An Exploration of Tense in Chuj

  • This study explores the idea of the existence of tense in Chuj, an understudied Mayan language of the Q’anjob’alan branch. Traditionally, it has been thought that Mayan languages do not make use of tense and, consequently, they are often referred to as tenseless languages (Bohnemeyer 2009:20, Kaufman 1990). Instead, temporal adverbials are used on occasion, along with aspect, to describe and contextualize the event/action in time. This is exemplified in Bohnemeyer (2009) for Yucatec, where he argues that the use of adverbials as well as temporal anaphora situate events/actions in time.

    However, I argue for a re-examination of tense in Mayan languages. My main source of evidence comes from data I have elicited in Chuj. This is supplemented by data from England (1983) on Mam, Mateo-Toledo (2011) on Q’anjob’al, and Hopkins (2012) and Domingo Pascual (2007) on Chuj. Specifically, I investigate ix, which has been called a recent completive tense/aspect marker (Domingo Pascual 2007) as well as a past tense/aspect preclitic (Hopkins 2012). The data that I have collected demonstrate that the temporal distribution of ix is indeed limited to the recent past: ix may only be used for events/actions that have already terminated during the present day. This suggests that ix is a tense marker, as tense constrains the utterance to the past, present, or future (Bohnemeyer 2009:31) while aspect is concerned with the internal temporal structure of an event/action (Comrie 1976:2). Finally, I discuss the implications that this hypothesis has for the rest of the Mayan language family.




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