The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 11/2 - Anastasia Tsilia (MIT) & Zhuoye Zhao (NYU)

Speaker: Anastasia Tsilia (MIT) & Zhuoye Zhao (NYU)
Title: What the incompatibility of ‘then’ with the present teaches us about perspectives in tense
Time: Thursday, November 2nd, 12:30pm – 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: This talk focuses on the then-present puzzle, namely the observation that the present tense is incompatible with the temporal adverbial ‘then’ (Ogihara & Sharvit 2012; Vostrikova 2018; Tsilia 2021). This is attested not only in root clauses (e.g. *John is then not feeling well), but also in embedded clauses (e.g. *John thought that Mary is pregnant then) across languages such as Russian, Modern Hebrew, Modern Greek and Japanese where the embedded present can ‘shift’ to overlap not with the time of utterance, but with the time of the embedding attitude/speech. We propose to account for this generalisation by assuming i) that the present tense and ‘then’ are both sensitive to a temporal perspective shared by all expressions within a minimal clausal domain, and ii) the present and ‘then’ carry contradicting perspectival presuppositions. The perspective is modelled closely after the context as an interpretation parameter; we will briefly discuss their connections and differences.

On this basis, we further investigate the cross-linguistic behaviour of (embedded) clauses where ‘then’ co-occurs with past tenses. A particularly interesting case concerns the so-called deleted past tense, observed in languages such as English and Modern Greek, whose past tense feature is apparently uninterpreted when embedded under a higher past tense. The deleted past tense has long been thought to be semantically indistinguishable from the shifted present tense, but only the deleted past is compatible with ‘then’. The difference can be easily accommodated within the current analysis by assuming that unlike non-deleted tenses (including the shifted present), deleted tenses are not perspective-sensitive.