The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Roumyana Pancheva’s mini-course @ MIT

Speaker: Roumyana Pancheva (USC)

Dates: Wednesday, Oct 14, 2-3:30pm EST and Thursday, Oct 15, 12:30-2pm EST

Title: Temporal reference without tense (joint work with Maria Luisa Zubizarreta)

Abstract: Some languages do not have to mark tense overtly: they either do not have tense morphemes or the tense morphemes are optional. The question arises: is tense universal? The answer, within formal semantics, has so far been “yes”. The formally explicit semantic analyses that have been proposed for languages without obligatory overt tense all posit tense in one form or another. The analyses differ along two dimensions: how they accomplish reference to time intervals (e.g., via a syntactically represented covert pronoun or a purely semantic rule), and how they restrict the location of those time intervals (e.g., via covert lexical features or pragmatic constraints). We aim to develop a different type of account altogether that does not rely on tense to derive temporal reference. We propose that evaluation time shift, a mechanism independently attested in the narrative present in languages with tense, can be more widely used for encoding temporal meaning in the absence of tense. We illustrate this account for Paraguayan Guarani, and identify several empirical advantages over accounts that employ tense. The broader consequence of our proposal is an enriched typology of temporal systems: some languages have tense, whether overt or covert, and others do not. And particularly notably, tense is revealed to not be a linguistic universal.


Recommended reading: https://pancheva.github.io/papers/P&Z(2020)NELS.pdf