MacAulay 1996

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MacAulay 1996 - Some Thoughts on time, tense and mode, and on aspect in SG

MacAulay claims that time, tense, and mode have all been characterized as tense which has lead to an 'overloading of the term' and to 'widespread descriptive ambivalence.'

He therefore introduces 3 basic systematic terms:

  • tense, mode, and aspect
  • Tense and mode are expressed at word level whereas aspect is phrasal.
  • Tense and mode are adjacent and not intersecting
  • Tense is a purely temporal system (Comrie, 1985): past and non-past
  • Mode: 'expounds two basic modal reflexes of the verb'
    • is either definite and non-definite
      • e.g. Tha 'be' definite past
      • 'bha'definite non-past - tha-
      • non-definite 1 - bithhidh
      • non-definite 2 - bitheadh

All other verbs lack a definite non-past form

Implications of system:

There is no description of future and present as they are both non-past.

  • Present: point of speaking
      • Ian aig an dorus - 'Ian is at the door'
      • Bha Iain aig an dorus - 'Ian was at the door'

    • Tha can also have a generic reading: 'water is wet' - Tha uisge fluich

Therefore, present is not in all cases time of speech.

So, MacAuley posits that tha has multiple function but are not different lexical items?


'bithidh Iain an Du'n Eideann' Ian (is) in Edinburgh

this phrase ambiguous without a temporal adverb

but becomes future with 'tomorrow'

'bithidh Iain an Du'n Eideann am ma'ireach'

This is not possible with bha:

'*bha Iain an Du'n Eideann am ma'ireach'

Bithidh can also have a habitual raeding:

'bithidh Iain an Du'n Eideann a h-uile latha' Ian is in Edinburgh every day

So, Bithidh is 'neutral to these distinctions'

Tentative affirmation, or conjecture:

bithidh Iain an Du'n Eideann a nise' Iain will be in Edinburgh by now!

Tha Iain an Du'n Eideann a nise - Iain is already in Edinburgh!

This is traditional SG

In contemporary SG, the above description is complicated by influence from English, due to which users distinguish between past,non-past and future:

Bha Iain an Du'n Eideann - Iain was in Edinburgh

Tha Iain an Du'n Eideann an diugh - Iain was in Edinburgh

Bithigh lain an Du'n Eideann a ma'ireach/a h-uile lath a - Iain will be in Edinburgh tommorow/everyday.

remodeling distinction o definite and non-definite non-past carried by the-bithidh, with tha-bithidh now carrying the English derived distinction between non-past and future!

These systems work side by side, older start, young bucks


general truth:

Eirigh a' ghrian anne a' mhadainn - the sun rises in the morning

not, Eirigh a' ghrian a h-uil madainn - the sun rises every morning (habitual)

Ability/potentiality modal context (usual with verbs of perception):

Ch'i mi sin gun ghloinneachan - I can see that without glasses

Cluinnidh e am feud a' fa(graveaccent)s - he can hear the grass growing

Modals, which have no definite forms:

Feumaidh e falbh - 'He must go' Faodaidh e falbh - 'He may go'