominal determiners and tense marking include Mao
Naga (Tibeto-Burman), in which nominal sufﬁxes marking spatial deixis can also be used to
encode certain independent nominal tense distinctions with some nouns (Giridhar 1994:118-9);
Iraqw (Cushitic), in which determiners encode clausal tense distinctions when used discourse-
anaphorically (Mous 1993:90); Jingulu (non-Pama-Nyungan) in which clausal tense markers have
grammaticalised into nominal sufﬁxes encoding spatial deixis (Pensalﬁni 1997, 2002); and Wari
which has two sets of demonstrative pronouns, one set encoding spatial distinctions (proximate to
speaker, proximate to hearer, distal) and one set encoding some sort of temporal orientation (just
occured, recently absent, long absent) (Everett and Kern 1999:306ff). Of course, since the deictic
and anaphoric functions of tense and deﬁniteness are rather similar, ﬁnding a direct relationship
between tense and the determiner system is not surprising, but we leave further discussion of this
issue for future research.
The gloss IPnf stands for ’Immediate Past, non-eyewitness evidentiality, feminine gender’.
over the inner future tense sufﬁx, locating the property of being a ‘future wife’ in
the past. In this example, however, the nominal is functioning as the predicate of a
dependent clause, as indicated by the -hi sufﬁx (Dixon 2004). Since propositional
TAM (on both verbs and nominal predicates) is encoded with the same set of forms
as independent nominal TAM in Jarawara, it is actually not possible to determine
whether the outer tense sufﬁx has an independent or propositional tense function
here. That is, this may constitute an example of the stacking of two independent
nominal TAM markers (as in the Tupinamba example above), or it may in fact
demonstrate the stacking of an independent nominal TAM marker and a proposi-
tional TAM marker encoding the tense for the proposition as a whole. Since the
clause and the nominal are identical in this case, the two analyses are essentially
The stacking of independent tense and propositional tense on nominal predi-
cates is, however, more clearly attested for other languages in which independent
nominal TAM and propositional TAM have distinct forms. Consider the following
example from Guaran
‘It is my future house, it will be my future house.’ (Dagmar Jung, pc)
In this example there are two tense inﬂections on the nominal. The ﬁrst
encodes independent nominal tense temporally locating the referent of the nomi-
nal itself (‘future house’). The second tense marker, on the other hand, marks the
tense of the clause, using a member of the verbal tense series (hence the difference
in form). Example (38) repeated from above, shows this second, propositional
tense sufﬁx in its usual function, on a verbal predicate.
‘He will move into my former house.’ (Dagmar Jung, pc)
Predicate nominals carrying (independent) nominal tense inﬂections and also
hosting propositional tense clitics are found in the Amazonian language Tariana
(Aikhenvald 2003). In Tariana, propositional tense is encoded with a series of
tense/evidentiality clitics that attach to the verb or any other focused constituent,
including nominals (Aikhenvald 2003). When the nominal is also inﬂected with
an independent nominal tense marker, this gives rise to tense stacking similar to
that in Guaran
ı. In the following examples the predicate nominal carries both a
nominal tense sufﬁx (marking future tense in (39) and past tense in (40)) and the
‘present visual’ clitic encoding the tense and evidentiality of the clause as a whole.
‘This is your future house (I can see it).’
(40) Pi-ya-dapana-miki- i=naka.
‘This is what used to be your house (I can see it).’
The phenomenon of tense stacking is a particularly intriguing aspect of nom-
inal TAM marking, and future research is needed to determine just how widespread
this phenomenon is. While the stacking of independent and propositional tense on
nominal predicates is clearly established by examples such as (37) from Guaran
it would be desirable to have more conclusive examples of the stacking of two
independent markers, as in Tupinamba. In particular, it is crucial to have data in
which double independent TAM marking is found on a dependent nominal in a
sentence, and can be clearly shown to be distinct from the propositional TAM. It
remains to be seen whether future research into nominal TAM systems will reveal
such tense stacking patterns.
2.6 Summary on Independent Nominal TAM
Table 4 summarises all of the core cases of independent nominal TAM discussed
Table 4: Languages with Independent Nominal TAM
Language Family Tenses Mood/Evid Prop TAM Same Aff
Tariana Arawak Pst, Fut - Yes (clitic) No
ı Pst, Fut, IrrFut - Yes No
ı Pst, Fut - No N/A
Carib Pres, Pst, RemP - Yes No
e Pst, Pres, Fut Real, Poss ?? ??
Nambiquara Nambiquaran RecP, MidP, Curr Obser, Infer, Quot Yes No
Somali Cushitic Pst, NonPst - Yes No
Potawatomi Algonquian Pst, ?? ?? Yes Yes
Kwakw’ala Northern Wakashan RecP, FarP, Fut, ?? ?? Yes Yes
Halkomelem Salish Pst, Fut - Yes Yes
a RecP, FarP, IP, Fut Rep, Irr, Int, Hypoth Yes Yes
Chapakuran ImmP, RecP, FarP - Yes No
Prop TAM = do sentences containing independent nominal tense also contain verbal tense?
Same Aff = are the same afﬁxes used to encode independent TAM on nominals and propositional
TAM in verbs?
?? = information not available in our source
Also the other Carib languages Apalai (Koehn and Koehn 1986), Macushi (Abbott 1991), Wai
Wai, Carib, Dekwana, Trio and Wayana (Derbyshire 1999), which appear to be similar in this
The tense sufﬁxes -s
e (PAST) and -he (FUT) are listed by Lapenda as appearing on verbs
(Lapenda:105-106). However elsewhere in his description he distinguishes between the relative
form of the verb (which he takes to be a pure verb) and the absolute form of the verb, which can
function as a verbal noun and take nominal temporal sufﬁxes. Further work is clearly required to
determine the syntactic categorial status of the verbal forms in the examples he provides showing
verbs and nouns with the same temporal afﬁxes. In addition to these afﬁxes, Iat
e verbs may code
a complex set of aspectual distinctions, not encoded by nominals.
Attributive adjectives also inﬂect for tense, taking the same tense endings as the (irregular) verb
Clausal past tense can also be speciﬁed by one of three sentence-ﬁnal particles which have the
same form and function as the temporal proclitics used with demonstratives (Everett and Kern
From this table we can make the following observations.
languages with nominal TAM also have verbal TAM, although the markers may or
may not be the same. Furthermore, in no language does the nominal TAM sys-
tem encode more distinctions than the corresponding verbal system. Thirdly, all
languages with nominal TAM encode (at least) a tense distinction, and all tense
distinctions encode (at least) past vs. non-past tense. Thus, it appears that if a lan-
guage has independent nominal TAM at all, it will encode minimally a distinction
between past and non-past tense. Finally, while this is certainly not a large sample
of languages, it does contain languages from a range of genetic and areal group-
ings. This shows that the phenomenon of independent nominal TAM cannot be
attributed to a quirk of a single language family or particular geographic region,
but rather is a possibility (albeit unusual) for languages more generally.
3 Propositional TAM on Dependent Nominals
Cross-linguistically we ﬁnd a second type of TAM-marking on nominals, whereby
the nominal morphology contributes TAM information relevant to the clause as a
whole. When attached to dependent nominals (i.e. argument and adjunct NPs in
verb-headed clauses), propositional nominal TAM involves a non-local interpreta-
tion of the TAM marker. That is, it is not semantically interpreted with respect to
the nominal to which it is attached (as in cases of independent nominal TAM), but
rather with respect to the higher clause within which it is embedded. This type of
nominal TAM marking is therefore quite distinct from independent nominal TAM,
in which the TAM information encoded on the nominal is interpreted with respect
to the nominal itself, independently of that of the proposition. The existence of
propositional TAM on dependent nominals is particularly challenging for many
These are necessarily tentative due to the small number of languages in the sample. However,
we hope that they may be useful as the starting point for further research on the topic.
Or possibly all languages – the only counter-example is Tupinamba for which we have very
little information and no sentence examples.
theories of grammatical structure which assume that clause-level information (i.e.
that which pertains to the whole clause or proposition) must necessarily be asso-
ciated with clausal heads, not dependents (see Nordlinger and Sadler (2000, to
appear), and section 4 for discussion).
The encoding of propositional TAM on dependent nominals takes various
forms cross-linguistically. In some languages it works in conjunction with the
verb to fully specify the TAM value for the clause (section 3.1) and in others it
can be the sole exponent of the TAM distinction, showing that it is not necessary
for such nominal TAM marking to be mediated through the verbal head at all (sec-
tion 3.2). In a number of languages, propositional TAM is found on all types of
nominal, while in other languages it is restricted to pronominals (section 3.3).
3.1 In conjunction with verbal TAM
In their discussion of tense marking on nouns, Lehmann and Moravcsik (2000)
allow only for the independent function of nominal tense discussed in section 2.1,
“[w]hile there may be agreement between a nominal dependent and
its verb in other categories, tense is not an agreement category. Even
where both the noun and the verb have tense, tense is selected inde-
pendently for a verb and its nominal dependents, as in My ex-wife is
visiting me, my future wife visited me, etc.” (p. 742)
However, Evans (2003) shows convincingly that such tense agreement is in
fact found in the Tangkic languages of northern Australia, particularly in Lardil
and Kayardild. In these languages, case marking morphology is used to (partially)
encode the TAM value for the clause, in conjunction with TAM marking on the
verb. Consider the following examples from Lardil, in which objects (and other
non-subject dependents, see below) are inﬂected with one of three possible ob-
jective case markers depending on whether the verb is in the ‘general non-future’
form (41), the marked non-future tense form (42),
or the future tense form (43)
(Klokeid 1976, Hale 1997):
According to Klokeid (1976:475ff) the meaning differences between the general non-future
form in (41) and the marked non-future form in (42) are fairly subtle; the main difference is
that the general non-future form can be interpreted relative to a time already established in the
discourse, whereas the marked non-future has only absolute time reference. Thus, the former is
more appropriate in extended (non-future) discourse, for example (p. 476).
Richards (2001) discusses the many grammatical differences that exist between present-day
Lardil (his ‘New Lardil’) and the Lardil of the 1960s when Ken Hale did his early ﬁeldwork (his
‘Old Lardil’). The case/tense properties discussed here are features of Old Lardil.
‘I gave him a spear.’ (Klokeid 1976:476, 56a)
‘I gave him a spear’ (ibid:476, 56b)
‘I’ll give you this boomerang tomorrow.’ (ibid:493, 91b)
These case markers also appear on other non-subject complements, following
the regular semantic case inﬂection. These examples therefore involve a form of
the case stacking well known in Australian languages (e.g. Dench and Evans 1988,
Plank (ed.) (1995), Nordlinger 1998)). In (44) the instrumental NP ‘his wife’
is inﬂected with two case markers: ﬁrst the instrumental case marker encoding
its grammatical function within the clause, and then the future objective case in
agreement with the future tense of the verb.
‘I will steal his wife for him.’ (Hale 1997:201)
Nominal TAM in Lardil, then, is effected through the use of a particular set
of case markers which interact with the TAM inﬂections of the verb. These case
markers combine expression of temporal information with regular relational case
for direct objects, and are placed outside semantic case inﬂections for other non-
subject complements. Although, for the most part, the TAM-related case markers
appear to simply copy the TAM inﬂection of the verb, the two can in fact be shown
to operate independently of each other. Firstly, the verbal TAM markers have dis-
tinct forms marking negative polarity, while the corresponding nominal TAM/case
sufﬁxes appear in the same form irrespective of polarity:
‘I will catch a ﬁsh.’
‘I will not catch a ﬁsh.’ (Hale 1997:36)
Secondly, the same general non-future verb form is used with both non-future
tense and imperative mood. The two are differentiated however, through the case
marking of the object which is nominative for the imperative use (47) and (plain)
objective otherwise (41). Such examples show clearly that it is the interaction
between the nominal and verbal morphology that fully speciﬁes the propositional
TAM in Lardil.
‘(You) hit that person.’ (Hale 1997:21)
The existence of TAM as an inﬂectional category of nominals is even more
evident in the related language Kayardild, which has an elaborate system of TAM-
sensitive case marking.
Kayardild has ﬁve ‘modal’ cases (Evans 1995) which, as
in Lardil, occur on objects and other non-subject NPs, and interact with different
verbal inﬂections to encode the tense/mood value for the clause as a whole. This
interaction is illustrated in the following examples:
(48) a. Ngada
‘I won’t be able to see the sea (tomorrow).’ (Evans 1995:404, 10-12)
‘I could not see the sea (yesterday).’ (Evans 1995:404, 10-13)
In these examples the the verbal inﬂection remains constant, and it is through
the different modal case inﬂections that the clausal tense/mood distinction is en-
coded. The ‘negative potential’ verbal inﬂection is used here with its meaning of
‘inability’: combining with the “future” meaning of the modal proprietive case
marker in (48a) places this inability in the future, while combining with the “in-
stantiated” meaning of the modal locative in (48b) expresses that there was a real
occasion, yesterday, when the inability existed (Evans 1995:404). Note further
that the modal case is not just restricted to arguments, but is found on all non-
subject NPs, including sentential adjuncts such as ‘tomorrow’ (48a) and ‘yes-
terday’ (48b). This indicates that it is not simply a VP-based phenomenon, nor
selection by the verb for properties of its arguments.
The following examples with the apprehensive verbal inﬂection provide fur-
ther exempliﬁcation of the role of the modal case category in determining clausal
tense and mood features:
This complex system is described and discussed in detail by Evans (1995, 2003), to which the
reader is referred for further information. In the interests of space, we illustrate it only partially
Following Evans (1995), we indicate that these cases are in modal function with an initial M.
in their gloss. Thus, M.LOC stands for ‘locative case in modal function’ (these modal cases all
have regular case functions as well which determines the choice of case name).
(49) a. Warrjawarri
‘Unhurriedly I lifted the bark torch, in case (the diver birds) should
see me and ﬂy off.’ (Evans 1995: 404, 10-14)
‘Don’t you throw the boomerang, or I’ll throw one at you.’ (ibid:405,
‘(Look out), the embers are jumping into the bush, it might burn.’
The basic use of the apprehensive verbal inﬂection APPR is to express that
the event is (or would be) unpleasant, and for this the oblique modal case is used,
as with ngijin-inj (1.SGPOSS-M.OBL), the object of kurri-nyarra (see-APPR) in
(49a). In (49b) on the other hand, the modal proprietive (which expresses “future”
meanings) is used to stress the speaker’s certainty of being able to effect an un-
pleasant retaliation. Finally, in (49c), the unpleasant event is actually taking place,
and so the modal locative is used to indicate the reality of the occurrence (Evans
The examples in (48) and (49) show clearly that there is not always a one-
to-one relationship between the modal case category and the verbal tense/mood
inﬂection that it co-occurs with. Here we have examples of both the same verbal
inﬂection co-occurring with different modal case categories (as in the examples
in (48) or (49)), and of the same modal case category co-occurring with different
verbal inﬂections (e.g. the modal proprietive in (48a) and (49b)). Table 5 shows
the various combinations illustrated here (see Evans 1995 for further possibilities).
Table 5: Modal Case and Verbal Inﬂection in Kayardild
M.LOC past inability real ongoing unpleasant event
M.OBL pres/irr unpleasant event
M.PROP future inability certain (future) unpleasant event
Thus, the modal case category cannot be treated as simple concord with the
verbal TAM inﬂection. Rather, the two are independent systems with different
semantic values which work in combination to provide a composite tense/mood
value for the whole clause (see Evans (1995: Chapter 10) for a full discussion).
Further evidence of the distinction between the verbal TAM system and that
of the modal case markers is the fact that modal case can appear in clauses which
have no verb at all, yet still encoding the same TAM information:
‘I will (go) to that stone.’ (Evans 1995:403, 10-7)
‘When did you (come back) from the north?’ (ibid:403, 10-8)
The fact that the modal case system in Kayardild is distinct from the system
of verbal TAM inﬂection shows clearly that TAM (as encoded by modal case) is a
meaningful inﬂectional category of nominals in this language.
The Pama-Nyungan Australian language Pitta Pitta shows a somewhat differ-
ent type of interaction between the case and TAM system. In Pitta Pitta, nominal
case marking on subjects, objects and instruments encodes a distinction between
future and non-future tense (Blake 1979) while the verb itself makes a three-
way distinction between present(-ya), past (-ka) and future (unmarked)(Blake
1979:201-2). Additionally, the case marking system itself differs according to
the tense of the clause: future tense involves a nominative/accusative case dis-
tinction, and non-future a three-way distinction between intransitive subject (S),
transitive subject (A) and object (O). The forms are shown in Table 6 (after Blake
Table 6: Pitta Pitta case/tense sufﬁxes
S A O Inst
Non-Future -∅ -lu -nha -lu
Future -ngu -ngu -ku -ngu
The case alternations on subjects (52-53) and objects (54-55) and their inter-
actions with the tense of the verb are illustrated by the following examples.
Blake (1979) does however note that the non-future object form -nha is used by some of his
language consultants for future tense also, alongside the speciﬁcally future tense form -ku.
‘Mother’s going for (to get) nardoo (edible plant sp.) with a knife.’ (Blake
‘Mother will go for (to get) nardoo with a knife.’ (ibid:60, 4.13)
‘Mother gave us the doctor’s meat.’ (ibid, 4.12)
‘Mother will give us the doctor’s meat.’ (ibid, 4.14)
This interaction between case/tense marking and verbal TAM marking in Pitta
Pitta is reminiscent of the well-known aspectually-based ergative systems of many
South East Asian languages (e.g. Gujarati (Mistry 2001), Urdu/Hindi (Mohanan
1994, Butt and King to appear), Punjabi (Bhatia 1993)), in which the case of the
subject may depend on aspectual properties of the clause. However, we do not
consider these systems to be core cases of nominal TAM, since they differ from
the nominal TAM systems discussed in this section in several respects. Firstly, in
these aspectually-based ergative systems it is not the case that the entire clausal
case marking system is affected (only (some) subjects show alternation in case
marking). Secondly, the aspectually sensitive alternation is overridden for lex-
ically speciﬁed classes of verbs, such as psych verbs in Gujarati which always
require dative subjects irrespective of the clausal aspect (Mistry 2001). In con-
trast, Pitta Pitta case/tense marking does constitute a core case of nominal TAM:
although the maximal set of temporal distinctions in the language is encoded in
the verb, the interaction of case and TAM is reﬂected in the entire nominal case
system, extending beyond subjects or even core dependents.
3.2 As the sole exponent
In some languages the TAM information encoded on an NP constituent can be the
sole (or primary) exponent of a clause-level TAM category. Since the verb does
not need to encode the relevant distinction at all in these examples, it is quite clear
that the dependent NP may directly introduce propositional TAM information.
ı, Bolivia), propositional temporal distinctions are
expressed with a set of TAM sufﬁxes, which can inﬂect nouns, adjectives (Fire-
stone’s class of ‘depictives’) and verbs (Firestone 1965). Example (56) shows the
use of these sufﬁxes on the verb:
‘He went to the water.’ (Firestone 1965:35)
In the following example, the subject NP and the verb are each inﬂected with
a different TAM marker, the combination of which determines the TAM value for
the clause as a whole:
‘The tiger slept.’ (ibid:35)
For our purposes, the most interesting Sirion
o examples are those in which
the TAM afﬁxes for the whole clause appear only on a dependent NP, and not on
the verb at all, showing that the TAM value for the proposition as a whole can be
encoded only on a nominal. Consider the following:
‘The woman went near the water.’ (Firestone 1965:37-8)
‘The tapir did not steal from others.’ (ibid:33)
In all three of the examples of Sirion
o nominal TAM above, the nominal with
the temporal or aspectual afﬁx is a subject NP. However nominal TAM marking
is not limited to the subject, as shown by the following examples, in which the
indirect object expresses the clausal aspect. In (60) this co-occurs with aspectual
There are few examples of this phenomenon in Firestone (1965) beyond the ones we use here,
and this is the only example we have of verb and noun contributing different TAM values.
Firestone (1965) is clear that combinations of tense and aspect afﬁxes can occur on nouns,
but does not provide any examples of both types of afﬁxes co-occurring on a dependent noun.
There are, however, several examples of combinations such as PAST-PERF occurring on nouns in
predicate function, such as the following:
‘He was a turkey’
marking on the verb, while in (61) the indirect object alone encodes the aspect for
‘He went to the water.’ (ibid:35)
‘Cristobal took meat to Ascension’. (ibid:35)
Example (60) demonstrates the possibility of doubling, whereby the same
afﬁx occurs on both the verb and a dependent nominal. This constitutes good
evidence that these TAM markers are inﬂectional afﬁxes, rather than syntactic cl-
itics. We would not expect a syntactic clitic to occur simultaneously in multiple
positions in the clause.
A somewhat similar situation is found in the Arawak language Chamicuro
(Peru), although here it is the deﬁnite article within the dependent NP that encodes
the propositional tense distinctions (Parker 1999). There are two forms of the
deﬁnite article: na, used in present and future tenses, and ka which marks past
tense, as shown in (62a) and (62b).
Regrettably, Firestone (1965) provides very little discussion of Sirion
o syntax, and there are
no clear examples that we can identify in his work of TAM-inﬂected objects. He does, however,
provide some details on the interaction of indirect objects and TAM inﬂection, claiming that indi-
rect objects may precede or follow the verb, but in the latter case must take the aspectual marker as
in (60). Firestone does not specify whether aspectual marking on indirect objects is limited to the
case where the indirect object follows the verb, but he notes that of the possible alternative word
orders for sentences with both an indirect object (IO) and a direct object (O), that is, S-IO-V-O and
S-V-O-IO, the latter order obligatorily requires the aspect marker to appear on the indirect object.
For the typesetters: the e in the ﬁnal word of this example should also have a forward pointing
cedilla underneath it.
Firestone (1965) also provides further evidence for considering these to be inﬂectional ele-
ments. He presents considerable phonological evidence for the establishment of words and word
boundaries (pp. 9-20 passim) and establishes word classes in terms of the distribution of afﬁxes:
nouns, adjectives and verbs take tense and aspect afﬁxes, but independent pronouns and particles
do not. On verbs, TAM afﬁxes may be preﬁxal or sufﬁxal, and in each case they may appear closer
to the stem than some other afﬁxes. The same is true of nominal TAM (for example, the locative
marker may follow the TAM sufﬁx).
The facts are complicated by the fact that these articles do not bear stress, and since all lexical
words in Chamicuro must contain two syllables, they are not completelyindependent phonological
items (see Parker 1999:556 and following). Parker (1999) shows that they encliticize phonologi-
cally to C ﬁnal, but not to V ﬁnal, preceding words. This behaviour is completely predictable on
purely phonological grounds and he establishes that the deﬁnite articles are structurally part of the
NP, even when encliticized to a preceding V. Parker notates encliticization by use of a morpheme
boundary - we have used = instead.
(62) a. P-a
‘You (plural) are killing the bat.’ (Parker 1999:553, 7)
‘You (plural) killed the bat.’ (ibid:553, 8)
In most examples, it is the deﬁnite marker alone which signals the tense
information for the clause, the verb being unmarked for tense. There are however
optional past and future verbal tense markers, the latter exempliﬁed in (63).
(63) U- -y
‘I will go to Pampa Hermosa.’ (ibid:554, 9)
That the tense-marked elements na and ka are indeed deﬁnite articles and not
part of the verbal complex is shown by the fact that they appear within NPs:
‘this man’ (ibid:554, 13)
‘The two jaguars scared me.’ (ibid: 554, 14)
Finally, it should be noted that deﬁnite articles encoding temporal contrasts
occur with all nominals in the full range of syntactic functions. The example
below shows past tense marking by means of a deﬁnite article associated with a
nominal in adverbial function.
‘They danced yesterday.’ (ibid:555, 20)
3.3 TAM-inﬂected pronouns
In some languages, TAM distinctions are encoded only in pronouns. This is the
case in the (now extinct) Gurnu dialect of Ba:gandji (Pama-Nyungan, Australia),
in which pronouns are used to encode clause-level tense, showing a three-way
distinction between unmarked (and present tense) (pronouns with an initial ), fu-
ture (marked with initial g-), and past (marked with initial w-) (Wurm and Hercus
In (65), the deﬁnite article appears twice within the NP: once before the numeral and once
before the head noun, as is typical for Chamicuro NPs containing numerals and demonstratives
(Parker 1999: 554).
1976, Hercus 1982). As in Chamicuro, verbs have no obligatory tense marking,
and usually show none at all, leaving the form of the pronoun alone to signal the
tense for the clause.
Consider the following examples:
‘I’ll go a long way off.’ (Wurm and Hercus 1976:40)
‘I (can) see.’ (ibid:41)
‘They’re hungry.’ (ibid:41)
‘I didn’t get up.’ (ibid:41)
‘It was him that carried the small children.’ (ibid:42)
In almost all of the examples provided by Wurm and Hercus (1976) and
Hercus (1982), the tense-inﬂected pronoun is in subject function (although see
(72)). While (tense-marked) subject pronouns usually follow the verb (67), it is
also possible for them to follow other parts of speech (as in (69)) or appear clause-
initially (71), showing that the tense marking (at least synchronically) is truly a
property of the pronoun itself.
Languages like Gurnu (and also Supyire and Yag Dii – see below) which en-
code clause-level TAM information on subject pronouns, raise an interesting the-
oretical problem. Namely, how are we to distinguish between such TAM-inﬂected
pronominals on the one hand and cases of pronominal incorporation into verbal
auxiliaries on the other? That is, for each putative example of a tensed pronom-
inal in a language we must rule out the analysis whereby these elements are not
In the event that a sentence contains no pronominal forms to encode the tense, a verbal sufﬁx
-dji is available to mark past tense on the verb.
‘A lot of people buried themselves (in quicksand).’ (Hercus 1982:203, 550)
Wurm and Hercus (1976) provide a number of phonological and morphosyntactic arguments
supporting this analysis; details can be found therein.
independent pronominals inﬂected for tense, but are instead themselves pronom-
inal afﬁxes attached to a verbal (auxiliary) constituent. These two possibilities
may be very difﬁcult to distinguish, but at a theoretical level the distinction be-
tween a tensed pronominal and an incorporated pronominal is rather signiﬁcant.
The former involves the encoding of clause-level TAM information on dependents,
while the latter simply involves the incorporation of a (pronominal) argument into
a verbal (head) encoding TAM, and is therefore largely unproblematic for standard
theoretical approaches. Likewise, in strictly morphological terms, the coding of
(pronominal) argument features on verbal heads is both widely attested and well
understood, while the relevance of clausal temporal properties to the inﬂectional
morphology of nominal categories (such as nouns, adjectives and determiners) is
rather less well-known.
In the case of Gurnu, this distinction can be made on the basis of examples
such as (72), in which a tense-inﬂected (demonstrative) pronoun appears in geni-
tive (NP-modifying) function.
‘They’ll go back to their country.’ (Wurm and Hercus 1976:41)
The demonstrative pronoun in this example is both embedded within an NP
constituent, and inﬂected with case, a clearly nominal category. Both of these
facts constitute strong evidence that it is a tense-inﬂected NP constituent, rather
than a verbal auxiliary.
The authors claim that while it is usually the subject pronoun that is tense-inﬂected, it is also
possible for non-subjects to be tense-marked when the pronoun refers to the main topic (Wurm
and Hercus 1976:40). We assume that this is the case in this example.
Note that the verbal sufﬁx glossed TOP in (72) is a stem-forming afﬁx which is called a ‘topical-
ising’ sufﬁx by the authors because it focuses attention on the aims of an action, making it deﬁnite
rather than haphazard (Hercus 1982:191). For example, from the verb bami- ‘to see’, it derives
bami-la ‘to look at’. It therefore has nothing to do with the pragmatic topic of a clause.
Languages with similar TAM-marked forms which seem best analysed as auxiliaries with in-
corporated pronominals, rather than tense-inﬂected pronouns, include Hausa (Burquest 1986) and
Iai (Tryon 1968).
Similar issues have arisen in the literature regarding the analysis of English non-syllabic reduced
auxiliaries such as ’ll in the following:
(1) You’ll [/l/ , */ l/] be leaving soon.
Hugh’ll [*/l/ , / l/] be leaving tomorrow.
I’ll [/l/ , */ l/] be leaving tomorrow.
The non-syllabic reduced pronunciation occurs only with a pronominal, raising the issue as to
whether these forms should in fact be analysed as tense-inﬂected pronouns. This position has
been argued for by a number of researchers (e.g. Spencer 1991, Sadler 1998, Barron 1998) on the
basis of detailed morphological and phonological evidence suggesting a degree of fusion with the
pronominal stem and an independent status consistent with taking them to be tense-inﬂections.
Tense-inﬂected subject pronouns are also found in Yag Dii, a Niger-Congo
language spoken in Northern Cameroon (Bohnhoff 1986).
Subject pronouns of
may be inﬂected according to a future/non-future tense distinction,
as shown in the following examples.
‘I (have decided to) leave tomorrow’ (Bohnhoff 1986:108, 10)
‘I will go to town’ (ibid, 11)
‘Where were you (recent past)?’ (ibid:109,12)
Other TAM categories may be expressed with the use of separate particles
(called ‘construction markers’ by Bohnhoff (1986)), for example the perfective
marker s´’´ in (73). Crucially, however, these do not encode a future/non-future
distinction, which is encoded only by the tense information associated with the
subject pronominals. Examples (73) and (74) illustrate the combination of the
future with the perfective and the (unmarked) imperfective respectively. Example
(75) illustrates the combination of the non-future with the imperfective, this time
with a past construction marker in initial position.
Yag Dii pronouns may undergo further morphological processes to produce
emphatic pronominals. Both the non-tensed basic m
ı pronominal set and the future
n pronominal set (but not the non-future set) may further inﬂect for emphasis.
Thus, on this account you’ll and I’ll in the above examples are tense-inﬂected pronominals on a
par with Gurnu gimba ‘2.SG.FUT’ and gaba ‘1.SG.FUT’. Bender and Sag (2001), on the other
hand, argue that in fact the subject pronominal has incorporated into the tense-marked auxiliary.
On this view, these are not subject NPs at all, but auxiliary heads carrying both tense and subject
information in a clause with no subject NP. Further discussion of this issue is beyond the scope
of the present paper. However, the existence of such tense-inﬂected pronominals in the languages
discussed above show them to be a typological possibility irrespective of whether or not they are
attested for English.
The pronominal system of Yag Dii is complex, and only the aspects relevant to our discus-
sion have been presented here. The reader is referred to Bohnhoff (1986) for a more complete
discussion of the pronominal system.
A second set of pronouns – the ’
n series – is used in hortative and some types of subordinate
clauses and does not inﬂect for tense. The choice between the two series of pronouns for subjects
itself encodes distinctions of mood and/or clause type. Pronouns of the m
ı series, without tense
inﬂections, are also used in other non-subject functions, as objects, indirect objects and possessors.
Although Bohnhoff’s text and various tabulations imply that the combination of a non-future
pronoun with the perfective is well-formed, no example of this combination is provided.
Consider the following examples.
‘I am speaking ...’ (Bohnhoff 1986: 111, 25)
‘They themselves will go to town.’ (ibid:111, 26)
The existence of tensed emphatic forms alongside the non-tensed emphatic
pronominals provides further evidence that the tensed forms are indeed pronomi-
nals, rather than some type of verbal auxiliary, for they are input to what is most
plausibly analysed as a nominal morphological process.
Alongside tensed pronominal languages such as these we also ﬁnd languages
in which pronouns alone may encode clause-level mood information. In another
Niger-Congo language, Supyire (spoken in Mali), ﬁrst and second person pro-
nouns have two distinct forms depending on whether the mood of the clause is
declarative or non-declarative (Carlson 1994). The two sets of forms are shown in
Table 7 below (after Carlson 1994:152, 154).
The declarative set is possible with all sentence types including non-
declaratives, and is thus perhaps better labelled ‘unmarked’. The non-declarative
set, however, is only possible in clauses with non-declarative mood such as com-
mands (79a, 79b) and questions (79c). The distinction between these two pro-
noun sets is shown in the following examples. Note that the imperative mood is
signalled only by the choice of the non-declarative pronoun in (79a) and (79b).
(78) a. m
‘my chicken’ (Carlson 1994:152, 1a)
Unfortunately Bohnhoff (1986) doesn’t provide examples showing the contrast with the same
Mood distinctions encoded by pronouns are also found in |Gui (Central Khoisan, Botswana),
in which subject pronouns mark imperative mood. Example (2) below illustrates an imperative
clause with a ﬁrst person subject. Note that the verb remains in the same form in both examples:
the imperative mood of the clause is encoded by the subject pronoun alone (Hitomi Ono, pers.
‘Let me go.’
Table 7: Supyire Pronouns
2.SG mu ma
‘I have come.’ (ibid:152, 1b)
‘You have annoyed me.’ (ibid:152, 2b)
(79) a. Ma
‘Follow me (lit. in my tracks), please!’ (polite command). (ibid:522,
‘Look at me.’ (imperative) (ibid:154, 7a)
‘My friend chicken, where are you going?’ (ibid, 7c)
These examples illustrate both the declarative and non-declarative pronoun
sets functioning as subjects (78b, 78c), objects (78c, 79b) and even as possessive
pronouns (78a, 79a, 79c). The fact that the clausal mood distinction is encoded
even when the pronoun is functioning as a possessor is particularly interesting as it
shows that such clause-level information can be embedded within complex argu-
ment NPs. Moreover, the mood distinction encoded by these pronominals is com-
pletely independent of other TAM systems in the language (Carlson 1994:307ff.).
Tense and aspect is more generally encoded through a series of auxiliaries and
some verbal afﬁxes (Carlson 1994:307ff). Crucially, however, none of these other
means of encoding TAM information encodes the distinction between declarative
and non-declarative mood encoded by the ﬁrst and second person pronouns.
3.4 Summary on Propositional Nominal TAM
The following table summarises all of the core cases of propositional nominal
TAM discussed above.
Table 8: Languages with Propositional TAM on Nominal Dependents
Language Family Type V TAM Same Aff NP type
Lardil Tangkic Tense Oblig No non-subjs
Kayardild Tangkic Tense, Mood Oblig No non-subjs
Pitta Pitta Pama Nyungan Tense Oblig No subjs, objs, instr
Gurnu Pama Nyungan Tense Opt Pst No mainly subj pronouns
ı Tense, Asp Opt Yes subjs, iobjs, others??
Chamicuro Arawak Tense Opt No all
Yag Dii Niger-Congo Tense No?? No subj pronouns
Supyire Niger-Congo Mood N/A No 1st,2nd pronouns
|Gui Central Khoisan Mood No?? No subj pronouns
Iraqw Cushitic Tense Oblig No topics??
V TAM: is the corresponding TAM marking obligatory, optional or unavailable (on either the verb
or clausal particle)?
NP type: what is the function of the NP bearing TAM?
From this table we can make the following observations. Firstly, the proposi-
tional nominal TAM may work in conjunction with verbal TAM (either obligatorily
or optionally), or may be the sole determiner of a particular TAM distinction. Sec-
ondly, if a language encodes propositional TAM on adjunct NPs, then it will also
encode it on argument NPs. Thirdly, while the majority of languages with some
form of propositional nominal TAM express distinctions of tense, this is not nec-
essary as there are languages in which mood rather than tense is expressed in the
nominal system. It remains to be seen whether the relative rarity of mood (and in-
deed aspect) marking is maintained as further languages with propositional TAM
are encountered. Fourthly, in only one language (Sirion
o) is the same inﬂectional
morphology used to encode propositional TAM on both dependent nominals and
on verbal heads. This contrasts with Jarawara in Table 4, for example, in which
the same inﬂectional morphology encodes independent nominal TAM on nominal
dependents and propositional TAM on clausal heads (be they verbs or predicate
nominals). An interesting question for further research, then, is to determine
whether this pattern is attested in other languages. Finally, while the sample is
again small, it includes languages from a number of different language families
and geographic regions, suggesting that the phenomenon of propositional nominal
TAM must be considered a genuine possibility for language structure.
4 Further Implications
The purpose of this paper has been to explore in some detail the phenomenon
of tense, aspect and mood marking of nominal constituents, bringing together a
substantial body of data from a wide range of languages. Although the existence
of nominal TAM is noted in many descriptive grammars, the signiﬁcance of such
facts has generally gone unremarked, and to our knowledge we present here the
ﬁrst detailed crosslinguistic survey of nominal TAM. We propose a basic distinc-
tion between two types of nominal TAM: independent nominal TAM, in which the
nominal itself is temporally situated independently of the proposition as a whole;
and propositional nominal TAM, in which nominal dependents are inﬂected for
clausal TAM features in conjunction with, or instead of, TAM marking on the verb.
This discussion has highlighted a number of issues for further research. With
respect to independent nominal TAM, we have found languages that encode both
tense and mood, but no languages (as yet) which encode aspect. We have also
found some languages which allow ‘tense stacking’, whereby a single nominal
may be inﬂected with two tense markers, each one having a different scope re-
lation. The phenomenon of tense stacking has, as far as we’re aware, not been
reported elsewhere in the literature.
With respect to propositional nominal TAM, we have found languages in
which the nominal TAM system supplements the TAM information on the verb
and others in which the particular TAM distinction is (or can be) encoded only on
the dependent NP. In one language (Sirion
o), the same set of TAM afﬁxes may
appear on either nouns or verbs or even on both in the same clause. A particularly
important question for future research, and one which we have not addressed at
all in this paper, is by what diachronic processes such varied and unusual systems
Nominal TAM inﬂection has wide-ranging implications for many aspects of
linguistic theory. Firstly, the recognition of tense as a possible inﬂectional cate-
gory for nouns has implications for theories of word class categorization which
treat nouns as inherently time-stable, manifesting stactic concepts that change lit-
tle over time (Giv
on (1979: 320-322), (2001: 51-54)). The analysis of nouns as
inherently time-stable leads to the prediction that it should not be possible for them
to be temporally modiﬁed independently of the verbal predicate. This, however, is
exactly what we ﬁnd in languages with independent nominal TAM inﬂection (dis-
cussed in section 2.1). While it is certainly true that nouns are less prototypically
marked for tense than verbs cross-linguistically, their being more inherently time-
stable than verbs can not be interpreted as precluding them from being temporally
modiﬁed at all.
The treatment of nouns as time-stable is contradicted by work in semantics
which has argued that nouns, being semantic predicates, are time sensitive and
therefore need to receive a temporal interpretation independently of that of the
verbal predicate (Enc¸ (1981, 1986), Musan 1995, Lecarme (1996, 1999), Ton-
hauser (2000, 2002)). The majority of this work has centred on languages (like
English) in which tense is not encoded morphologically on nouns (with Lecarme’s
work on Somali a notable exception). The existence of languages with explicit
tense marking on nominals would appear to be overt morphological evidence for
these semantic approaches, although it remains to be seen how easily such overt
morphological systems can be integrated with semantic theory in this respect.
A further implication related to the issue of word class typology is the fact
that tense (and to a lesser extent, aspect and mood) must now be seen as a possible
inﬂectional category for nouns as well as for verbs. Traditionally, inﬂectional
categories are partitioned between the two major word classes: nouns are inﬂected
for categories such as case, gender and number and verbs for those like tense,
mood, aspect and person/number agreement (e.g. Lyons (1968: Ch. 7), Hopper
and Thompson (1984:703), Giv
on (2001: Ch. 2)). In fact, the categories of tense,
aspect and mood may be categories of nouns also (Evans 2000, Lehmann and
Moravcsik 2000). Furthermore, the data on propositional nominal TAM shows
that tense may even be an agreement category (Evans 2003, contra Lehmann and
Such inﬂection of dependent nominals for propositional TAM properties also
has signiﬁcant implications for a number of grammatical architectures. According
to the standard notion of headedness, clausal properties (including propositional
TAM) must be associated with clausal heads (i.e. verbs and auxiliaries). Dependent
nominals, especially subject nominals (which are not even part of the VP), are not
clausal heads and therefore (according to such formal theories), cannot encode
clausal properties. Thus, the data that we have presented in section 3 poses real
challenges for a number of formal theories of grammatical structure.
In this paper we have focussed solely on the expression of TAM on nominal
constituents. In fact, there are also languages in which tense is encoded on other
parts of speech, such as adverbs and prepositions (e.g. Malagasy (Sabel 2002),
Maori and Tagalog (Haspelmath 1997:43-47)). The extent of TAM inﬂection on
these (and other) word classes remains to be seen, and we leave the investigation
of its properties and its relationship to the typology of nominal TAM inﬂection as
a topic for further research. Clearly, however, the breadth of data from languages
which encode TAM information on their nominals and other NP constituents shows
that TAM can no longer be thought of as an inﬂectional property solely of verbs.
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