Two Paths to Habituality: Imperfective Mode vs. Habitual Mode in Tlingit (and Simple Present in English)

Colloquium | October 21 | 3:10-5 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall

 Seth Cable, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

 Department of Linguistics

Despite its morpho-syntactic simplicity, the English sentence in (1) expresses an especially complex and still deeply puzzling meaning, one having to do with the subject’s habits, propensities, dispositions, duties, etc.

(1) My father eats salmon.

Interestingly, in the Tlingit language (Na-Dene; Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon), there seem to be two means for expressing the general meaning of (1). The first is to use a verb in the so-called ‘Imperfective Mode’ (2a); the second is to use a verb in the so-called ‘Habitual Mode’ (2b).

(2) a. Ax̱ éeshch tʼá ax̱á.
1sgPOSS father.ERG king.salmon
My father eats king salmon (MD)

b. Ax̱ éesh x̱áat ux̱áaych.
1sgPOSS father salmon
My father eats salmon. (SE)

This of course raises the following questions: (i) What exactly is the morpho-syntactic and semantic difference (if any) between the two Tlingit verbal forms in (2)? (ii) How do either of these verbal forms relate syntactically or semantically to the English simple present verb in (1)? In this talk, I will principally address the first of these questions. We will see that there are indeed some important semantic and (morpho-)syntactic differences between ‘imperfective habituals’ in Tlingit (2a) and ‘habitual-marked habituals’ (2b). In particular, I will argue that imperfective habituals have the general structure in (3a), where the ‘habituality’ in the semantics is contributed directly by the imperfective aspect (Deo 2009, Arregui et al. 2014). On the other hand, habitual-marked habituals have the structure in (3b). Under this proposal, the Habitual Mode morphology is the realization T(ense), when the T-head is bound by a temporal quantifier (e.g. tlákw ‘always’, wáa ng̱aneen sá ‘sometimes’). Furthermore, it is this temporal quantifier – which in some sentences may be implicit/covert (2b) – which contributes the understood ‘habituality’, and not the Habitual Mode morphology itself.

(3) a. Syntax of (2a): [TP T [AspP IMPRVGEN [VP my father eat salmon ] … ]

b. Syntax of (2b): [TP TempQuant [TP T [AspP ASP [VP my father eat salmon ] … ]

Finally, I will begin to outline a defense of the claim that English sentences with simple (present) verbs, like (1), are syntactically ambiguous, and can in principle receive either of the structural analyses in (3).