I've always had a huge focus on utter realism, so I require lexical sources for all of my morphology. In my most recent project, the Thakina ['tʰa.ki.na] family. The proto-language has four tenses: recent past (unmarked), present (assumed to be imperfective), future, and remote past. I have lexical sources for the present and future, but I don't have any ideas for the remote past.

(I did check the World Lexicon of Grammaticalization, but I didn't find anything on the remote past.)

Edit: This is not a far-past thing, it's anything that didn't happen just now.

  • The World Lexicon of Grammaticalization divides the past tense in PAST, NEAR and PAST, so PAST alone gives some hints on the more remote past.
    – Sir Cornflakes
    Apr 2, 2023 at 19:45

2 Answers 2


Honestly, I would probably explain it as the pre-proto having had a generic past tense, and then when the proto developed a near past from a lexical source, the generic past got reinterpreted in contrast as the remote past.

Alternatively: some Indo-European languages, like Attic Greek, had in common this weird quirk where verbs rendered in past tenses of various aspects - aorist, imperfect, perfect, whatever - were obligatorily prefixed with with a vowel, called the "augment". Compare e.g. λυομεν "we release", present vs. ε-λυομεν "we were releasing", imperfect past. The PIE augment is thought to have descended from what was earlier a separate word meaning "then; at that time" that got glommed onto the start of verbs.

This demonstrates the feasibility of deriving temporal deixis (tense) marking from spacial deixis markers like demonstratives, like the remote past from "that time" and the near past from "this time". This probably works better with a 3-way proximity distinction like Georgian has instead of English's 2-way: the remote past from "that (distal) time" and the near past from "that (medial) time".


The World Lexicon of Grammaticalization has YESTERDAY > PAST as one way to get at a generic past. You can take a marker of remote past like "Once upon a time" as a source for a remote past grammaticalization.

  • 1
    That's a good analogy, and you don't even need the "...upon a time" bit. In English, saying something like "I once fell off a cliff" by implication implies that this action was somewhat distant. You wouldn't normally say "I once went to an AC/DC concert" if that had happened last week. Apr 7, 2023 at 2:47

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