Recent literature has debated the nature and robustness of distinctions between pronominal tenses and existential tenses, between absolute tenses and relative tenses, and between perfect aspects and relative tenses. In this paper, we investigate anteriority markers in Javanese and Atayal, two distantly related Austronesian languages. On the basis of a range of empirical diagnostics, we propose that the markers tau in Javanese and -in- in Atayal are relative past tenses with existential semantics. We demonstrate that plausible alternative analyses are not tenable: these markers do not have pronominal tense semantics and they are not perfect aspects despite their salient ‘experiential’ interpretation. Further, we claim that a single language can possess both pronominal and existential tenses. Our diagnostics show that while tau and -in- are existential past tenses, Javanese and Atayal each also have a pronominal tense morpheme which is phonologically null and which pragmatically interacts with tau and -in-.
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