Natural Language Semantics

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 1–52 | Cite as

Past interpretation and graded tense in Medumba

  • Anne MuchaEmail author


This paper provides a formal semantic analysis of past interpretation in Medumba (Grassfields Bantu), a graded tense language. Based on original fieldwork, the study explores the empirical behavior and meaning contribution of graded past morphemes in Medumba and relates these to the account of the phenomenon proposed in Cable (Nat Lang Semant 21:219–276, 2013) for Gĩkũyũ. Investigation reveals that the behavior of Medumba gradedness markers differs from that of their Gĩkũyũ counterparts in meaningful ways and, more broadly, discourages an analysis as presuppositional eventuality or reference time modifiers. Instead, the Medumba markers are most appropriately analyzed as quantificational tenses. It also turns out that Medumba, though belonging to the typological class of graded tense languages, shows intriguing similarities to genuinely tenseless languages in allowing for temporally unmarked sentences and exploiting aspectual and pragmatic cues for reference time resolution. The more general cross-linguistic implication of the study is that the set of languages often subsumed under the label “graded tense” does not in fact form a natural class and that more case-by-case research is needed to refine this category.


Graded tense Past interpretation Grassfields Bantu 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department LinguistikUniversität PotsdamPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Institut für Deutsche Sprache (IDS)MannheimGermany

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