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This study presents a comprehensive account of the grammatical expression of aspect and related semantic domains in South Conchucos Quechua (SCQ), a language of central Peru. Based on a corpus of over five hours of naturally -occurring speech, the approach applied here integrates the description of the synchronic system with an investigation of competing forces of semantic change that have shaped the grammatical system over time.
Discourse-based analysis reveals that aspect in SCQ does not constitute a neatly organized system of maximal contrasts. Instead, the aspectual system comprises a network of twenty productive grammatical markers characterized by subtle semantic distinctions and considerable overlap within the perfective and imperfective domains. Individual aspectual elements are distributed through interdependent layers of derivational and inflectional morphology. Several aspect markers are currently located midway along a scale from derivation to inflection, while others have attained full inflectional status.
While it is useful to maintain a clear analytic distinction between semantic domains, typically one and the same SCQ aspect marker grammatically encodes elements of more than one domain. In other words, the aspectual system does not constitute a separately delineated grammatical category. Instead, as in many languages, aspect in SCQ is tightly interwoven with tense and with modality. This study also presents a detailed analysis of the less explored grammatical interfaces linking aspect with manner and with middle voice.
Aspect and aspectual interfaces in Quechua provide a particularly rich environment in which to investigate emergent properties of grammar. Even though recurring discourse patterns have crystallized over time into relatively stable linguistic structures, such as aspect markers, their grammatical meanings continue to evolve, occasionally across semantic domains. In addition, foreign patterns and forms exert an influence, and new aspectualizers develop in the form of analytic verbal constructions. By examining the larger context of constructions in connected SCQ speech, complemented by patterns and structures across the language family, we can observe a grammatical system in the making.