The Structure of Multiple Tenses in Inuktitut

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University of Toronto, 2011 - 404 pages
This thesis presents and analyzes the tense system of South Baffin Inuktitut (SB), a Canadian variety of the Inuit language. It demonstrates that, although closely related dialects are argued to be tenseless (Shaer, 2003; Bittner, 2005), SB has a complex tense system where the present, past, and future are distinguished, and the future and past are divided into more fine-grained temporal domains. I demonstrate that SB has present tense, which is indicated by the absence of a tense marker. A sentence without an overt tense marker may describe a past eventuality if it contains a punctual event predicate; otherwise, it describes an eventuality that holds at the utterance time. I argue that all zero-marked sentences have present tense and any past interpretation is aspectual. I also investigate six different past markers and demonstrate that they all instantiate grammatical tense. The analysis shows that these markers can be semantically classified into two groups, depending in part on whether or not they block more general tenses (e.g., -qqau, the 'today' past blocks the use of the general past -lauq when the time of eventuality falls within 'today'). I label both the general tenses and the group which can block the general tenses as primary tense, whereas the other group which does not block more general tenses is labelled secondary tense. This distinction may have broad cross-linguistic applicability. I examine the distribution of four different future markers and argue that three of them indicate grammatical future tense. They are also grouped into two groups, in the same manner as the past tenses. Finally, I analyse the temporal interpretations of primary tenses in dependent clauses. I show that when tense is interpreted relative to the time of the superordinate eventuality, the domain of tense may not necessarily shift accordingly (e.g., the domain of hodiernal tense in a main clause is the day of utterance, and in an embedded clause the domain can still be the day of utterance). Embedded tenses with remoteness specifications have not been investigated before, and this thesis opens up a new area to our understanding of tenses in human language.

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