Jürgen Bohnemeyer

Winner Dissertation Prize 1999

Time Relations in Discourse. Evidence from a comparative approach to Yukatek Maya

Supervisors: Prof. dr. E. Danziger, Prof. dr. S.C. Levinson, Prof. dr. L.G.M. Noordman
Nomination: Brabant University, Faculty of Arts

Report by the selection committee

The principal question discussed in this book is the extent to which relationships between the order of events – generally seen as necessary conditions for the description of various phenomena in language – are coded in the Yukatek Maya language. This confronts the author with the fundamental problem of universality and relativity in cross-linguistic semantics. On the basis of his grammatical description of the time-related phenomena in Yukatek Maya, the author concludes that time relationships between events are not semantically expressed in this language. Such relationships cannot therefore be regarded as semantic universals in a linguistic theory. Through comparison with speakers of German in empirical psycholinguistic research, the author shows that speakers of the Yukatek Maya language use various means in order to express the relationships between the order of events. Data from research in the fields of descriptive and comparative linguistics and from psycholinguistic research are brought together in this thesis and used for the further development of linguistic theory concerning fundamental problems such as universality and relativity, and pragmatic inferences.