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The Kele TMA System

The abbreviation TMA stands for "tense, mood and aspect", and not "two many apes", as is commonly believed by Derek Bickerton (that joke is so inside that the one person who could get it, won't). Anyway, a TMA system is the kind of thing that explains English "would", "could", "-ed", "-ing", "-s", "have", "been", etc. As with many creoles and pidgins, the TMA system of Kele is morphologically sparse, and (for the most part) isolational. Below, I'll replicate the TMA system, and give examples.

The System

The Kele TMA system is comprised of four preposed particles, and two postposed modifiers (one of which can also be preposed). The particles can be combined in various ways to produce different aspects, moods and tenses. The verb displays no inflectional or polysynthetic morphology. That said, I'll go over each particle in order (starting, of course, with the invisible particle that only I can see), and then describe how the particle being discussed can combine with the particles discussed prior to that point.

The Bare Stem

Like many languages, the bare form of a verb can convey meaning. In English, it conveys a habitual meaning (or a command [or a hypothetical reality, as illustrated by many a sportscaster of the present day]). In Kele, it conveys the very basic present tense. So, for example, while the basic present tense for "eat" in English would be "be eating" (e.g., "What you doing?", "I'm eating"), in Kele it's the basic, bare form of the verb. Here are a couple examples:

M'ay maya. = "I see a woman."
Ma tala. = "I'm dancing."
Eni ki ay maya. = "S/he/it sees a woman."
Eni ki tala. = "S/he/it's dancing."

There a couple things to notice about these examples. First, even though the tenses are the same, there are two different glosses for each pair: The first (in the first pair) is "I see the woman" (not "I'm seeing the woman"), and the second is "I'm dancing" (not "I dance"). This is due to the fact that, in English, we use the "progressive" form with active verbs (that is, verbs that express an action, as opposed to an emotion or state [both loosely defined terms]), and the regular present tense with emotive verbs. In Kele there's no morphological distinction between these two. You'll also notice that in the very first example a contraction happens. The full form would be Ma ay maya, but in Kele, contraction can happen in certain situations. I'll try to point them all out as we go along.

The kind of contraction we see above happens with the first person pronoun. Basically, the first person pronoun ma loses its vowel when it precedes a verb or verbal particle that begins with a vowel. The same thing happens with the second person marker, ya. Here are two examples:

Ma ay maya.M'ay maya. = "I see a woman."
Ya ay maya.Y'ay maya. = "You see a woman."

Since we haven't reached any of the other tenses, we might as well see the rest of the pronouns that contract.

The first person plural exclusive pronoun ima, the third person singular pronoun eni, and the third person plural pronoun yeni all contract when they're the objects of a verb. Here are some examples:

Ma ay eni.M'ay'ni. = "I see him/her/it."
Ma ay yeni.M'ay'ni. = "I see them."
Eni ki ay'ma.Eni ki ay'ma. = "S/he/it sees us."

Couple things to notice about the above. First, there can be multiple contractions per word, so that the four syllable phrase Ma ay eni becomes the two syllable word m'ay'ni. The next thing to notice is that the third person pronouns both contract to the same thing: 'ni. What this means is that the first two examples are ambiguous, and the first can mean the second, and the second can mean the first. Such is life. The last thing to notice is that in the last example (as with the third and fourth examples on this page), there's an extra word: ki. This word is used when the subject is anything other than a first or second person pronoun. It's called a predicative marker in most creole grammars, but like to think of it as a resumptive. It occurs directly before any of the verbal particles in the sentence. In can be modified by o-, the negative marker, to form negative clauses, such as:

Eni oki tala. = "S/he/it's not dancing."

That just about does it for the bare form of the verb. Now I'll introduce you to your very first particle (be extra good, 'cause he's very shy).

The Simple Past

The simple past marker is the handsome particle . Hey, where'd he go? Awww...he's hiding. Come on out, little guy! No need to be bashful.


Awww...there he is! You're just button-cute, you! Or, should I say, Yu.


Awww...he's blushing! Okay, I'll stop embarrassing you, Yu. We'll just show everyone what you can do.

The particle yu is related historically to the genitive/ablative preposition yu. The metaphorical mapping was: "Spatial sources are past times/states." So, originally, if you said, "I of walk", it would mean something like, "I'm from walking", or "I came from walking", which got reinterpreted as "I did walk" or "I have walked". Here are a couple examples with good ol' Yu.

Ma yu ay maya. = "I saw/have seen a woman."
Ma yu tala. = "I (have) danced."
Eni ki yu ay maya. = "S/he/it saw/has seen a woman."
Eni ki yu tala. = "S/he/it (has) danced."

Like the pronouns, our little friend yu can also contract, though in a more limited environment. The vowel in yu can be elided if and only if the following verb or verbal particle begins with an u. Here's an example:

Ma yu ukesi.Ma y'ukesi = "I was/have been warm."

And that, for now, does it for the past tense. A round of applause for Yu! YAAAAAAAY!!!

The Future Tense

The future tense is marked with the preposed particle wa. It's cognate to the preposition wa, which means "with", among other things, and is one way of marking possession. So, if you said "I with run", it'd be like saying "I'm with running", or "I have running", which is kind of like "I have to run", which could be interpreted as "I will run". An analagous kind of development happened in many languages. For example, in French, if you say "Je ai le pomme" it'd become "J'ai le pomme", but what it would mean is "I have the apple". To say "I will eat the apple", you say (prescriptively) "Je mangerai le pomme". Notice that the infinitival form of the verb "to eat" is "manger", and, lo and behold, the future is formed by taking "ai", the first person conjugation of "avoir", "to have", and suffixing it to the infinitival form of the verb. In the modern day, people don't think of it this way--"mangerai" is just a form of the verb "manger", not a combination of two verbs--but historically, this is how the future tense was derrived. This is similar to what happens in Kele, where the possessive preposition combines with a verb to form the future tense. Here are a couple examples:

Ma w'ay maya. = "I will see the woman/I'm going to see the woman."
Ma wa tala. = "I will dance/I'm going to dance."
Eni ki w'ay maya. = "S/he/it will/is gonna see the woman."
Eni ki wa tala. = "S/he/it will/is gonna dance."

The reason I posit two versions of the translations above is because the future tense in English, though traditionally marked with the modal "will", is really marked by "go" now. "Will" indicates something more volitional, whereas the "go" future is closer to a basic future. In actuality, it's now becoming more of a pronominal suffix, so that many no longer say "I am going to go to the store", but something more along the lines of "I'm'a go to the store". But that's neither here nor there.

Back on topic, the future marker wa, just like ma and ya, loses its a vowel before any verb or verbal particle beginning with a vowel. Here are examples of that:

Ma wa ay opa.Ma w'ay opa. = "I'm'a see the potato."
Ma wa eso opa.Ma w'eso opa. = "I'm'a smell the potato."
Ma wa isa opa.Ma w'isa opa. = "I'm'a cook the potato."
Ma wa osula opa.Ma w'osula opa. = "I'm'a cut up the potato."
Opa ki wa ukesi.Opa ki w'ukesi. = "The potato's'na be warm."

It might be (and that's a very slight might) interesting to note that contraction can produce phonological sequences that ordinarily can't exist in Kele, such as wo and wu. These sequences appear in no lexical items, but they can appear in these contractions. Wild world, eh?

As I said before, I'd point out when a given particle could combine with another particle to produce a slightly different tense. We now have come to such a point.

Although it might seem counterintuitive, even contradictory, to contend that a past tense suffix could combine with a future tense suffix, in Kele it works out quite nicely. The particles combine in two ways, as illustrated in the following examples:

Ma wa yu ay maya. = "I will have seen the woman."
Ma wa yu tala. = "I will have danced."
Ma yu w'ay maya. = "I was going to see the woman."
Ma yu wa tala. = "I was going to dance."

In English, the extra morphology and special circumstances for each of the glosses above makes the situation seem a little opaque, but with the Kele morphology, it should be quite clear what's happening. Building outward from the verb, in the first two examples, you have the idea of "dancing" and "seeing" happening in the past. The future marker then indicates that the act of "dancing" and "seeing" in the past will happen in the future. It's referring to a time in the future when the action in question, not yet completed (or even attempted), will have been completed. It's referring to a future present not yet achieved where an action has been completed, from the prospective of the present, rather than just a future present where an action is ongoing.

Conversely, looking at the next two examples, the action being described is "seeing" or "dancing" in the future. To put that action into the past is the equivalent to saying that there was a past time in which the subject was going to perform the action. So, even though the action has come to pass (successfully or unsuccessfully), the subject is referring to a time when the action wasn't fixed: A world of opportunity, where anything was possible...!

Given these two descriptions, one can imagine a double future, or a double past, or even a triple future or past, or more. Specifically, this would be (using the future as an example) referring to a time in the future, a future present, where the subject will refer to another future present. And this can go on indefinitely, into the future or into the past. In Kele, such combinations are conflated to a single future or past marker. Pretty much, if the future is going to be looking to the future, and not some other time referrent, might as well cut out the middleman.

The Conditional

The conditional is the first of the mood particles you'll see. What it does is express a conditional situation, akin to when we use the word "if" in English. Here are some examples:

M'elu ay maya, ma leya. = "When(ever) I see a woman, I'm happy."
M'elu ay maya, ma wa leya. = "If I see a woman, I will be happy."
M'elu ay maya, ma yu leya. = "If I see a woman, then I was happy."

First, notice the difference between the first and second sentences. When the imbedded clause is in the present tense, the conditional is interpreted as "when", and the clauses combined are interpreted as a cause/effect statement of a hypothetical reality, and are essentially tenseless. When the imbedded clause is in the future tense, though, it's interpreted as a hypothetical future. In the past, the above example doesn't make that much sense. It can, though. For example, consider the following:

M'elu ay maya, ma yu nuya. = "If I see a woman, then I was right."

The above sentence can be imagined. Say the speaker asserts at some time in the past that a woman magically appears before his eyes every time there's a lunar eclipse. His friends thinks this is ludicrous. Since, however, they've never seen a lunar eclipse since his statement, there's no way to verifty it. Then one day in the future, the newspaper says there's going to be a lunar eclipse. The two friends go out to see it, and just before it occurs, the friend who made the prediction utters the sentence above. There you go.

Since the particle elu (cognate to the word "when", by the way) can never be contracted, I'll move right on to combinations.

The conditional particle elu can be combined with both the future and past particles in any combination, including with one of each. The same goes for the embedded clause, with respect to yu and wa, though the embedded clause may never have elu. When using elu with a tense particle, remember that elu always come first. Here are a few examples, though there are many:

M'elu w'ay maya, ma leya. = "If I should see a woman, I'm happy."
M'elu yu ay maya, ma leya. = "If I saw a woman, (then) I'm happy."
M'elu wa yu ay maya, ma leya. = "If I'll've seen a woman, I'm happy."
M'elu yu w'ay maya, ma leya. = "If I'as'onna see a woman, I'm happy."

Again, the semantics are a bit odd, but you can create embedded clauses that cause the semantics to work out all right. One thing to note: When the tense of the matrix clause and the embedded clause match, the reading of the conditional is equivalent to English "when", and not English "if":

M'elu w'ay maya, ma wa leya. = "When I see a woman, I'll be happy."
M'elu yu ay maya, ma yu leya. = "When I saw a woman, I was happy."

Be sure to note the difference between the first sentence in this example, and the very first example I showed you in the conditional. In the first sentence of this example, the time frame referred to is the future. In the very first example for the conditional, there is no time frame: It's tenseless.

Lastly, I want to note that the compound tenses yu wa and wa yu can be used in embedded clauses, but it's not common enough to list. You can invent scenarios, though. For example, take bribery. Let's say I'm a lawyer, and I'm defending a client who obviously committed some crime. I pick a random person off the street whom I'm going to bribe to say he was at a certain place at a certain time--in other words, to be an alibi for my client, who has none. Now let's say I'm negotiating with this fellow. I tell him that what he needs to say is that he was walking along Mason Street, heading towards the pool hall, at exactly 1:23 a.m. on Wednesday, September 21st, of the year in question. He responds to this, "If you cover my student loan payments, then I was going to go to the pool hall on Wednesday the 21st." Hey, it could work...

The Progressive

The progressive is a fairly simple-to-understand marker. It marks that an action is incomplete, but has started. It's kind of like "be -ing" in English, though with a strict progressive reading; never a standard present tense reading. Because of this, it's use in the present tense is somewhat restricted. It's generally only used to emphasize that the speaker really is performing the action in question, or if the speaker wishes to emphasize that s/he's not just doing something that he can stop and then come back to, since s/he's right in the middle of it.

At any rate, the marker of the progressive is si, cognate with the general locative marker which means "at", etc. The derivation was, "I at eat" came to mean "I'm at eating (right now)", which came to mean "I'm in the middle of eating", or "I am eating right now". To use si, you always place it right before the verb. As an aspectual marker, si can combine with every verbal particle we've seen so far. Here are some examples (not all of them):

Ma si maka opa. = "I'm eating the potato."
Ma wa si maka opa. = "I will be eating the potato."
Ma yu si maka opa. = "I was eating the potato."
Ma wa yu si maka opa. = "I will've been eating the potato."
Ma yu wa si maka opa. = "I was going to be eating the potato."

Also, as with the other particles, si can contract, but in a very limited environment: Only before verbs beginning with i. Here's an example:

Ma elu si isa opa.M'elu s'isa opa. = "I might be cooking the potato."

That's the progressive. Not too tough to get a handle on.

The Distal Tenses

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