The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 2/8: Petr Kusliy (UMass-Amherst)

Speaker: Petr Kusliy (UMass-Amherst)
Title: English Present tense is relative: evidence from VP-fronting
Date and time: Thursday, February 8, 12:30-1:50pm
Location: 32-D461

English Present-under-Past attitude reports are commonly believed to have only the so-called double-access reading (Smith 1978). Roughly, this means that the eventuality described in the embedded clause of the attitude report must overlap the time of the matrix eventuality as well as the utterance time. Present-under-Past attitude reports in languages like Japanese or Russian besides the double-access reading also allow for the so-called simultaneous reading (the embedded eventuality is contemporaneous with the matrix eventuality but not necessarily with the utterance time). The lack of the simultaneous reading in Present-under-Past attitude reports in English lead many researchers to believe that English Present tense is crucially different from Present tense in Japanese or Russian (e.g. Ogihara, 1989; von Stechow, 2003). According to this view, English Present is indexical (i.e. always indicates a time that overlaps the utterance time). Present tense in Japanese and Russian is relative because the time it indicates does not have to overlap the utterance time and can be simultaneous with a local temporal anchor.

In this talk, I focus on the interactions between simultaneous and double-access readings, on the one hand, and VP- and CP-fronting, on the other. To my knowledge, these interactions have never been examined in the literature on tense. I present new data showing that (i) fronted VP versions of Present-under-Past attitude reports allow for a simultaneous reading (together with a double-access reading); (ii) fronted CP versions of Present-under-Past attitude reports do not allow for a simultaneous reading and only have a double-access reading, (iii) in the fronted CP, as well as fronted VP versions of the famous Kamp-Abusch sentences, the most embedded Past does not have a simultaneous interpretation and has to backshift.

I discuss these data and propose an account that contains the following claims: (a) English Present tense has a relative interpretation just like Present tense in Japanese and in Russian; (b) if a tense in a complement CP has a relative interpretation, its temporal anchor is CP-external (not a lambda abstract in the left periphery of the CP); (iii) in a fronted construction, the highest tense cannot be vacuous.