Author Topic: The Continuous Aspect vs. The Habitual Aspect  (Read 81 times)

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Offline Mako

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The Continuous Aspect vs. The Habitual Aspect
« on: April 25, 2018, 02:36:30 pm »
We recently had a discussion on this subject on the Learn Na’vi Discord and so I reached out to KP about it and here was his response:

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Kaltxì sì fpomtokx ngaru,

Krrfpi moeyä, vìsyar oe pivlltxe nì'Ìnglìsì.

A discussion on the Learn Na'vi Discord community recently raised some big questions about the Imperfective Aspect, so I figured I'd see if you had the time to share some insight on the issue.

The question is how does one distinguish between habitual past action ("used to verb", habitual aspect) and continuous past action ("was verbing", continuous aspect) in Na'vi, given that our manner of expressing both is limited to <ì/arm>?

Suggested temporary solutions include using pxìm/nìtrrtrr + past imperfective for habitual action, or a yet discovered modal verb indicating the idea of "used to verb".

Ngeyä tì'eyngìri ayoe pereiey. 'Ivong Na'vi!

Ta Mako

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Hello again Mako,

As I mentioned before, this is an excellent question. It just goes to show how difficult it is to address all the ins and outs of language when you're creating one from scratch! :-) I hadn't thought about the habitual vs. continuous past question, which I'm surprised hasn't come up before. So this is a good time to address it.

(By the way, feel free to share this with the community.)

My approach was to first take a look at a few of the languages I'm familiar with (to various degrees), and for which I could hopefully find reliable data, handled the distinction. So I checked out French, German, Spanish, Malay/Indonesian, and Persian. To those in the community who speak these languages, please see if you agree with the data I found! And for those who speak other languages, see if your language falls into one of these categories or if it handles the distinction in a different way.

My main test sentences were:

1. The children were playing in the garden.
2. The children used to play in the garden.

GERMAN
From what I can tell, German treats both of these the same way.
Google Translate gives the same translation for both: Die Kinder spielten im Garten. Spielten is the imperfect. (GT is more reliable for the "big" languages--i.e. those with large numbers of speakers--than for smaller-population languages. Still, I'd be interested in whether German speakers agree with this judgment.)

PERSIAN
Same idea as German. The imperfect is used for both. .بچه ها در باغ بازی می کردند Bacche-haa dar baagh baazi mikardand. (The auxiliary verb mikardand is the imperfect form.)

So for some languages, there doesn't need to be a distinction in the morphology or syntax: Context will decide which interpretation is appropriate.

FRENCH
At times, apparently, French does the same as German, using the imperfect for both. So "I was working here" and "i used to work here" can simply be Je travaillais ici, where travaillais is the imperfect.

However, GT gave different translations for 1 and 2:

1:   Les enfants jouaient dans le jardin. (Jouaient is the imperfect.)
2:   Les enfants avaient l'habitude de jouer dans le jardin.

In 2, we have the expression avoir l'habitude de, 'to have the habit of doing something.' (Avaient is the imperfect form.)

So French makes the "habitual" idea of "used to" explicit.

SPANISH
I only know a little Spanish, so this was a big surprise to me. Spanish has a verb soler that means 'to be in the custom of, to have the habit of, etc.' So in Spanish we have:

1. Los niños jugaban en el jardín. (Jugaban is the imperfect.)
2. Los niños solían jugar en el jardín. (Solían is the imperfect of soler.)
 
So Spanish uses an auxiliary verb, something like Na'vi modals, for the habitual past.

MALAY/INDONESIAN
M/I doesn't have tenses. To distinguish 1 from 2, it adds the word biasa for 2, which means "usually" or "customarily":

1. Kanak-kanak bermain di kebun.
2. Kanak-kanak biasa bermain di kebun.

So there are three different strategies here:

(A) No overt difference. Context will decide on the interpretation.
(B) A special auxiliary or modal verb to indicate the habitual use.
(C) An adverbial expression to indicate the habitual use.

What should be the case in Na'vi?

I'd like to immediately rule out B, since it would be unusual to unearth a new modal verb at this last date.

(A) would work, of course. But since we already have a good adverbial expression for (C), namely nìtrrtrr, one of whose meanings is 'regularly,' I don't see why we can't use that to distinguish the habitual past from the imperfect:

1. Ayeveng uvan sarmi fìtseng. 'The children were playing here.'
2. Ayeveng uvan sarmi fìtseng nìtrrtrr. 'The children used to play here.'

I think that works. But if anyone has any comments or questions, please let me know!

ta P.

TL;DR, context and nìtrrtrr are both acceptable methods for distinguishing between the past habitual aspect and the past continuous aspect, with nìtrrtrr preferred.

Offline Plumps

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Re: The Continuous Aspect vs. The Habitual Aspect
« Reply #1 on: April 25, 2018, 05:06:11 pm »
Ma Mako,

thanks for asking and getting this very detailed discussion back to us! :D Wonderful information.

Adding to the discussion… In German there is an alternative way to convey this (and I guess it seems ‘old fashioned’ by now) which is the verb „pflegen“

„Die Kinder pflegten im Garten zu spielen.“

So, a variation like French and Spanish do.

Online Blue Elf

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Re: The Continuous Aspect vs. The Habitual Aspect
« Reply #2 on: April 30, 2018, 08:26:27 am »
Thanks for asking and publishing the answer.
But those strange linguistic words are confusing - good you gave some explanation. Seems you guys at Discord are too good in language terminology ;D
Oe lu skxawng skxakep. Slä oe nerume mi.
"Oe tasyätxaw ulte koren za'u oehu" (Limonádový Joe)


 

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