The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Annual joint Linguistics/Philosophy colloquium 4/21: Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz)

Speaker: Pranav Anand (UC Santa Cruz – Linguistics)
Title: Faultless disagreement and narrative structure: a view from the historical present
Time: Friday, April 21, 3-5pm
Location: 32-141
This talk reports on joint work with Maziar Toosarvandani on the interaction of the historical present tense and the so-called faultless disagreement property of subjective expressions like predicates of personal taste (PPTs). Assertive disagreements with PPTs are often understood as matters of opinion, disagreements with no one at ‘fault’ regarding an objective matter of fact. We begin from a somewhat complicated case where such disagreements seem to be matters of fact: joint oral narratives in the historical present, as exemplified in (1). Historical present is a stylistic device employed to describe a past moment using the present tense, and narratives containing historical present usages are known to move back and forth between (canonical) past and (historical) present frequently. Interestingly, the choice of tense impacts judgments of faultlessness: when a disagreement is in the canonical past (2a’), the typical sense of faultlessness obtains. But when the disagreement is in the historical present (2a), the judgment of faultlessness does not (and A and B are often taken to be disagreeing about some fact of their narrative).
a. C: [talking to A and B] How was your vacation?
b. A: Well, after we arrive in Paris, we take a bus to the Normandy coast. We visit an apple orchard.
c. B: They have their own cider. It’s delicious!
a. A: No, it isn’t delicious. [non-faultless disagreement]
a’. A: No, it wasn’t delicious. [faultless disagreement]
We propose an account for the contrast in (2) that relies on an interaction of the semantics of tense (framed in terms of a bicontextual semantics like that of Macfarlane and Sharvit) and the structure of narrative as a genre (phrased in terms of Labov & Waletzky’s distinction between the complication and evaluation of a narrative).