21 January 2011

The structure of human memory and tense-aspect-mood-evidentiality (TAME)

The structure of human memory and tense-aspect-mood-evidentiality (TAME)

Östen Dahl (Stockholm University)


When: 15.45-17.00 Feb 15, 2011

Where: Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, The Netherlands

In this talk, I will discuss the possible relationships between the structure of human memory and the cluster of grammatical categories usually subsumed under labels such as tense, aspect, mood, and evidentiality (TAME for short). Two features of memory are particularly interesting here: the distinction between episodic and semantic memory, and the notion of consolidation of stored information over time. Episodic memory is the memory of past events that have been personally experienced and is thus based on sensory information. One obvious connection to TAME systems is the distinction between direct and indirect evidentiality, which seems to be central in most languages where grammaticalized evidentiality is found. Consolidation is the process by which memory traces are stabilized and restructured in long-term memory after having been temporarily stored elsewhere. This is assumed to largely take place during slow-wave sleep. What I am interested in here is the possible correlation between this process and distinctions of remoteness made in many TAME systems, which, to the extent that involve objective time measures, tend to depend on the daily cycle, with a cut-off point between 'today' and 'before today' being overwhelmingly most common. Other possible parallels between distinctions made in memory theory and in TAME systems will also be discussed. I will suggest that differential marking of past time reference often reflects an opposition between what is in prototypical well consolidated episodic memory and other kinds of knowledge of the past.

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