Learn Na'vi > Syntax / Grammar

Na'vi Linguistics: Tense and Aspect

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wm.annis:
Unless they've had a chance to study a Slavic language, or maybe ancient Greek, many people here will be unfamiliar with the terminology for, and distinctions made by, the Na'vi verb.  So here's a quick run-down on tense and aspect, based on what we know so far.

Tense is the easiest, since most of us probably got drilled on this in school.  The tense of a verb locates the action in time, past, present or future.  There can be some strangeness with this.  For example, I can say "I visit my parents tomorrow."  Since I've used the word "tomorrow," it's acceptable English for me not to use a formal future tense.  And a sentence like "Paul Frommer speaks Persian," even though I've used the present tense, and presumably it applies at present, is really a general statement of truth that applies to more than just the present.  But in general, this simple account of tense will take you a long way.

There are some languages on this planet that get by with no formal marking for tense at all.  They rely on adverbs like "now, yesterday, tomorrow," etc. to locate an action in time.  Instead, these languages may focus on verbal aspect.  Navajo is one such language (though it appears to be in the process of creating for itself a true past tense).  The word "aspect" itself hints at what it means for a verb.  Verbal aspect is how a speaker chooses to represent an action.  Imagine yourself walking somewhere, and a friend walks up to you and says...

 "I went to the bookstore."

You're response is going to be "so?" or "what did you get" or the like.  Imagine instead she walks up to you and says,

 "I was going to the bookstore."

Your next question is going to be, "and?  what happened?"

Both statements encode identical factual information — her going to a bookstore — and both sentences (and verb forms) describe an action that is complete at the time of speaking.  But by choosing different verb forms, she has given you hints about what she's going to tell you next.  The statement "I went to the store" is what linguists call perfective — it presents the action as a single event from start to finish, ignoring any details of the internal steps.  The statement "I was going to the store" is imperfective and presents the action as ongoing.  In most languages with aspect, starting off a conversation with an imperfect strongly implies that you've only set the stage to describe more actions, to be mentioned shortly.

This is very important about aspect.  We don't converse in words, or even sentences.  We converse in entire dialogs, in entire narratives.  We use aspect as one tool to let our listeners know how everything fits together, what happened when, which parts are most important, etc.

In his Language Log post, Frommer gave us a few tense markers, and let us know there are five tenses in Na'vi: "present, past proximate, past general, future proximate, future general."  The translation Frommer himself has given for the <ol> infix has been various, but I suspect that's the perfective marker (not the "perfect" which is a somewhat different beast), and <er> is the imperfective.  In English we have no way to separate aspect from tense.  In Na'vi you can express one or the other or both.

Edit: now we know what ‹ev› is.

Karyu Amawey:
Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en

wm.annis:

--- Quote from: Karyu Amawey on December 24, 2009, 02:35:35 pm ---Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect
--- End quote ---

Ah!  I didn't see aspect really discussed in that the last time I looked at it.  Good info on transitivity, though!  That's going to trip up a lot of us native English speakers for a while, I suspect.

Beduino:

--- Quote from: Karyu Amawey on December 24, 2009, 02:35:35 pm ---Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en

--- End quote ---

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH THIS IS FANTASTIC!!!!!!!!!
I suck when it comes to gramar, and you put there all very datailed, explaining what each thing means!
You're my hero!

Is.:

--- Quote from: Karyu Amawey on December 24, 2009, 02:35:35 pm ---Hey, I just wrote up a pretty thorough explanation of the linguistic terms for phonology, tense and aspect up with plenty of examples if anyone wants to look it over :)  I know there has been a lot of speculation and confusion around, and since I just took a class in morphology and syntax in world languages (I got an A by the way :D) I thought I would share what I learned in relation to Na'Vi!

http://docs.google.com/fileview?id=0BxURBDXVBWhHMzA0ZjNiOWUtMWFhOC00ZjNjLTgxZWEtZGMwNzJmNmYwODAx&hl=en

--- End quote ---

We should really add this document to the Learn Na'vi main page (na'vi downloadables). It helped me lots as well.

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