Our next talk in our 2020-2021 McGill Linguistics Colloquium Series will be given by James Crippen (McGill University) on Friday, April 9th at 3:30pm. The title of the talk is “Aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit: Looking down to composition”. The abstract can be found at the end of this message.
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I present the basic parameters involved in aspect, tense, mood, and modality in Tlingit, searching for some possible avenues for a formal, compositional analysis that matches the morphosyntax. Na-Dene languages like Tlingit, Navajo, and Ahtna are famous for their “elaborate aspectual systems” (Mithun 1999: 166). The complexity of these systems is opacified by their peculiar descriptive terminology (Cook 1984: 120; Mithun 1999: 362) which evolved apart from mainstream temporal semantics. Given a Minimalist syntactic model of the Tlingit verbal system (Crippen 2019), we would like a semantic model that proceeds compositionally along the same structures. But a compositional approach to aspect is incompatible with the standard non-compositional analyses in the family (Cook 1984: 119; Leer 1991: ch. 8; Axelrod 1993: ch. 3; Smith 1997: 329 n. 7; Young 2000). This suggests that the system needs to be deconstructed and reanalyzed with compositionality in mind. Looming large in the morphosyntax of aspect is the conjugation class system that expresses spatial semantics and which seems to be extended to time in the grammar. In addition, the lexical aspect classes known as “verb theme categories” (Kari 1979; Leer 1991: ch. 7; Axelrod 1993: ch. 5) and their rich systems of derivation (Kari 1992) directly impinge on the realization of aspect and other temporal meanings. I suggest some directions for the analysis of aspect that take into account the spatial and lexical aspect categories and point toward the possibility if not the reality of a compositional semantics for aspect and related phenomena in Tlingit and other Na-Dene languages.
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