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Monday, August 28, 2006

Time Adverbials in the Indonesian Language

Adam Arico has posted an interesting post over at Aspiring Lemming on time adverbials in the Indonesian language. According to Adam's informant, there are no basic tenses in the Indonesian language. A proper translation of 'I turned off the stove this morning' would amount to something like 'I turn off the stove this morning' or maybe 'I am turning off the stove this morning'. Interestingly, we do sometimes speak this way in English. Consider, for instance:

I am giving a talk in Aberdeen in July
I am in Stirling in August
Carrie is visiting ANU in the fall, etc.

Adam considers the possibility that the time adverbials in the Indonesian language function as Priorean tense operators. I suspect they don't. Or at least, if the time adverbials in the Indonesian language function in the same way as the time adverbials in English, then I would be prepared to argue that they do not function as sentential operators. But then again, I don't know the Indonesian language. Does anyone know of any studies on this?


Eric Schwitzgebel said...

Depending on what one means by "tenses", one could make the case there are no tenses in Chinese, either. How do you modify the tense of a Chinese character? You can't change the character, you can only add another word -- an abverb.

But what, I wonder, is the difference between say, a two-word phrase and a single complex word? That's definitely a sticky issue in Chinese! If you take written English as your paradigm, the individuation of words is almost always completely clear -- not so much, perhaps, in other languages. Modifiers, compound words, suffixes, they can start to be hard to tell apart!

Brit Brogaard said...

Thanks for this, Eric. You're right. It is often difficult to tell whether time adverbials function as sentential operators. Some have even defended the thesis that time adverbials function as sentential operators in English. But it seems clear to me that not all of them could be temporal operators. Consider, for instance, 'for four hours' as it occurs in 'John studied for four hours'. Here it seems clear that the durative does not function as a sentential operator (even if the past tense does). But I would be interested in any studies of tense in the Indonesian language (or Chinese). There are lots of studies of tense in Japanese but Japanese is supposedly quite different tense-wise.