I'm wondering about the naturalness and intuitiveness of marking tense in negative clauses but not affirmative ones. I'm also wondering whether a language with this hypothetical feature would be better analyzed in a different way.

By naturalness I mean how likely it is that a feature like this might evolve somewhere in a real language, and how stable it would be if it did somehow evolve.

By intuitiveness I mean how hard this feature would be to acquire and use correctly in a second language.

The idea is that neither tense nor aspect is marked in the affirmative, but they are marked in the negative.

For instance, let's suppose we have a tense-aspect inventory as follows

past          -- covers all past events
recpast       -- covers the recent past, subset of past
rempast       -- covers the distant past, subset of past
present       -- the present
actual        -- covers the past and present
future        -- the future
gnomic        -- covers past present and future, also used for non-temporal denial
instantaneous -- refers explicitly to the topic time

Suppose we have a language that uses a negative verb, like Finnish, to negate predicates. Let's make it slightly more general than the Finnish negative verb and have it function as a negative copula of sorts as well.

book.ACC read.1sg
I am reading the book, I read the book, I will read the book &c

book.ACC read.NPAST.1sg
I did not read the book.

book.ACC read.NRECPAST.1sg
I have not read the book recently.

book.ACC read.NREMPAST.1sg
I didn't read the book a long time ago.

book.ACC read.NFUT.1sg
I won't read the book.

book.ACC read.NPRES.1sg
I'm not reading the book right now.

book.ACC read.NGNOMIC.1sg
I never read the book and never will.

book.ACC read.NACTUAL.1sg
I have not read the book before and am not reading it now.

book.ACC read.NINSTANT.1sg
I did not read the book at the particular time in question.

Let's further suppose that nouns can be marked the same way as verbs when they function as predicates.

Bob.NOM nobleman.3sg
Bob is a nobleman.

Jane.NOM queen.NPRES.3sg
Jane is not queen right now.

The thing that distinguishes this idea from simply having lexemes with meanings like not yet is that the choice of the instanstaneous negative marker is more marked than and less frequent than the range negatives.

Pragmatically speaking, a speaker would be expected to use the negative morpheme with the broadest scope that is consistent with their knowledge.

  • 1
    I don't think this is likely, but I don't have any evidence to back that up. May 12, 2020 at 20:43


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