When translation fails: Pinpointing “past tense” meanings with speakers of St. Lawrence Island Yupik - Sylvia L.R. Schreiner

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9:30 AM, Friday 4 Oct 2019 (30 minutes)
In this talk I describe my work with speakers of St. Lawrence Island Yupik to better document the meanings of two morphemes that are optionally used to mark past events. In linguistic work on SLI Yupik, the morphemes -ma and -kaa have both been labeled “past tense”, and translated with the simple past or the perfect in English (de Reuse 1994, Vakhtin 1989, Jacobson 2001). De Reuse (1994:168) describes -kaa as being used to report “shared historical knowledge”, and -ma as used when the speaker “takes some responsibility for the past event reported”. However, these descriptions do not ring particularly true for speakers. I report on extensive semantic fieldwork that has shed light on the differences between the two morphemes. While -ma is used to describe past events which are “closer” to the speaker in time, path of knowledge, etc., -ka is reserved for past events that are “further away” in these terms. So, for instance, neghumaaq ‘he/she ate, has eaten’ might be used when the speaker has recently watched the person eat, or was told directly that the person ate, or has just been reminded that the person ate. Neghegkaaguq ‘he/she ate, has eaten’ could be used when the speaker saw the person eat hours previously, or heard third hand that they ate, etc. This distinction (call it “cognitive salience”) in reporting past events is important for understanding SLI Yupik, but also for adding to collective knowledge of the kinds of distinctions languages make in marking temporal contrasts.

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