James Crippen will be giving an invited talk at UQAM (in English) on Wednesday April 13, 2022 from 12:45 to 1:45 pm in DS-3470 (https://carte.uqam.ca/pavillon-ds). Area linguists are welcome!
Title: Space and time in Tlingit: Aspect, motion, and conjugation class
Tlingit verb inflection for aspect is conditioned by four conjugation classes that are identified by three prefixes (n-, g̱-, g-) and their absence (∅). These prefixes occur in a variety of contexts such as the imperative, habitual, consecutive, conditional, and some specialized imperfective forms. For the majority of state, activity, and achievement verbs the selection of prefix is unpredictable and so must be lexically specified. The conjugation prefixes and their corresponding lexically specified conjugation classes are traditionally said to be meaningless; this is a major problem for the compositional semantics and syntax of Tlingit verb morphology. But verbs of motion and handling show correlations between the conjugation classes and spatial orientation: n- is correlated with horizontal movement, g̱- with downward movement, and g- with upward movement. A small class of state verbs (e.g. ‘be distant’, ‘be deep’, ‘be extended’) show similar patterns. I argue that this is not accidental; the same spatial orientations permeate the lexically specified conjugation classes of state, activity, and achievement verbs. The conjugation prefixes also have a dedicated grammatical function beyond conjugation class: in the progressive aspect the n- prefix is used regardless of the verb’s conjugation class and likewise in the prospective aspect the g- prefix is used regardless of conjugation class. I propose that this dedicated use of the conjugation prefixes also reflects their spatial semantics via a metaphorical semantic mapping of time variables to spatial dimensions; it is thus a grammaticalized special case of the universal time → space conceptual metaphor which must fit into a compositional semantics. Finally, I note that there is an apparently distinct, semantically independent four-way contrast of spatial orientation in the nominal domain with determiners, demonstratives, and focus particles and I suggest this reflects a basic conceptual division between the spatial orientation of entities and the spatial orientation of events.