In this presentation I will argue that deixis is central to the notion of tense. I will moreover argue that we need to distinguish between two tense subsystems (in the Bantu languages) and that the so-called “continuous past tenses” are part of a wide array of relative tenses. The relative tenses are not instances of tense forms with a “shifted deictic centre”. The deictic centre cannot be shifted. The so-called “continuous past tenses” and other similar verb forms are rather grammaticalised tense forms that alert the addressee to the fact that the temporal interpretation of the particular eventuality/eventualities should not be interpreted from utterance time (or speech time as it is often referred to) but from another reference point on the time axis which is not “now” but which is established relative to utterance time. The interlocutors cannot ever lose track of the deictic centre and therefore this newly established reference point is established in relation to the deictic centre. However, this reference point does not become a deictic centre. These verb forms do not mark modal or aspectual distinctions but are instances of relative tense.
It is furthermore necessary to distinguish between tense and time reference in language. While tense is the marking of temporal relations in the verb structure by means of verbal inflection, time reference is established by inter alia (i) the semantic verb phrase categorization; (ii) the speech participants' knowledge of the world; (iii) the influence of aspectual morphemes; (iv) the influence of auxiliary verbs; (v) the text and context and (vi) the interrelation between tense forms and temporal adverbials.