Unlike English and Polish, Mandarin has no grammatical tense (TNS). Therefore, reference times are only introduced by temporal modifiers (contra Smith 1991/7, Wu 2003, Lin 2005, etc). In Mandarin discourse, the frequency of such modifiers (‘today’, ‘last night’, etc) is about the same (low) as in tensed languages (e.g. English, Polish) and plays a similarly marginal role in temporal discourse reference. This, however, does NOT mean that in tenseless Mandarin temporal relations between eventualities in discourse are in any way less precise than in tensed languages. Rather, the issue is HOW temporal relations are established: indirectly , via reference times, or directly, without mediating reference times. Tensed English and Polish typically first introduce a topic time (by topic-setting TNS) and then locate verbal eventualities in relation to this temporal topic (by anaphoric TNS).
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