Tense Meanings and Temporal Interpretation

Journal of Semantics 20 (1):35-71 (2003)
For any theory of tense meanings, subordinate sentences are particularly problematic because embedded tenses do not seem to receive the same interpretations as their non‐embedded counterparts. Previous approaches to this problem have often proposed some syntactic mechanism or sequence of tense rule that allows the embedded tense morphemes to receive interpretations that differ from those typically assumed for non‐embedded tenses. This paper explores an alternative view in which tenses are assumed to be uniformly defined for both independent and embedded occurrences. It argues that the problematic subordinate interpretations can be explained if appropriate definitions of tense meanings are provided and independent factors influencing the temporal interpretation are taken into account. Specifically, it is suggested that the meaning of the tense morphemes alone do not completely determine the temporal interpretation of a sentence. In a systematic and predictable way, aktionsart properties further specify the exact duration and location of the interval in which the sentence is true. Thus, the interaction of tense meanings and general facts of the grammar such as aktionsart properties, rather than sequence of tense specific mechanisms, conspire to explain temporal interpretation in both embedded and non‐embedded sentences
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