Tense, Aspect and Modality: A Single Complex Category in Bhujel

By Regmi, Dan Raj | Contributions to Nepalese Studies, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Tense, Aspect and Modality: A Single Complex Category in Bhujel


Regmi, Dan Raj, Contributions to Nepalese Studies


Outline

This paper examines tense, aspect and modality as a single complex category in Bhujel, an endangered and previously undescribed Tibeto-Burman language spoken by 10,733 (i.e. 9.1%) of the 1,17,644 ethnic Bhujel (Gurung et al. 2006). However, it is actually spoken by an estimated 3,923 ethnic Bhujel, most of them living along the Mahabharata mountain range of Tanahun District of Nepal (Regmi, 2007).

This paper is organized into five sections. In section 1, we deal with tense in Bhujel. Section 2 examines the inherent aspect of the verb. In section 3, we look at the grammatical aspect of the verb. Section 4 looks at the modality in Bhujel. In section 5, we summarize the findings of the paper.

Tense

Similar to Chepang, a closely related language, Bhujel finite verbs inflect for two distinct tenses: non-past and past. The past tense distinguishes two degrees of distance: recent past and remote past. Figure 1 presents the categories of tense in Bhujel.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Non-past tense (NPST)

The non-past tense marker -n/-na is normally affixed to the stem of the verb along with PNR (person, number and role) affixes. This tense is used to code:

a) Events (or states) that occur right at the time of speech (i.e. reference time), as in (1)

   (1) a. nai am jetimunan
   na-i am je-ti-mu-na-n
   lSG-ERG rice eat-DUR-AUX-NPST-1/2
   'I am eating rice.'

   b. dyoi am jetimuna
   dyo-i am je-ti-mu-na
   3SG-ERG rice eat-DUR-AUX-NPST
   'S/he is eating rice.'

In (1a-b) the non-past indicates that the events occur right at the time of speech (i.e. reference time).

b) Events (or states) that occur following the time of speech (i.e. reference time). (1) Consider the following examples:

   (2) a. na ten kim alnan
   na ten kim al-na-n
   1SG today house go-NPST-1/2
   'I go home today.'

   b. nai syan am jenun
   na-i syan am je-n-u-n
   1SG-ERG tomorrow rice eat-NPST-DIR-1/2
   'I will eat rice tomorrow.'

   c. nani am jetun
   nao-i am je-t-u-n
   2SG-ERG rice eat-2-NPST- DIR-1/2
   'You will eat rice.'

In (2a-c) the non-past marker indicates the events that occur following the reference time (i.e. the time of speech). (2)

Past tense

The past tense (recent and remote) in Bhujel codes events (or states) that occurred before the time of speech (i.e. reference time).

Recent past tense (PST)

The recent past tense is marker -al is normally attached to the base of the verb along with PNR affixes. It codes the events (or states) occurred preceding the time of speech (i.e. reference time), e.g.,

   (3) a. na kim alalan
   na kim al-ala-n
   1SG house go-PST-1/2
   'I went home.'

   b. nani am jetetalun
   nan-i am je-te-tal-u-n
   2SQ-ERG rice eat-2-(2) PST-DIR-1/2
   'You ate rice.'

The events coded by this tense in (3a-b) did not only occur but also are completed and terminated before the time of speech. Thus, this tense interacts with perfective aspect.

Remote past tense (RPST)

The remote past tense is marked by -t. It is normally affixed to the root of the verb in combination with PNR affixes. Unlike in recent past tense, the events or states coded by this tense have the following features:

a) They are supposed to have occurred a long time ago.

b) The speaker has not directly witnessed them. They have come to be known to the speaker through either hearsay or inference.

c) They are basically found in narrative discourse.

The following are the examples:

   (4) a. na kim altan
   na kim al-ta-n
   1SG house go-RPST-1/2
   'I went home long ago.'

   b. nai am j etun
   na-i am je-t-u-n
   1SG-ERG rice eat-RPST-DIR- 1/2
   'I ate rice long ago.'

   c. nani am jetetun
   nan-i am je-te-t-u-0
   2SG-ERG rice eat-2-RPST-DIR-1/2
   'You ate rice long ago. … 

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