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Aspect, Modality, and Tense in Badiaranke


Most formal analyses of the semantics of tense, aspect, and modality (TAM) have been developed on the basis of data from a small number of well-studied languages. In this dissertation, I describe and analyze the TAM system of Badiaranke, an Atlantic (Niger-Congo) language spoken in Senegal, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, which manifests several cross-linguistically unusual features. I develop a new semantic proposal for Badiaranke TAM that explains its distinctive properties while also building on the insights of earlier analyses of TAM in more commonly studied languages.

Aspect in Badiaranke has two initially surprising features. First, the perfective is used to talk not only about past events (as expected), but also about present states (not expected). Second, the imperfective is used to talk not only about ongoing or habitually recurring eventualities (as expected), but also about future and epistemically probable eventualities, as well as in consequents of conditionals and counterfactuals (not expected). I develop a modal explanation of these patterns, relying on the distinction between settled pasts and branching futures (Dowty 1977, Kaufmann et al. 2006) as well as Kratzer's (1981, 1991) proposal for contextually varying modal bases and ordering sources. I also describe and analyze a number of other aspects in Badiaranke whose distribution and semantics are affected by those of the perfective and imperfective. On my treatment, Badiaranke aspect is inextricably with modality.

Tense is less central to Badiaranke than aspect, in the sense that all Badiaranke sentences are marked for aspect, but not all are marked for tense. Nonetheless, Badiaranke has two distinct past tense suffixes. I argue that both suffixes express a type of discontinuous past tense (in the sense of Plungian and van der Auwera (2006)); specifically, they shift perspective time into the past and implicate that the eventuality is no longer relevant at some later time. The difference between the two is modal: one appears in irrealis environments (where the eventuality is not necessarily realized in the matrix world of evaluation) while the other appears in realis environments.

Because of the modal nature of Badiaranke aspect, aspect interacts in interesting ways with modal verbs, which themselves take aspect marking in this language. For epistemic modals, aspect on the modal itself makes no detectable semantic difference, while aspect on the modal's complement affects modal orientation (in the sense of Condoravdi (2002)). For deontic modals, perfective marking triggers the presupposition that the subject is capable of carrying out the action, while imperfective marking expresses simple permission (or obligation). I show that my semantics for Badiaranke aspect, together with well-founded assumptions about the relative scopes of aspect and modality, successfully accounts for these interactions between modal verbs and aspect.

The dissertation is intended to be of interest both to formal semanticists, in that it contributes evidence about the semantics of TAM cross-linguistically, and to Africanists and typologists, in that it describes in detail part of the grammar of an under-described African language.

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