Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Hungarian Temporal and Aspectual Reference in the Absence of Dedicated Markers
by Palffy-Muhoray, Nicole Marie, Ph.D., Yale University, 2016, 250; 10160871
Abstract (Summary)

In recent years, work has emerged suggesting that a wide range of languages lack paradigms of overt, fully grammaticalized morphemes to express tense and aspect distinctions. This dissertation asks how a language without such dedicated morphology might express these meanings by exploring the following two strategies for expressing tense/aspect distinctions in Hungarian.

No systematic marking of grammatical/viewpoint aspect categories (e.g. Progressive, Imperfective) exists in Hungarian. These semantic distinctions are instead retrieved through the interaction of several factors, including facts about the discourse context, properties of the predicate, word order, and the presence/absence of verbal particles and temporal frame expressions. Éppen, which I argue is best analyzed as a discourse particle in the tradition of Beaver & Clark (2008), is used to specify aspectual distinctions in a variety of aspectually ambiguous contexts, and gives rise to a separate but related range of precisifying effects when it occurs with scalar expressions. I propose that éppen presupposes the existence of a unique strongest alternative to the current question, and asserts that the prejacent be construed as that alternative, thereby picking out the strongest reading from a set of possible alternatives. This analysis provides a first sketch of a heretofore undocumented strategy for expressing aspectual distinctions, and allows for a unified account of seemingly diverse distributions and interpretations.

The only overt, grammaticalized marker of tense in Hungarian is the Past morpheme (-t). Future reference is expressed either with the null/unmarked Non-past tense or with fog, which I argue is a modal verb. Analyses of English future-referring strategies (e.g. `will', `be going to', Present, Present Progressive) that are proposed to be cross-linguistic fall short for Hungarian, suggesting that there is greater diversity in how languages express future reference cross-linguistically than previously thought. I suggest that the facts can be explained based on interactions of context, properties of the predicate, and the semantics of the Non-past and fog. If fog has a metaphysical modal base, which forces fog's obligatorily future reference, we can account for a distribution in which fog is preferred for expressing future reference in some contexts and the Non-past is preferred in others by appealing to pragmatic blocking relationships and speaker preferences familiar from the domains of scalar implicatures and indirect speech acts. The Hungarian facts suggest that languages can succeed at expressing nuanced temporal information with relatively few dedicated markers. This analysis allows for these complex distributional differences between future-referring expressions to be accounted for with a fairly rudimentary semantics if properties of the context of utterance are sufficiently spelled out.

This project provides novel insights into the understudied topic of the semantics of tense and aspect in Hungarian, and contributes to the growing understanding of the range of strategies available to express tense and aspect cross-linguistically. I suggest that at least for Hungarian, the role of context is crucial for the specification of temporal and aspectual reference.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Deo, Ashwini
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 78/01(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Linguistics, Philosophy, Language
Keywords: Aspect, Hungarian, Pragmatics, Semantics, Temporal Reference, Tense
Publication Number: 10160871
ISBN: 978-1-369-15766-6
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