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The Tamil aspectual system is an incompletely grammaticalized system, in that it is open-ended, with new verbs acquiring aspectual nuances as they move from being expressive or attitudinal. See the growing body of literature on grammaticalization (e.g. Harper and Traugott 1993) for insights on how the verbal category of aspect can be dealt with. Most recent syntactic studies of verbal aspect in Tamil (e.g. Steever 1983, Annamalai 1978, Dale 1975) have relied on data from LT, rather than ST. Had these studies used the spoken language for data, they would, I believe, be forced to draw other conclusions.

As we can see, the Tamil aspectual system exhibits many of the signs of grammaticalization:

  1. The system shows great variability in syntax, morphology, and phonology. No one set of rules (.e.g. phonological) can account for all of the kinds of variability.

  2. There are more aspectually verbs in modern ST than in LT.

  3. Verbs all have lexical analogs, but those that are more grammaticalized such as vidu and ش koo exhibit more phonological deviance from the lexical form.

  4. There is dialectal and pragmatic variation.

  5. The most grammaticalized of the AM's are quite uniform and have no attitudinal nuances; less fully-grammaticalized AM's retain semantic notions that are commentarial and judgemental, and hence highly variable.

  6. What can easily be explained as a syntactic system in LT can now best be explained as a more morphological one in ST.

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