AffiliationUniversity of Chicago
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DescriptionPublished as Coyote Papers: Working Papers in Linguistics, Special Volume Dedicated to the Indigenous Languages of the Americas
AbstractUp to this point, the Aymara verb has been analyzed as a matrix of tense and evidentiality (i.e. how the speaker came to know of an event). Under this analysis, the morphology is defective in two regards. It collapses the distant past and the present/near past for non-personal knowledge, and there is no evidentiality distinction for the future form. Furthermore, there are significant ‘exceptions’ to the uses of these forms. A more elegant, non-defective analysis without ‘exceptions’ is possible if we recognize that the previous analyses have imposed Indo-European categories onto a language that does not give precedence to them. Whereas most Indo-European languages are more concerned with locating an event in time, Aymara prioritizes how much responsibility a speaker assumes for the information in a speech act. Even for instances when time is the most salient piece of information, previous studies have neglected to incorporate the Aymara conception of time. In contrast to a Western view, in which the speaker conceptually looks faces forward toward the future, the Aymara place the past in front of the speaker, because it is ‘visible’. The unknown, unseen future lies behind the speaker. This construal of the unknowable future fits into the Aymara focus on evidentiality. Further investigation shows that Aymara verbs reflect four grades of how sure a speaker is of the information that he or she reports. The passage of time is simply the prototype of any of a number of reasons for which a speaker may choose to accept less responsibility. Other reasons include hearsay, surprise, and intoxication. This study suggests a new approach to analyzing tense, aspect, and modality in languages such as Aymara.