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Review of Relative Tense and Aspectual Values in Tibetan Languages
Date: Tue, 08 Feb 2005 15:41:42 +0800 From: Jakob Kimbell Subject: Relative Tense and Aspectual Values in Tibetan Languages
AUTHOR: Zeisler, Bettina TITLE: Relative Tense and Aspectual Values in Tibetan Languages SUBTITLE: A Comparative Study SERIES: Trends in Linguistics, Studies and Monographs 150 PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter YEAR: 2004
Jakob Dempsey, Foreign Language Department, Yuan-ze University, Taiwan
The first one-quarter of the book is a theoretically-oriented introduction to the issues which take Tibetan as their focus in the major portion of the book. Among these issues are ways to conceptualise events, which include: A) "Type of Actor" (presence or absence of Control, Agency, or Volition) B) "Type of Event" - one breakdown would be: achievement ('to break'), accomplishment ('to grow up'), activity ('to flow'), and state ('to sit'). These categories can be morphemic alternations such as German or English jagen 'hunt' (activity) vs. erjagen 'hunt down' (achievement). C) Absolute Tense vs. Relative Tense. The former includes divisions into past vs. non-past, past vs. present vs. future, and there may even be finer distinctions such as remote-past, recent past. etc. The latter was originally conceived to account for the Perfect in English and some related languages, and includes: "taxis" (the temporal ordering of closely related events), vs. ordering vis-à-vis a contextually given reference point which may or may not be the same as the time of the speech-act, among other functions. D) Phase: a way to classify verbal expressions by focusing on certain intervals in the development of the event; expressions may be prospective, inceptive, continuative, progressive (dynamism added), egressive, or completive. E) Quantification: classify events as distributive, iterative, habitual, etc. F) Aspect: Zeisler lists five "possible prototypical perspectives on the realisation of events": 1) event as such - the totality 2) course/internal stages 3) preparatory (external) 4) result (external) 5) indefinite quantification (habitual, iterative etc.), and further defining Perfective as the marked (+totality) viewpoint vs. Imperfective, the unmarked (0-totality) viewpoint. e.g. Russian "Dokazyval no ne dokazal" "He tried to prove (Impf) but didn't (Pftv)". (Zeisler reminds us that applying this Slavic system to other languages can result in confusion, for example, in the Romance languages there is an opposition of, e.g. the French imparfait vs. the Passé Composé which is "commonly accepted ... in terms of Aspect [but] ... turns out to be a complex of aspectual, temporal, modal, as well as pragmatic functions".) G) Framing: marked (+internal perspective) vs. unmarked (holistic perspective). This category is illustrated by the English "expanded form" construction ( is/was ...ing), which is informationally marked and can serve as a Frame for an event with open interval.
Zeisler discusses these concepts, and how they interact with TAM (Tense, Aspect, Mood) in Ancient Greek, the Romance languages, Literary Arabic, English, Russian, Bulgarian and other languages, but the limited nature of this review suggests we should focus on these issues as discussed in the major, Tibetan-oriented, part of the book.
Part II, "the Tibetan system of Relative Tense and aspectual values" starts off with a classification of Tibetan within Tibeto-Burman, but based on a rather old source; the inclusion of Lepcha as a close relative of Tibetan is probably erroneous, cf. Bradley 1997, which also rearranges Zeisler's subdivisions of Tibetan. Her suggestion of a close connection between Old Tibetan (evidenced from early documents) and north-eastern or Amdo Tibetan is intriguing, and would suggest something about the movements of ethnic groups early on in Tibetan history.
This reviewer should remind the reader that the comments expressed here are from the viewpoint of a general-background scholar in Tibetan linguistics with a particular interest in Lhasa Tibetan, who also has a desire to learn something about the specialist studies in Tibetan verbal systems which Zeisler has undertaken; the deep understanding of theoretical issues in the first part of the book coupled with a familiarity and personal investigation of many varieties of Tibetan, modern and ancient, is an achievement which perhaps belongs uniquely to Zeisler among the global community of language scholars.
Zeisler devotes quite a few pages to analyzing and explaining the phonologies and transcription-systems she will be using. In matters of a preferred transliteration for Tibetan, it is probably useless to assert that one's own is less confusing or more rational, one can never satisfy everybody. For Lhasa Tibetan, she takes the slightly centralised high front and back vowels, transcribed in Chang & Shefts as e and o (both with raised dot above) as non-phonemic, but that is not really the case in this type of Lhasa speech which she is taking as her main source. I would agree with her about the shortcomings in phonetic accuracy of Goldstein's extensive publications on modern Tibetan.
This section also introduces us to the Tibetan verb, which lacks components related to mood, voice, person, or number. Instead, there is a fundamental division into verbs representing controlled or intended action and those representing accidental or nonvolitional action. We are introduced to the different possible stems of the Classical Tibetan verb -- four at the most, where A is the unmarked stem, expressing simultaneity vs. stem B which expresses anteriority; stems C and D express modal concepts. In presenting such material, I think Zeisler's approach is a little too abstract to be a proper guide for many readers: for example, at the very point of first opening the discussion about the four verb stems, it would be helpful to give a short list or little table of some common examples, so the reader could see some concrete depiction of what is under discussion.
Part II contains a large section dealing with verbal forms in Old and Classical Tibetan. Compound constructions, with some sort of auxiliary after the verb-stem, are not as nearly common here as they become in later Tibetan, but already can be seen. Zeisler bids us look more carefully at the semantic content inherent in the suffixes, for example "bsad-par-'ong" would not just be another kind of future expression, but specifically "is going to [have] you killed." Her analysis of the Simple Future in these texts reminds one of a common use in Lhasa Tibetan: a deliberate decision of the speaker to act, also often carrying the connotation that one is morally or socially obliged to act, thus laws, precepts and prohibitions are often expressed with this Simple Future. Under #275 in this section, it seems the phrase "ensnaring deer" should be changed to "ensnared deer". Zeisler concludes this section stating that "the stems of Old and Classical Tibetan can be best described in terms of Tense-R [relative tense] and Mood." Thus not in terms of Aspect or Framing. In terms of Tense-R, "the present stem is positively marked for simultaneity", whereas the simple past stem is "aspectually...unmarked", and not expressive of Absolute Tense (Tense-A).
By the time that we get to modern dialects, such as Lhasa Tibetan, the widespread conflation of the old separate stems leaves the differentiation of Tense-A, Phase/Quant (Quantification) and Mood as the job of compounded verbal constructions. The introduction of Aspect, to be connected with ergative agent marking in past tense constructions, leads, as Zeisler states, to more confusion and muddle than it helps; an article by this reviewer pointed out years ago that the role of ergative marking is much broader than this, whether in Lhasa speech or in earlier semi- colloquial writings.
Zeisler's "phonemic transcription" of Lhasa Tibetan contains some inaccuracies or misleading representations: e.g. p.472 "sha-'di zo!" (Eat this meat!). I would agree with Zeisler that the falling contour on the imperative "zo" is better attributed to sentence intonation, and should not be marked the way it is in the Chang and Shefts publications, but the vowel is short; this example also includes a peculiar marker of Zeisler's, a sort of dislocated integral sign which is supposed to indicate "non-phonemic suprasegmental features due to sentence intonation". Frankly, I don't see the point of this device: for example, p. 495 has this symbol appearing in the midst of "paa-lags" ( father ); Zeisler's transcription has a falling tone on the second syllable, which is not appropriate since it is completely unstressed, the vowel in "paa" is long simply because that is the form of the word, there is no "prosodic trick" which can relate it to the short- vowel written form.
Further down on the same page, the high-toned "ni" , which frequently occurs at the end of phrases in spoken Lhasa Tibetan, is also marked with this split-integral; I suspect that Zeisler is assuming the word is basically the written "ni", which should be low-tone, so "something prosodic" must be making it high-tone. Aside from the fact that this is simply the expected tone for this morpheme in Lhasa Tibetan, there being thus no need to "explain" its relationship to any written form, the historical antecedent is more likely to have been "a.ni / e.ni" which still pops up all over the place in Lhasa sentences and has the high tone already in place in the second syllable. - In her transcription Zeisler has certain syllables spaced completely apart, others written together, and others connected by a dash, but the rules for such spellings are not at all clear and can in some cases be quite misleading unless the reader is already quite familiar with Lhasa Tibetan.
For example, why does the unstressed genitive marker -khi get placed off with a dash, but the unstressed dative marker -la gets stuck right onto the noun it follows? (p. 473) Also, it seems that Zeisler's system marks the tone on the first syllable of a disyllabic unit, and then the second syllable's tone is predictable. Example #341b starts out with "ngarang", where we can predict the low tone indicated on the first syllable to be followed by a raised (fairly level) tone on the second, but later on we have "zaga:" (I have modified her symbols for the sake of electronic transmission) where, with the same tone- markings, we would expect the same tonal pattern on the second syllable, but actually it is completely different, it is unstressed and low-tone. Why? Because the connection between the syllables in "ngarang" is a close juncture found within syntactic words, whereas the connection between "za" and '"ga:" is a loose juncture found between syntactic words within a phrase. This is obvious from #341c on the next page where, in "phebs-ga:" (my retranscription) the tone on the first syllable is falling (as it would be in pause-final) instead of leveled out as it would be in close juncture, e.g. "phebs.ki-red". If one connects syllables with two kinds of juncture- markers (I use a mid-raised dot vs. a dash) then the sentence structure and the phonology are both clearer; so for example p. 482 #358 should be "gjap-nä", the second syllable is quite unstressed, not falling tone as she has it. The same goes for the ergative "-gis" suffix in #359 (p.483). On the other hand, for example p.491 #375, in "byas-byas.par" the first two syllables should, in Zeisler's system, be written together with no dash since they are in close juncture: the first syllable's falling tone is leveled out. Zeisler's linkage of the three syllables implies the opposite of the facts.
After this critical "excursus" on Lhasa phonology, let us, as far as this reviewer is able, say a few more words about Zeisler's treatment of verbs in various modern dialects. The Lhasa Tibetan section shows us at least 18 different types of verbal constructions, expressing prospective, experiential past, "coming onto the scene", past habitual etc. It is not very easy to find one's way around among all these types, a problem we will consider more below. - The Lhasa section cites a number of sentences with verbal expressions ending in "-'dug", but it is doubtful whether any of these can be taken as real Lhasa speech: they do not occur in the Chang and Shefts corpus, nor in Wang 1994. The Lhasa forms would be: stem + -'dug > - zhag, stem + -ki + 'dug > .kiq (falling tone), stem + -pa + 'dug > -pa: . Forms with 'dug only appear in negative or interrogative constructions.
The next section in Part II, on the Eastern dialects, is longer than the Lhasa section, but we will only look at it briefly here. Verbs in these dialects have preserved the original Present stem, "but it has taken over all functions of the future stem." A distinctive feature of Eastern dialects is that the nomonaliser "-pa" is replaced by "-le" (Kham) and "-n?" (Amdo), e.g. "brjod- pa-red" (said) > "dze-leq". Zeisler mainly compares one northern Kham dialect (Nangchenpa) and two of the Amdo group (Rebkong and Themchen). Verbal behavior shows similarities to Lhasa: present tense constructions are zero-marked for Tense-A, and in terms of Tense-R the past stem is marked for anteriority, but the simple past is not commonly seen, more limited to a perfective use.
Part III of the book, dealing with Western Tibetan, could be called the Main Course, both from its size and from the perspective of Zeisler's personal research background. She earlier carried out a major research project on an oral epic transcribed in this area (Lower Ladakh), and has done on-the- scene field work recording several Tibetan dialects in this area; she presents us with a very thorough survey of the literature on West Tibetan dialects, and displays an equal mastery in discussing the phonological variations across the dialects. The West Tibetan verb shows a primary opposition between present and past stem, but in a sense they are hardly different "stems", since the past form has become generalised as merely adding an "-s" to the present stem, at least for controlled action verbs. This group of dialects is also distinguished by having widespread use of an "Aesthetive subject": dative/locative marker with transitive accidental event verbs, only rarely found in Lhasa Tibetan. Zeisler has good reason to suspect this may be due to Indo-Aryan/Dardic influence. As she points out, "Western Tibetan varieties show the most extensive differentiation of constructions": this part of the book thus contains quite a long list of different verbal forms, with many examples from Balti, Ladakhi and other dialects.
Finally, Part IV gives us a comparative recapitulation, for example, "in terms of Framing....none of the four stems would be marked for the +internal perspective." There is an extensive discussion about possible "potentalis" implications in the imperative form. Zeisler attempts to solve the problem about the original function of the past stem: if it were neither aspectual, nor modal, nor temporal....then what? She revives an older theory that the "b-" prefix associated with the past stem may derive from an early verb *ba (to do), which leads to the possibility that the d-/g- prefix of stem form C is not merely directional (cf. Wolfenden) but could have been derived from a separate verb. There is a lot of additional material on different types of complementary verbs, expressing movement, transfer, deposition etc. but there is no space here to discuss details.
An unfortunate shortcoming at the end of the volume is the lack of any index to the various topics discussed in the book. There is an index to the various researchers and where they are cited discussing various broad topics in the text, but with such a large book (nearly a thousand pages), and so many technical terms and different grammatical topics covered, there is a critical need to be able to locate just where such terms were first and then later used, just where one could find information, spread across the various dialects, on this or that topic. I would hope that Zeisler could spend some time and generate such an index of perhaps 3 or 4 pages which could be kept next to the back cover by the reader.
Although English does not seem to be her native language, the language throughout the volume is clearly written and showing good mastery of technical terms, with only the occasional peculiarity.
Nowadays a great amount of research on Tibetan is written in Chinese; I would recommend that where possible, Zeisler consult such sources more. For example, the large grammar of spoken Lhasa Tibetan (Wang 1994) would have been profitably consulted for many of the discussions in Zeisler's book.
Bradley, David 1997. "Tibeto-Burman Languages and Classification" , Pacific Linguistics Series A-86. Dept. of Linguistics, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, Australian National University
Chang, Betty Shefts and Chang, Kun 1978-1981. Spoken Tibetan Texts. Taipei : Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica.
Wang, Zhi-jing 1994. A Grammar of Colloquial Lhasa Tibetan [in Chinese]. Beijing: Central Minorities University.
Yu Dao-quan et al. 1980. Tibetan-Chinese (Lhasa Colloquial) Dictionary [in Chinese and Tibetan]. Beijing: Min-zu chu-ban-she.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jakob Dempsey: M.A. in Tibetan linguistics and folk-literature, Ph.D. in Asian Linguistics (Sino-Tibetan historical phonology) - both from University of Washington, Seattle. Since 1997 on faculty of Department of Foreign Languages, Yuan-ze University, Taiwan. Research papers on Tibeto-Burman and Old Chinese phonology as well as the Tibetan language. Currently doing a funded project translating Wang 1994 into English. This nearly 600- page grammar of Lhasa Tibetan has no equivalent in European-language material.