The syntax and interpretation of temporal expressions in English

Linguistics and Philosophy 2 (1):43 - 99 (1978)
Abstract
The only obligatory temporal expression in English is tense, yet Hans Reichenbach (1947) has argued convincingly that the simplest sentence is understood in terms of three temporal notions. Additional possibilities for a simple sentence are limited: English sentences have one time adverbial each. It is not immediately clear how to resolve these matters, that is, how (if at all) Reichenbach's account can be reconciled with the facts of English. This paper attempts to show that they can be reconciled, and presents an analysis of temporal specification that is based directly on Reichenbach's account.Part I is devoted to a study of the way the three times—speech time, reference time, event time—are realized and interpreted. The relevant syntactic structures and their interaction and interpretation are examined in detail. Part II discusses how a grammar should deal with time specification, and proposes a set of interpretive rules. The study offers an analysis of simple sentences, sentences with complements, and habitual sentences. It is shown that tense and adverbials function differently, depending on the structure in which they appear. The temporal system is relational: the orientation and values of temporal expressions are not fixed, but their relational values are consistent. This consistency allows the statement of principles of interpretation.
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References found in this work BETA
James D. McCawley (1971). Tense and Time Reference in English. In Charles J. Fillmore & D. Terence Langėndoen (eds.), Studies in Linguistic Semantics. Irvington. 96--113.
Citations of this work BETA
Barbara H. Partes (1984). Nominal and Temporal Anaphora. Linguistics and Philosophy 7 (3):243--286.
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