Two paths to habituality The semantics of habitual mode in Tlingit

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Seth Cable


This paper presents a detailed description and formal semantic analysis of habitual sentences in Tlingit (Na-Dene; Alaska, British Columbia, Yukon). As in many other languages (Carlson 2005, 2012), there are two means in Tlingit for expressing a habitual statement, such as my father eats salmon. The first employs a relatively unmarked verb, realizing imperfective aspect. In the second type of habitual sentence, however, the verb bears special habitual morphology. Although there is a significant overlap in the use of these constructions, certain semantic contrasts do exist. Most notably, the special habitual marking cannot be used to express pure, unrealized dispositions/functions/duties (e.g., Mary handles any mail from Antarctica). In other words, Tlingit habitual morphology --- unlike imperfective aspect --- requires the habituality in question to have actually occurred, an effect that has also observed for habitual morphology in a variety of other, unrelated languages (Green 2000, Bittner 2008, Boneh & Doron 2008, Filip 2018). I develop and defend a formal semantic analysis that captures these (and other) contrasts between imperfective and habitual verbs. In brief, imperfective aspect is argued to possess a modal semantics, quantifying over alternative worlds/situations (Arregui et al. 2014, Ferreira 2016). Habitual morphology, however, is argued to be associated with a (potentially covert) quantificational adverb, one that quantifies strictly over times in the actual world. The consequences of this account for the analysis of habitual sentences in other languages are explored. Most notably, we find that (i) “habituality” so-called is potentially a heterogeneous phenomenon, and resists unified definition or semantic analysis, and (ii) therefore is a sui generis category of phenomena, which cannot be reduced as an instance of aspect or modality (Filip & Carlson 1997, Filip 2018).


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