Future markers of the West Greenlandic

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West Greenlandic, a polysynthetic language, belongs to Inuit languages. In Inuktitut (Canada) and West Greenlandic (Inuit languages) tense is marked by optional tense suffixes and in both languages the temporal systems are based on a future/ non-future opposition. In Inuktitut the tense suffixes have developed a complicated remoteness system. In West Greenlandic the future tense suffixes have a distinction between vague and inevitable future, and the past time suffixes have developed different perfect meanings. In Iñupiaq (Alaska), the temporal system is based on an opposition between past, present and future, where tense is marked in the flectional morpheme, but only in the indicative mood. There are only a few tense suffixes. The meanings of these tense suffixes are the same as those of the West Greenlandic tense suffixes.
My current work is a typological investigation about the aspectual marking and future marking in West Greenlandic. There are about 40-50 aspectual suffixes, divided into ‘inner’ phasal and ‘outer’ phasal aspect (Kristoffersen 1991) and about five future tense suffixes in WG (Fortescue 1980). The order of the suffixes is stem + inner aspect + outer aspect + tense + modality + inflection. In this presentation I shall talk about the future tense suffixes only. The future tense suffixes have a distinction between vague and inevitable future. All future tense suffixes have more than one meaning and belong to different semantic categories. It means that the same suffix can appear more than one time in the same word, and the meanings will be different depending on the telicity of the stem, the context and the suffixes added to it. The sources of the future tense suffixes are different, -niar (inevitable future, will) from intension and belongs to five different semantic categories, -ssa (should, future) from should and has a modal meaning too, -jumaar (vaque future) from wish, -ler (near future/be about to) from begin, and -ssamaar (planed future) a compound suffix coming from wish and should. –ssa (should, future) seems to be the default future suffix, and it is used when none of the others can be used. It seems that some of the tense suffixes i.e. past (-sima, perfective, perfect, preterite) and future (-ler, begin, be about to, near future) originally had a more or less concrete aspectual meanings and have developed into more abstract tense meanings (Fortescue 1996). The aim of the project is to find out when to use the different meanings in both written and spoken languages. It is based on interviews where the informants are talking about things about future, daily spoken language from colleges and in the media, and a questionnaire where the informants should fill in the empty slots in a verbal context with different inherent aspectual meanings.

Fortescue, Michael (1980) Affix ordering in West Greenlandic derivational processes. In: International journal of American linguistics. – vol. 46, no. 4, p. 259-278.
Fortescue, Michael (1996) Tense, mood and aspect grammaticalization in West Greenlandic and Chukchi. In: La dynamique et la culture inuit. /Nicole Tersis et Michèle Terrien (eds.) p. 151-175.
Kristoffersen, Lars (1991) Verbal derivation and inflection in a functional grammar of West Greenlandic. Magisterkonferens, Københavns Universitet, Institut for Eskimologi.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date3 Sep 2010
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 3 Sep 2010

ID: 34203395