Monday, May 2, 2016

Detail #275: Counterfactuals, Tense and Other Stuff

This post in part is a contribution! Thanks!
In many European languages, counterfactuals are somehow 'contaminated'* with the past tense. What else could we have them contaminated with?
"If I were in Albania, ..."
The contributor suggests polarity - negate the counterfactual in some way.
Albania-LOC not be-COND-1s
"If I were in Albania (which I am not) ..."
Now, the next idea was that negated counterfactuals would drop the negation:
 Albania-LOC be-COND-1s
"If I were not in Albania (which I, however, am) ..."
Not sure I buy that idea in particular, although I could imagine some marking that is derived from the negative participating in the formation of counterfactuals.

Aspect seems somewhat plausible as well - maybe contaminate counterfactuals with atelic aspect or something. However, let's go a bit further afield? How about contaminating it with some form of evidentiality - say, counterfactuals are always hearsay? Or maybe, just maybe, counterfactuals are always things of one's own observation (since one's observed them with one's mind's eye). 

Another idea that feels partially clever is for a language with a non-future vs. future tense system to have counterfactuals that are marked with future tense.

Going further off into contamination, how about person? All counterfactuals inflect for third person plural? Not maybe all that odd, Estonian apparently partially inflects evidentiality by the same morpheme as plural third person (well, historically both come from the active participle, so there's that bit), so why not do counterfactuals in that way?

Conflating counterfactuality with anything really could be interesting - but so would conflating any kind of modal marking with any other kind of marking, to some extent.

Funnily enough, I think I've been raving about this kind of thing in nouns for years, but never really gotten around to raving about it in verbs. A brave new world opens!

* This is the word the contributor chose to use, and I am inclined to sort of agree.

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