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Aspect and Markedness.

Since in Tamil aspect is an optional rather than an obligatory category, aspect must be seen as a polarity of marked versus unmarked. The lack of occurrence of an aspectual verb indicates that the aspectual notion that is not present is unmarked, or neutral, rather than absent. That is, a sentence that contains a completive marker, such as (v)idu, certainly marks completive aspect, but its absence is not a `zero' marker for non-completion, the way absence of a plural marker in English is a `zero' marker of singularity. Absence of a completive aspectual verb does not indicate that there was no completion, but simply that it is unmarked, and therefore vague, for completion.Tamil (and other Dravidian languages) differ from, e.g., English in this respect, since it seems to be the case that English speakers share the presupposition that an action is completed unless otherwise stated, whereas Tamil speakers seem to share the presupposition that an action is not completed unless stated as definitely complete. Thus a sentence like `I went to the library yesterday' seems odd if followed by `but I never got there.' Rather, the first sentence would have to be replaced by something like `I started out for the library yesterday' if it is to be followed by `but I never got there.' In Tamil, in contrast, the analogous sentence Ԩ ؼ ա ؽƨ naan neettu laybreerikki pooneen is not strange if followed by ؽԲ ض aanaa, pooy seeralle (`I never arrived.) since ؽƨ pooneen `I went' is unmarked for completion---it declares simply that motion away from the addressee occurred. However, if ؽƨ pooneen were changed to add aspectual (v)idu, i.e., ؽԲع pooytteen then adding ؽԲ ض aanaa, pooy seeralle is odd.

Vasu Renganathan
Sat Nov 2 21:16:08 EST 1996