Languages without tenses

MarX

Banned
Indonesian, Indonesia
Hello!

While reading another thread I reckoned that in Indonesian we don't use any tenses nor do the verbs change according to person.

E.g.
English: Did you come to Mark's party yesterday?
German: Bist du gestern zu Marks Party gekommen?
Spanish: Fuistes ayer a la fiesta de Mark?
Indonesian: Kamu kemarin datang ke pestanya si Mark?

The Indonesian version literally is like:
[You yesterday come to party-the the Mark?] or
[Du gestern kommen nach Party-das das Mark?] or
[Vos ayer venir a fiesta-lo lo Mark?]

Is Indonesian the only language where the verb doesn't change according to tenses?
Every single language I've learned until today change their verbs according to tenses.

Greetings,


MarK
 
  • mal67

    Senior Member
    US - English
    No, it's not the only language. Certainly in a number of Asian languages, verbs are either not marked for tense, or there may be no grammatical tenses at all.

    For example, in Mandarin Chinese there are no grammatical tenses but only aspect (the degree to which an action is completed, not completed or in process); in Khmer (Cambodian), there may or may not be tenses (some would say there is only aspect; I'm not sure I agree) but in any case in both languages the verbs themselves are not marked for tense (nor for person, number, gender or anything else).
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    This is interesting, I didn't know that there are languages that don't have tenses. How do you know whether you are talking about the past or the present of the future?

    Something like: I saw you - as opposed to: I see you?
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    For example, in Mandarin Chinese there are no grammatical tenses but only aspect (the degree to which an action is completed, not completed or in process); in Khmer (Cambodian), there may or may not be tenses (some would say there is only aspect; I'm not sure I agree) but in any case in both languages the verbs themselves are not marked for tense (nor for person, number, gender or anything else).
    In Indonesian the verbs don't even change according to aspects.
    Something like: I saw you - as opposed to: I see you?
    For I saw you, all I can think of is:

    Tadi aku lihat kamu.

    tadi
    =a while ago
    = vorhin
    = denantes, de marras

    lihat
    = see
    = sehen
    = ver

    Another interesting thing is the free word order in Indonesian even though it doesn't have grammatical cases.
    For example for the sentence above, you can say:

    Tadi aku lihat kamu
    or
    Aku tadi lihat kamu
    or
    Tadi kamu aku lihat
    or
    Kamu tadi aku lihat
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    Macnas

    Member
    English and Russian, United States
    Don't quote me on this, but I remember reading somewhere that actual "tenses" are present in less than half of the languages spoken in the world (or at least very close to half). Such languages often instead place a heavy emphasis on a quality known as aspect instead of tense. One common such system is perfective (representing "completed actions", whether past or future) versus imperfective (represent "incomplete actions", past, present, or future). In such language, sometimes you can imply tenses using adverbs, but this isn't always necessary.

    [EDIT: Of course, this is only one way that languages can 'get by' without tenses.]

    It's a mistake to think that being able to distinguish tenses is a vital distinction in language. It just seems that way when you grew up with languages that rely on tense.
     

    mal67

    Senior Member
    US - English
    This is interesting, I didn't know that there are languages that don't have tenses. How do you know whether you are talking about the past or the present of the future?

    Something like: I saw you - as opposed to: I see you?
    This can be done in different ways.

    First, you can use adverbials of time. E.g., in Khmer (sorry for the poor transliteration):

    Khnyom daeu psaa m^s^l-m^nh
    lit. I go market yesterday
    = I went to the market yesterday

    vs

    Khnyom daeu psaa sa'aek
    lit. I go market tomorrow
    = I will go to the market tomorrow

    As Macnas mentioned, languages that have minimal or no tense features often have strong aspect. For example, Mandarin Chinese (and I presume other dialects as well, though I'm not sure) has particles that are added to sentences in order to indicate that an action has been completed or experienced, is in process, etc.

    Wo chi fan

    lit I eat rice
    = I eat [with no indication of time]

    vs.

    Wo chi fan le
    lit I eat rice completed action particle
    = I ate

    Note that there are also some languages that have both tense and aspect, and there must be languages that have only tense and no aspect. (I seem to recall Hebrew being like that.)
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    The lack of tense inflections seems to be common across the Austronesian family of languages, which includes Indonesian.

    Of course, if we think in semantic terms, tense is still there; the information about it has just been moved to an adverb, or (sometimes) is inferred from the context. Semantically, I suppose that all languages express tense somehow. What they don't all do is conjugate their verbs according to it.
     

    Breogan

    Senior Member
    Spain, Spanish and Galician
    Semantically, I suppose that all languages express tense somehow. What they don't all do is conjugate their verbs according to it.
    Otherwise people, speaking a language without those concepts, wouldn't understand the diference between present and past, present and future and so on. :confused:
     

    js3

    New Member
    USA
    USA, English
    Haitian Creole verb tenses are indicated with particles, and sometimes just by context:
    M'achte yon liv = I buy a book, I bought a book (you'd have to know the context).
    but also..
    Mwen te achte yon liv = I bought a book
    Mwen ta achte yon liv = I would buy a book (si mwen te genyen lajan-an = if I had the money), etc.
    And there is no verb "to be" in this language.
     

    Tjahzi

    Senior Member
    Swedish (Göteborg)
    This difference, between languages that inflect and those that add particles, is summarized by the distinction between synthetic and analythic languages (especially the former article has some nice examples). In short, analytic languages, or the dubiously similar group called isolating (not isolated!) langauges, do not use (many) inflections but instead add additional words to cover its semantics while synthethic languages use inflections. The synthetic languages can be divided into different subgroups such as agglutinative, polysythetic or fusional/inflecting languages. However, one should always keep in mind that there the great majority of all languages cannot be given a single label. Most languages are "mostly A, bordering to B with some influences of C". Just as there are languages that don't inflect the verb at all and add adverbs only, there are languages that do bot (like English) but I'm also sure there are languages that do in fact just use inflections.

    To give a more accurate answer to the question raised by teh topic starter; there are quite a few languages that like Indonesian (which, on a side note, is officially agglutinative I believe) do not inflect the verb for tense but instead uses separate adverbs to indicate when the action was performed (all languages labeled as analytic, such as Chinese, do this).
     

    Flaminius

    coclea mod
    日本語 / japāniski / יפנית
    Certainly in a number of Asian languages, verbs are either not marked for tense, or there may be no grammatical tenses at all.
    Thai also does not mark verbs for tenses, so they say "I go to Bangkok yesterday" when clearly the past is meant:
    Phom bai tii Krungtheep muua waan nii.
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    Haitian Creole verb tenses are indicated with particles, and sometimes just by context:
    M'achte yon liv = I buy a book, I bought a book (you'd have to know the context).
    but also..
    Mwen te achte yon liv = I bought a book
    Mwen ta achte yon liv = I would buy a book (si mwen te genyen lajan-an = if I had the money), etc.
    This is an adequate assessment
    And there is no verb "to be" in this language.
    but this is plain false. Haitian Creole actually has three methods for expressing "to be."

    1) The "zero copula" must be what you were referring to, where no word is add
    2) The word "se"
    3) The word "ye"

    I explained it briefly (but in more detail) in the All languages: To be, To have thread
     

    js3

    New Member
    USA
    USA, English
    That depends on the linguist. Some linguists would call the se and ye copula a form of the verb to be (which would make sense, as I would imagine that these terms come from the French c'est, etc.), whereas other linguists (such as Roger Savain) just call them copulas. So it's really just a matter of linguistic semantics.
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    That depends on the linguist. Some linguists would call the se and ye copula a form of the verb to be (which would make sense, as I would imagine that these terms come from the French c'est, etc.),
    I would not even call them a form of the verb "to be" or "être" because they are used differently. Knowing both French and Kreyòl, I know that c'est and se are indeed perceived differently. Simply put, in French you don't say:

    "Moi, c'est un artiste"
    you say "Je suis un artiste

    but in Kreyòl when one says "Mwen se youn atis" the se is "seen" and "felt" as the "suis" (or "am" in English).

    Similarly, it is hypothesized that "ye" came from the "il est" construction of French, but of course in French you don't say

    "Je ne sais pas où je il est", you say "Je ne sais pas où je suis"
    But in Krey
    òl "Mwen pa kone kote mwen ye" the ye is the "suis" (or "am"). Indeed, it means nothing else but that.

    The meanings of se/c'est (which, indeed, is probably of French origin) and ye (whose origins are dubious as of the moment) have been co-opted to new, similar meanings of "suis, es, est, etc" or "am, is, are"
    whereas other linguists (such as Roger Savain) just call them copulas. So it's really just a matter of linguistic semantics.
    I see what you're saying, it might well be semantics. It is strange to say "there is no verb 'to be'" when there are two words in the language "se" and "ye" meaning "to be", and only "to be". (which is an important distinction)

    But don't take this post as just reactionary, you're really making me think about language change, copulas, and various other linguistic theories...things I love to do.
     

    Qcumber

    Senior Member
    UK English
    The lack of tense inflections seems to be common across the Austronesian family of languages, which includes Indonesian.
    Tagalog, an Austronesian language, has no tenses, but does have aspects, and the form of a verb varies according to the aspect and to the focalisation.
    e.g. larô [la'ro?] "play"

    1) Naglálarô siyá.
    = He is playing. / He was playing.

    2) Naglarô siyá.
    = He has played. / He played. / He had played.

    3) Maglálarô siyá.
    = He will play. / He will be playing. / He would play. / He would be playing. / Let him play. / [didascalia / stage direction] He plays.

    4) ... nang maglarô siyá.
    = when he played. / when he had played.

    6) Maglarô ká!
    = Play!

    The same can be said of most Philippine languages.
    As mentioned by Markx, what is striking is that Malay verbs have no such paradigm.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    Note that there are also some languages that have both tense and aspect, and there must be languages that have only tense and no aspect. (I seem to recall Hebrew being like that.)
    I'm told that modern Hebrew has invented some tenses. Aspect-only certainly is true for Bible Hebrew, and Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, which is of course a major pain for example for people translating the Bible. Does the 'unfinished' aspect mean that somebody is doing something right now, and thus hasn't finished, or does it mean that the verb refers to some future point?

    Perhaps the most famous example from the Bible is the alleged Jesus prophesy in Isaiah. It is linguistically interesting because of two points of controversy: is the woman a virgin, or just a young woman; and is she already pregnant or will she be? Wiki makes a fair job of explaning.

    Regarding for example Chinese and how they manage without tenses, one answer (or two) has been given already: adding particles, like -le (which, again, does not indicate tense, but completed action), zhe (comparable to the English continous action aspect using -ing), etc. Also, the Chinese presume that listeners/readers are intelligent and can take hints. I buy book tomorrow = can't be anything else than future; I buy book yesterday also needs no more explaining.

    You may stumble into definition problems when you encounter the originally German label aktionsart. Aspect, aktionsart, tense, I think Hindi has them all. Superficially, the verb forms are few. But do they complicate by other means! I have yet to encounter another language (possibly excepting other modern languages of India) that piles that many verbs at the end of almost every sentence. These auxiliaries (or whatever) modify the main verb by adding aspects (finished, continuos, punctual..., objectively) or indicate the speaker's point of view (do actors act in self-interest or in the interest of others?).
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    I'm told that modern Hebrew has invented some tenses. Aspect-only certainly is true for Bible Hebrew, and Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, which is of course a major pain for example for people translating the Bible.
    Arabic has 3 tenses: past, present and "'amr" (looked hard for a translation, but I couldn't find one). I always thought that Hebrew had the same thing, but as I don't speak Hebrew I'm not going to argue.

    This applies to standard and collequal.
     

    mal67

    Senior Member
    US - English
    I'm told that modern Hebrew has invented some tenses. Aspect-only certainly is true for Bible Hebrew ...
    Yes, I seem to recall (from a linguistics class a very very long time ago...and so my memory may well be faulty) that biblical Hebrew was aspect-only, but that some scholars theorized that the tenses used in writing the Bible were "literary" or "story-telling" tenses - that is, they did not necessarily reflect how people would speak colloquially at that time.

    If I recall correctly (my Hebrew is rusty), modern Hebrew has past, present, and future tenses; an imperative; and at least one combined form (e.g., past tense of to be + present tense of verb to indicate a counterfactual or conditional).
    Arabic has 3 tenses: past, present and "'amr" (looked hard for a translation, but I couldn't find one). I always thought that Hebrew had the same thing, but as I don't speak Hebrew I'm not going to argue.
    This is interesting. No future tense? How are future actions expressed - aspectually? Through adverbs? Some other way?
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    This is interesting. No future tense? How are future actions expressed - aspectually? Through adverbs? Some other way?
    Russian expresses future actions aspectually. A rough description:
    In the perfective aspect, the present tense (often) has a future meaning. In the imperfective, the future can be formed using the verb "to be" in future + imperfective infinitive.
    From a strictly morphological point of view, there are two tenses: present and past. The verb "to be" has three tenses: present, past and future, the latter being used for imperfective future.
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    This is interesting. No future tense? How are future actions expressed - aspectually? Through adverbs? Some other way?
    In collequal, people use a wide variety of verbs that can be described as "auxilary verbs" (they are not actually auxillary, but used as such) as well as prefexes. In MSA and Classical Arabic the word soufa or prefix s- is used to express the future, similar to "I will come" and "l'll come".

    edit: Nicola, thanks for your links, I didn't notice them before my reply.

    By the way, English has no future tense either, unless you use will or shall.
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    Arabic has 3 tenses: past, present and "'amr" (looked hard for a translation, but I couldn't find one). I always thought that Hebrew had the same thing, but as I don't speak Hebrew I'm not going to argue.

    This applies to standard and collequal.
    I maintain that in Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, the "past and present", "perfect and imperfect", "preterite and future", "suffix and prefix verb forms" or whatever you name them, are neutral as to tense and merely qualify the verb action as completed or not.

    For example, the "imperfect" ("present") most often indicates an action taking place in the present or the future, but may sometimes be employed to express actions having taken place in the past, as is the case in some subordinate clauses.

    The two preceding paragraphs are adapted mainly from Schultz et al., Standard Arabic. An elementary-intermediate course.

    To quote W.Wright: A Grammar of the Arabic Language:
    Wright said:
    The names Preterite and Future, by which these forms were often designated in older grammars do not accurately correspond to the ideas inherent in them. A Semitic Perfect or Imperfect has, in and of itself, no reference to the temporal relations of the speaker (thinker or writer) and of other actions which are brought into juxtaposition with it.
    You will find the same opinion in any reliable grammar or textbook on Classical/Modern Standard Arabic, or Bible Hebrew.
     

    demalaga

    Member
    España castellano
    Semitic perfect almost always is translated by a past tense, but not always.For example wishes in arabic are expressed using perfect, since we imagine the think we wish as something accomplished in reality.So aspect and tense are different things but very close to one another.
     

    Nanon

    Senior Member
    français (France)
    I'm more inclined to think that Russian to be doesn't have a present (only est'/есть in a few cases). It's the lack thereof that makes it present. :)
    Speaking about contemporary Russian, the present of the verb to be is defective whereas it only exists in the third person singular in some cases. It is mostly expressed as a zero form with the meaning of present as Jazyk says or sometimes as a hyphen (-) in writing. However if one counts the defective present, it does have all the three tenses, and it has a special form for the future unlike other verbs.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    Thai also does not mark verbs for tenses, so they say "I go to Bangkok yesterday" when clearly the past is meant:
    Phom bai tii Krungtheep muua waan nii.
    It's right and Thai just adds other words before the verb or at the end of the sentence when it is necessary to note more accurately tenses or aspects : "kamlang" for ongoing action, "já" for the future or "láew" for completed action" , and so on.

    In Burmese :
    1- Verbs are not conjugated either and they never change their forms.

    2- There are three modal marks one of which must be added to any affirmative verb : -teh/deh for a present or past action.
    -meh for any action that is not yet carried out, future, but also intention, assumption.
    -pyi/pi/bi for an actualization or a shift. This suffix works about the same way as the Chinese particle ( le ) :

    ( transliteration) la-deh : I/you/he/she...comes / came
    la-meh : I/you...'ll come / intend to come
    la-bi : here he's coming ( 来了! inChinese )

    'kaoN-deh : it's good !
    'kaoN-bi : (right now,its good ,i.e it wasn't be good before )

    3- The main feature consists in using "auxiliaries" and "verbal marks", both of which are embedded between the verb and te modal mark. There are a lot that note various aspects ( causative, inchoative, performative ... ) and sometimes tenses (experienced past as guo in Chinese ). Some of them fit forms of Westen languages :

    ba?s la-ne-bi ( a bus + to come+ ongoing form+ modal mark bi" ) Here's the bus just coming

    Translating others can be tricky : so " 'hta/'da" mentions a sucessfully performed action :

    'yedeh : it's written
    'ye'dadeh : it's perfectly written, written out in full
    pyawdeh : I tell/told it/ him...
    pyaw'dadeh : I forestall/ forstalled/ warned him/her/you...

    Burmese seems to favour aspects by mostly using marks with a wide range of nuances in line with the features of isolating languages.
     

    Qcumber

    Senior Member
    UK English
    By the way, English has no future tense either, unless you use will or shall.
    You are right.
    Romance languages have three basic tenses: past, present, and future.
    Germanic languages have two basic tenses: past and present.
     

    Qcumber

    Senior Member
    UK English
    I maintain that in Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, the "past and present", "perfect and imperfect", "preterite and future", "suffix and prefix verb forms" or whatever you name them, are neutral as to tense and merely qualify the verb action as completed or not.
    You are right, Arabic only has aspects.
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Romance languages have three basic tenses: past, present, and future.
    I don't know what you mean by basic, but Portuguese, for example, has three pasts and two futures. They are considered tenses in Portuguese, but they do come closer to Slavic aspects. Modes they can't be, either, because those are three: indicative, subjunctive and imperative (in my opinion, though, the imperative could be grouped with the subjunctive, but, anyway, three is what we're told they are at school :)).
     

    MinaDidi

    Senior Member
    English, USA
    Well, I'm not sure if I can or want to get into a complex discussion of Nepali grammar, as I'm not a native speaker nor did I ever do much extensive analysis of the future tense.

    There is a SORT of future tense, which I've heard described as a "presumptive/potential future" tense (ending in ला (-la)...as in the common expression पछि भेटाउला (pachhi bhēṭāulaa), meaning "see you later"). When I've heard this tense used (and I use that term loosely because I think it bleeds over into a mood), it is with the implied feeling that something may or may not happen. Probably yes, definitely no.

    In the common usage, I and most people I interacted with used the present tense and a time-specific adverb to express the future. Many times to be clear, the "unconjugated" present would be used (ending in ने (-ne)), but the "regular" present tense is also acceptable. There was another discussion on this board about the use of this "unconjugated" use of the present (because the ending is uninflected for person and number) and this was a use I forgot about.

    So, examples for "I will come tomorrow."
    1. ("unconjugated" present): म भोलि आउन्ने। (ma bholi aaunne.) OR
    2. ("regular" present): म भोलि आउन्छु। (ma bholi aaunchhu.)

    So, as I mentioned, sometimes the ending in -la is called the "future." Have I heard "म भोलि आउला। (ma bholi aaulaa)" ? Yes. But usually with the subtext of doubt--more like "I will probably come tomorrow."

    I hope that was helpful...
     

    HistofEng

    Senior Member
    USA Eng, Haitian-Creole
    There is a SORT of future tense, which I've heard described as a "presumptive/potential future" tense (ending in ला (-la)...as in the common expression पछि भेटाउला (pachhi bhēṭāulaa), meaning "see you later"). When I've heard this tense used (and I use that term loosely because I think it bleeds over into a mood), it is with the implied feeling that something may or may not happen. Probably yes, definitely no.
    This sounds exactly like Haitian Creole's aspectual future marker "a". Haitian Creole is thought to have two markers of future, one ("ap") expressing more definiteness and probability than the other ("a").

    I will come tomorrow (definitely) = M'ap vini demen
    I will come tomorrow (probably) = M'a vini demen

    I think I will use your terminology for this from now on: "presumptive/potential future"
     

    Snik

    New Member
    Sweden, Swedish
    I could be wrong about this, but when I visited Fiji many years ago, I was told that in the Fijian language, the past and future tense were the same. Apparently it's because of how the Fijians view time - as a cycle rather than something linear. Does anyone know anything about this?
     

    jester.

    Senior Member
    Germany -> German
    I don't know what you mean by basic, but Portuguese, for example, has three pasts and two futures. They are considered tenses in Portuguese, but they do come closer to Slavic aspects. Modes they can't be, either, because those are three: indicative, subjunctive and imperative (in my opinion, though, the imperative could be grouped with the subjunctive, but, anyway, three is what we're told they are at school :)).
    Is there no mood in Portuguese which can be compared to English conditional or Spanish condicional? I'm referring to the Spanish verb form sería, haría, sabría, etc.

    If that is the case, you can group the imperative and the subjunctive together and you'll still have 3 moods ;)
     

    Mahaodeh

    Senior Member
    Arabic, PA and IA.
    You will find the same opinion in any reliable grammar or textbook on Classical/Modern Standard Arabic, or Bible Hebrew.
    Unless you consider native Arabic-speaking grammarians not reliable, I’m sure you will find that most* disagree with that opinion.

    The definition of a verb in Arabic is (translated): a word expressing an action linked with a time.

    The definition of the past tense is: a verb expressing an action that has taken place in the past or in the time before the time of speech.

    The definition of the present tense is: a verb expressing an action that is taking place at the current time, at the time of speech, or at a time after that.

    If that is not “past” and “present”, I don’t know what is.**

    I can’t speak about Hebrew though.




    Notes:
    * I said most, only because I don’t want to say all. I’m pretty sure all though.
    ** I almost wrote a whole article, then I decided that that was too much for this thread.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    I don't know what you mean by basic, but Portuguese, for example, has three pasts and two futures. They are considered tenses in Portuguese, but they do come closer to Slavic aspects. Modes they can't be, either, because those are three: indicative, subjunctive and imperative (in my opinion, though, the imperative could be grouped with the subjunctive, but, anyway, three is what we're told they are at school :)).
    In the Romance languages, as in other Indo-European languages, tense and aspect are somewhat conflated, especially for past tenses. People have been speaking here about how in some other language families aspect is more prominent than tense. Well, I remember reading that the same probably used to be the case in ancient IE languages. Tense is a category which developed later, by reinterpreting certain aspectual distinctions as time distinctions. If I'm not mistaken, Latin took large steps in this evolution. Philosophers can make of this what they will.

    While you can indeed argue that the imperfect and the (perfect) preterite are two past tenses in Portuguese, the distinction between them is largely aspectual. I'd rather say that they are the same tense in two aspects. Note that we do call them both "preterites" (=pasts) in Portuguese.

    I would agree that Portuguese and other Romance languages have just three basic tenses, past (preterite), present, and future. Perhaps four, if you include the conditional, which is regarded as a tense of the indicative by traditional grammarians in Portuguese and Spanish -- but French grammarians regard it as an independent mood, which makes more sense to me. (I would never group the imperative with the subjunctive. It's a clearly distinct mood, even though it has few forms of its own. But this would be a subject for a different thread.)

    Going back to the matter of the different morphological ways that languages have to express the notion of tense, I was reminded of the Brazilian indigenous language classical Tupi, where verbs weren't conjugated for tense, but nouns were. For example, the place name Pindorama, meant "where there will be palm trees". Although it's a compound word, it contains no verbs. The variations of human language are truly endless!
     

    jazyk

    Senior Member
    Brazílie, portugalština
    Is there no mood in Portuguese which can be compared to English conditional or Spanish condicional? I'm referring to the Spanish verb form sería, haría, sabría, etc.
    Sure, it's called condicional or futuro do pretérito: seria, faria, saberia, etc.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Thank you for the replies!

    So, the languages without tenses so far are:
    -basically all Southeast Asian languages
    -Chinese
    -Arabic
    -Austronesian languages
    -Haitian
    -Nepali

    Any more?
     

    ckctenerife

    Senior Member
    English, UK
    So in languages with fewer tenses, how do you express hypothetical situations?
    eg.
    I would go on holiday if I had the money,
    I would have gone on holiday if I had had the money.
     

    anahiseri

    Senior Member
    Spanish (Spain) and German (Germany)
    If your mother tongue has tenses, especially if verbs are heavily inflected (like in Romance languages), you may think it's odd that other languages have none.
    But then, maybe your language (like Romance languages) has no declensions, and a German or a Russian speaker may find it odd that you don't distinguish clearly between a noun used as a subject vs the noun used as an object.
    So in languages with fewer tenses, how do you express hypothetical situations?
    eg.
    I would go on holiday if I had the money,
    I would have gone on holiday if I had had the money.
    actually, this is not about tenses, but about mood: subjunctive versus indicative
    and conditional
     
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    djmc

    Senior Member
    English - United Kingdom
    Even languages which have a lot of tenses occasionally use the present can use the present to denote a past or future tense. Latin and English often use a present for rhetorical effect when talking about the past. This usage is called historic present. I might say both in English or French "I go tomorrow", "I am going tomorrow", "Je vais demain". The indication of a particular time trumps the use of the present.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    For example, the "imperfect" ("present") most often indicates an action taking place in the present or the future, but may sometimes be employed to express actions having taken place in the past, as is the case in some subordinate clauses.
    Semitic perfect almost always is translated by a past tense, but not always.For example wishes in arabic are expressed using perfect, since we imagine the think we wish as something accomplished in reality.So aspect and tense are different things but very close to one another.
    I agree with you.
    The question whether Arabic has tenses or aspects is a scholastic controversy. Generally speaking the two main forms , the māḍī and the mudāriʿ are termed tenses by the Arabic grammarians ( past and present/future) and aspects by the European (perfect and imperfect). In many languages a verbal form conveys both tense and aspect notions and I can say that the māḍī is semantically very similar to the French passé composé that can express the present perfect, but is also the only tense indicating the past in speech ; it's the same in Italian, at least in Northern Italy, the real past in both languages being only used in written. Otherwise in any aspect-based verbal system the imperfect is mostly interpreted as a present-future and the perfect as a past, if there's no context of any kind contrary to this meaning. Moreover it's logical to suppose that old Arabic was more aspect-based than MSA.
    So, the languages without tenses so far are:
    -basically all Southeast Asian languages
    -Chinese
    -Arabic
    -Austronesian languages
    -Haitian
    -Nepali
    Arabic cannot be listed in languages without tenses , the verb being inflected to express aspects or tenses ( mood and passive as well ) . These terms don't make sense in languages where the verb has only one form in the same way as an adverb.
     

    J.F. de TROYES

    Senior Member
    francais-France
    Tagalog, an Austronesian language, has no tenses, but does have aspects, and the form of a verb varies according to the aspect and to the focalisation.
    e.g. larô [la'ro?] "play"


    2) Naglarô siyá.
    = He has played. / He played. / He had played.
    Would you use the prefix nag- and only this marker in the following sentence : To-morrow at this time he will have arrived ?
     

    bibax

    Senior Member
    Czech (Prague)
    Russian ...
    In the perfective aspect, the present tense (often) has a future meaning. In the imperfective, the future can be formed using the verb "to be" in future + imperfective infinitive.
    From a strictly morphological point of view, there are two tenses: present and past. The verb "to be" has three tenses: present, past and future, the latter being used for imperfective future.
    In this respect Czech is similar to Russian except that Czech has retained all present tense forms of the verb 'to be' (jsem, jsi, je[st], jsme, jste, jsou).

    From a strictly morphological point of view, Czech (as well as Russian) has only present tense forms. The genuine future tense was non-existent already in Proto-Slavic, the genuine past tenses (aorist and imperfect) disappeared in the 14th century.

    1) future:
    Perfective verbs: the present tense forms have the future meaning (for the present meaning you need to use a corresponding imperfective verb).

    Imperfective verbs: the future meaning is formed using an auxiliary verb (+ infinitive). Its forms budu, budeš, bude, budeme, budete, budou are patently present tense forms. This auxiliary verb has no other forms, the original meaning is forgotten (could be perhaps 'to intend'). Some Slavic languages use the verb 'to want' (precisely its weakened present-tense forms; the full forms still mean 'to want') as an auxiliary verb to express the future meaning. The development is similar to the English 'shall/will'.

    Zítra budu hrát tenis. = Tomorrow I shall play tennis. (i.e. I intend to play tennis tomorrow)
    Zítra bude pršet. = Tomorrow it will rain.

    Another posibility is to use a corresponding perfective verb (however the meaning is slightly different due to the different aspect):

    Zítra si zahraji tenis. (impf. hraji = I play/I am playing, perf. zahraji has future meaning)
    Zítra zaprší. (impf. prší = it rains/it is raining, perf. zaprší has future meaning)

    2) past:
    The past tense (both perfective and imperfective aspect) is formed using the auxiliary verb 'to be' in present tense (+ l-participle, i.e. active past participle). It is similar to the Italian/French io sono arrivato/arrivata, je suis arrivé/arrivée = já jsem přijel/přijela (lit. I am arrived-participle = I [have] arrived). The l-participle is formed (quite regularly) from the infinitive and retains its aspect. Like the adjectives the participles express number and gender (even in plural: přijel, přijela, přijelo, pl. přijeli, přijely, přijela < inf. přijeti).

    Včera jsem hrál (hrála) tenis. = Yesterday I played tennis. (hráti = to play > hrál part. masc. sing., hrála part. fem. sing.)
    Včera [jest] pršelo. = Yesterday it rained. (pršeti = to rain > pršelo part. neut. sing.; aux. jest is redundant in the 3rd pers.)

    The only preserved aorist is the aorist of the verb 'to be' (bych, bys, by, bychom, byste, by[chu]), however it is used exclusively as an auxiliary verb to form the conditional mood (já bych přijel = I should arrive; my bychom hráli = we should play), já bych doesn't mean 'I was' anymore.

    So no genuine morphological future/past tenses in contemporary Czech, only periphrastic constructions using auxiliary verbs in the present tense forms.

    :warning: It doesn't mean that Czech is an easy language. The conjugation in the present tense is quite complicated (5 verbal classes, each with many subgroups, some of them comprise only several verbs + several athematic verbs), the verbal aspect is not too systematic, etc.
     
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    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    it's the same in Italian, at least in Northern Italy, the real past in both languages being only used in written
    As I have said several times about this subject, Italy is not only made up of Northern Italy (fortunately).:oops: Below the isogloss La-Spezia-Rimini the Italian Simple Past (passato remoto) is still alive and well. It is used in eveyday speech, particularly in Tuscany and in the South!
     
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    Olaszinhok

    Senior Member
    Italian
    Of course, in Florence and Neaples, yes. I happen to hear it in Rome as well. The Passato Remoto is not a dying verb tense like most people state on this forum or even on Wikipedia (in English) It’s normally used in the news, sports commentaries, public debates. For instance, the sports commentators, at the European athletics Championships in Berlin, normally use some forms of Passato Remoto in their commentaries, this is normal! As I said in the past on this forum, I wouldn’t compare the usage of Passato Remoto with the French Passé Simple. Personally, I can see more similarities to the German Präteritum (except for Modal verbs, obviously).
    To be honest, I would say that its usage is not so strict as in Spanish or English, it is rather inconsistent, but still alive. I can see some similarities between the use of the Simple Perfect in Tuscany and in Madrid, though...
     
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    Encolpius

    Senior Member
    Hungarian
    Of course, In Florence and Naples, yes. I happen to hear it in Rome as well. The Passato Remoto is not a dying verb tense like most people state on this forum or even...
    Oh, my Gosh, so do I have to memorize them?! :D I have thought that is the best part in Italian grammar you do not need to learn passato remoto forms (unlike Spanish).But I find passato remoto more practical in texting, so I personally would prefer it. It is shorter to write mangiasti than hai mangiato.
     
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