Sociolinguistics


Tense, Aspect, Modality, Negation Marked Externally to the Verb

  • Tense, aspect, modality and negation are characteristically marked externally to the verb.

In pidgins (and creoles) the verb is usually uninflected and these categories are, as a general rule, indicated by separate and invariant lexical items preceding the verb. These items are called preverbal markers of tense, aspect, modality and negation.

(A click on the link will direct you to the relevant pidgin/creole text containing the examples presented here.)


  • Negation marking:

  • In Melanesian Pidgin English (e.g. Tok Pisin), for instance, the negation element 'no' always precedes the verb.

Yu no save wokabaut
You no know (how to) move
‘You can’t (= can + negator) move’

  • Jamaican Creole English also uses the preverbal negator 'no':

Jan no waan go
John NEG want go
‘John does not want to go’


  • Tense-Aspect-Modality marking:

In the most rudimentary pidgins it is only the context which indicates tense, aspect and modality.

  • In Tok Pisin 'bin' is used as a past tense marker:

Bung i bin stat long Mande
Meeting he been start along Monday
‘The meeting began on Monday’

'bai' (from by and by) is used to indicate future:

na bai pinis long Fraide, Epril 22.
And bye (-and-bye) finish along Friday April 22.
‘and will finish on Friday, April 22’.

  • In West African Pidgin English (WAPE) don, which is derived from the completive English 'done' (in the sense of 'finished') is used to indicate present perfect:

a don kom
‘I have arrived’

Similarly, the English word 'go' is used to mark future tense:

a go kom
‘I will come’

  • In Sranan, the words 'ben' and 'e' are used as tense markers for past tense and present progressive. The verb remains unchanged:

mi taki
‘I talk/ed’'

mi ben taki
I PAST talk
‘I (had) talked’

mi e taki
I PROGRESSIVE talk
‘I am talking’

mi ben e taki
I PAST PROGR. talk
‘I was talking’

  • Fanakalo uses 'zo' to refer to the future:

Ipiskati wena zo qala lo msebenzi?
What-time you FUTURE begin the work
‘When will you start work?’

An exception: Fanakalo uses the inflectional suffix –ile in order to indicate past tense:

Yinindaba wena hayikona figile izolo?
What-thing you not come-PAST yesterday
‘Why did you not come yesterday?’