Time, Space, Modality and (Inter)Subjectivity in isiNdebele’s Three Futures

Crane, T. M. (!!Speaker)

Aktivitet: Typer för tal eller presentation!!Oral presentation


isiNdebele (S.407, Nguni, South Africa) has three morphological means of marking (simple) futurity. Two of the markers – zo(ku) and za(ku) – seem to be grammaticalized forms of the lexical verb -za ‘come’; the other, yo(ku) derives from -ya ‘go (to). As shown in (1), the three forms cannot be distinguished on the basis of simple metrical distinctions in temporal remoteness.

(a) Ngi-yo-(ku-)fik-a kusasa
(b) Ngi-za-(ku-)fik-a kusasa
(c) Ngi-zo-(ku-)fik-a kusasa
1SG-FUT-(INF-)-arrive-FV tomorrow
‘I will arrive tomorrow’

Nguni and Sotho languages frequently have forms of both ‘come’ and ‘go’ grammaticalized as future markers. These markers typically have varying forms; for example, ‘go’ futures in siSwati have both a -ta- form and a “shortened” -to- form (Nichols 2011:42).

Despite the proliferation of forms, however, most of these languages are reported to have just two major future categories, one based on ‘come’, and another based on ‘go’. Botne (2006) proposes that futures in ‘come’ locate the future in the privileged “P-domain” that includes the time and place of the speaker and utterance; ‘go’ futures, in contrast, situate the future eventuality time in a “D-domain” dissociated from the speaker’s here-and-now. Along these lines, Nichols (2011:310-311) lists some possible factors in the selection of a ‘come’ or go’ future, including “relative temporal proximity”, “certainty of occurrence”, “continuation or change of activity”, “deixis and de-centering”, “temporal cognition”, and “cognitive temporal perspective”.

isiNdebele’s tripartite future system adds another layer of complexity to the come-vs.-go systems that appear to be prevalent in the area. Like in other languages, the zo(ku) and yo(ku) futures contrast along numerous dimensions, including perceived temporal distance, speaker knowledge of time of occurrence, spatial location of the eventuality involved, and speaker certainty. The multiple dimensions involved in the selection of one form over the other leads to results that cannot be predicted a simple contrast such as that between (e.g.) ‘near’ vs. ‘remote’ futures. For example, depending on the speaker and the context, the relative certainty of an eventuality’s occurrence does not correlate uniformly with the choice of one form over the other. That is, speakers sometimes rated yo(ku) forms as sounding “more certain”, while zo(ku) forms correlated with higher certainty in other contexts.

The multiple factors involved in the choice of ‘come’ or ‘go’ futures in isiNdebele are compounded by the third means of future marking, za(ku), which, I argue, expresses a kind of participant-external modality (Van der Auwera and Plungian 1998:80–86) in which the realization of the eventuality referenced is outside of the control or agency of the participant and/or the speaker. The basic participant-external modal meaning extends to za(ku) uses as an indirect command (you will/must do this); in situations where speakers desire an outcome but cannot effect it; where an outcome is undesirable but unavoidable; or even when a desired outcome is unlikely.

Based on the zo(ku)/za(ku) contrast, I suggest that grammaticalization from ‘come’ in isiNdebele has led to two different semantic outcomes: the first resulting from a sense of temporal proximity (the metaphorical nearing of the eventuality), and the other from a sense of lack of participant control (the “coming” eventuality approaching an agentless participant). The multiple morphological forms available, which apparently are treated as free variants in other languages, seem to have been assigned distinct semantic values in isiNdebele. Crucially, attention to more than just one dimension of semantic contrast is needed in the analysis of isiNdebele futures.
Period2 jun 20173 jun 2017
HändelsetitelThe semantics of verbal morphology in under-described languages
Typ av evenemangWorkshop
PlatsGothenburg, Sverige