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Natural Language Semantics


In recent years, much attention has been given to the puzzling relationship between tense and evidence type found in languages where a single morpheme appears to encode both reference to time and to the evidential source for the assertion. In natural language, tense has long been understood as serving to locate the time at which the proposition expressed by the sentence holds. The two main theories of evidentials both agree that these morphemes serve to identify the type of evidence the speaker has for their assertion. In languages with evidential-tense morphology, these two categories of meaning are intertwined in ways that are unexpected given our understanding of both phenomena. Specifically, these evidential-tense morphemes appear to encode reference to a time that is linked to the situation in which the speaker gains evidence for their assertion. Two competing approaches have emerged in the literature as to whether these evidential-tense morphemes make crucial reference to the time evidence was acquired (Lee 2013; Smirnova 2013) or to the time and place of the speaker with respect to the event (Faller 2004; Chung 2007). This paper examines the temporal and evidential properties of the Mvskoke (or Creek) graded past tense system and finds novel support for the view in which evidential-tenses encode Evidence Acquisition Time (EAT). Mvskoke is shown to have three evidential-tenses which form part of its graded tense system, comprising recent, middle, and distant past. The main proposal is a formalization of EAT as a moment of belief-state change, i.e., the moment the speaker comes to believe the proposition. It is shown that Mvskoke’s evidential-tenses are compatible with a range of evidence types, and this distribution is explained through interactions with viewpoint aspect.







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