09 November 2005


Recently, I have been blogging about how busy I am. That made me think of how time is managed by people, by entities, and by the languages that the people speak.

I am sure that since you have been able to read past the first paragraph, you have a fairly good command of the English language. Therefore, you may have known or heard of the technical terms such as tense and aspect.

Tense is the linguistic term for how languages indicate time with reference to the speech event. Aspect, on the other hand, is the term for how languages indicate time with reference to the action being described by the predicate.

Tense, therefore, has the values of past, present, and future. These are the most common ones, although there are languages that have more than these. Aspect, on the other hand, is progressive, perfective, imperfective, contemplative, and so on.

Let me give an example.

1. John went to the florist.
2. He had promised Mary to buy her some flowers.
3. He picked three red roses, two white ones, and a pale pink.

In this example, the event of sentence 1 happens after the event of sentence 2, then the event of sentence 3 happens. The reason why we know this is that the verb in sentence 2 is in the past-perfect.

There are languages, such as Tagalog, who happen to have no tense. Therefore, in Tagalog, there is no distinction between past, present, and future. There is however, aspect, so you know that an event is finished (perfective), on-going (progressive), or will happen (contemplative). But these can all happen in the past, present, or future.

How does Tagalog indicate time if there is no tense in the language? By means of temporal connectives, such as "before" or "after". If one does not use this, then the discourse would be ambiguous.

Well, enough of the linguistics lecture for the day. I have no time left.


  1. Hey, did I inspire you to post a distorted clock?
    It looks very nice -that's a good idea!

    Timo told me of Mauritius that the Kreolish language doesn't have any tense. That seems similar to Tagalog!
    Perhaps languages of natives don't have any tense more often than so called "cultivated" languages?

    Have a nice day! I was glad reading your comment that morning.

  2. I guess it's all a matter of what your used to, then. I can't imagine having no clear definitions of past/present/future.