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THEORY: Temporal Auxiliaries, Aspectual Auxiliaries, Modal Auxiliaries

From:Tom Chappell <tomhchappell@...>
Date:Tuesday, July 5, 2005, 17:07
Hello.  Yes, it's me again, with another theory question.

Many linguists classify some verbs as "auxiliary verbs" and others as "lexical
verbs" or "content verbs".

Verbs in many languages are inflected for one or more of Tense, Aspect, and/or Mood or Mode.

In some cases where an auxiliary verb is used with a lexical verb, the lexical
verb is not inflected for one or more of the TMA categories; and the main
reason for using the auxiliary verb, is that it carries the inflection for
whichever TMA category the lexical verb is not inflected for.

If the auxiliary is there to show the Tense, which is not carried on the lexical
verb, then it may reasonably be called a Temporal Auxiliary.

Example: English's future tense is analytic or periphrastic. Lexical verbs like "speak"
cannot carry any inflection for future tense in English. Instead, the future
tense is formed by a Temporal Auxiliary, "will" or "shall", together with the
untensed content-verb.

1) Example? The most frequently used past tense of Modern French is the composite
past, made out of a form of the verb "avoir" and the active-participle of the
lexical verb. This is analytic or periphrastic, to be sure, but does the
"avoir" count as a Temporal Auxiliary here? I think maybe it does not.

2) Does anyone know of any natural languages where one or more tense(s) is
(preferably) always (or failing that, almost always) shown by means of a
Temporal Auxiliary verb?

3) How about NatLangs where most tenses are so shown?

Conlang examples would also be interesting.

If the main reason for including the auxiliary verb in an
auxiliary-and-lexical-verb construction, is to carry the Aspect inflection
which will not be carried on the main verb, that auxiliary may reasonably be
called an Aspectual Auxiliary.

It seems that Aspectual Auxiliaries ought really to be more frequent than
Temporal Auxiliaries -- perhaps almost as frequent as Modal Auxiliaries -- and
yet, at the moment, I can think of no examples.

Unless, of course, in the Plus-que-Parfait (Pluperfect) in French -- in which the
"avoir" auxiliary verb occurs in the imperfect aspect, with the
active-participle of the main verb --- that "avoir", counts as an Aspectual

4) Does anyone know of any NatLang examples with prevalent Aspectual Auxiliaries?

If the main reason for including the Auxiliary verb in an
auxiliary-and-lexical-verb combination is to have it show the Mood or Modality
that is not going to be marked on the main verb, then it might be reasonable to
call that Auxiliary verb a "Modal Auxiliary".

In English, most auxiliaries are Modal Auxiliaries, as for example "I can speak",
"I may speak", "I would speak", "I should speak", "I might speak", etc.


In many languages there are situations in which a lexical verb may be used
without any auxiliary, in which case it carries its own TMA markings, and
others in which it must be accompanied by an auxiliary.

5) In English, if a content verb is accompanied by an auxiliary, all of the TMA
marking is on the auxiliary, not on the content verb. (At least, that is often
the case --- dare I say that is usually the case?)

In some languages, IIRC Korean among them, many "verbs" are formed out of a
"light verb" plus a content-word which may have the form of some other

If I remember correctly, two-thirds of Korean verbs have this form.

(A "light" verb is a verb whose lexical or semantic content is "not much". The
prime example is the English verb "do" -- this is sometimes referred to as a
"dummy" verb, the lightest of all possible verbs, carrying no meaning other
than "I am a verb".)

If I remember correctly, there is a language or there are languages in the global
South, (whether in Africa or South America or Australia or Oceania, I am no
longer sure), where not only are even a higher proportion (nearly all, iirc) of
the "verbs" of the above form, but the inventory of "light verbs" is
particularly few -- fewer than 5, iirc.

6) Are all Auxiliaries necessarily Light Verbs?

7) an anyone think of any NatLang examples where most "verbs" consist of a Light
and/or Auxiliary Verb together with a "content" "word", that makes it (the
phrase) a "lexical verb"?

8) In the above cases, what part of speech is the "content word" usually?

9) Are all Light Verbs on their way to evolving into Auxiliaries of one kind or another?


10) Are there NatLangs with Auxiliaries that are Temporal and Aspectual and Modal?

11) Are there NatLangs where almost all Tense is expressed only on Temporal Auxiliaries?

12) Are there NatLangs where almost all Aspect is expressed only on Aspectual Auxiliaries?

13) Are there NatLangs where almost all Mood or Mode is expressed only on Modal Auxiliaries?


All replies welcome.

Tom H.C. in MI

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