The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Ling Lunch - 5/7 - Verner Egerland

Speaker: Verner Egerland (Lund University)
Title: Tense in Gerunds
Time: Thurs 5/7, 12:30-1:45
Place: 32-D461

In the unmarked case, the English ing-form expresses a process, that is, a homogenous non-culminated eventuality, simultaneous with that of the main clause:

  1. I spent the afternoon sleeping on the couch.

However, exceptions to the simultaneous reading are known to exist. To some extent, gerunds can refer to events following the matrix event (2), or preceding it (3):

  1. He entered college at the age of fifteen, graduating four years later at the head of his class. (From Jespersen 1940: 407)
  2. Setting sail for the island in the fall of 1740, he reached his destination in the spring of 1741. (From Stump 1985: 97)

This paper is concerned with the English ing-form, the French present participle, the Italian gerund, and the Swedish present participle. It will be shown that the «tense-shifting» property illustrated in (2) and (3) is attested in English, French, and Italian, but not in Swedish. It will be argued that «tense-shifting» as illustrated in (2)-(3) does not follow from the aspectual properties of gerunds but is in fact linked to grammatical Tense. By assumption, then, grammatical Tense is projected in gerundival clauses in English, French, and Italian. In these languages, we observe that (a) clausal negation may be licensed, (b) copular and auxiliary Vs are allowed, and (c) a subject argument is licensed. Swedish differs systematically from the other three languages in disallowing clausal negation, copular and auxiliary Vs, as well as explicit subject arguments. These observations have consequences for a number of Tense-related issues in generative grammar, such as the theoretical status of Finiteness, the relation between Tense and the Aspect-Event system, as well as the acquisition of Tense.