Tense in embedded contexts
This dissertation investigates the semantics of tense and the temporal interpretation of tensed and tenseless predicates in natural language. The central question we are concerned with is whether natural language employs explicit quantification over times in the object language. Our answer to the question is “yes, but to a limited extent.” We argue (i) that the evaluation time of tense operators is represented by what we call the distinguished time variable, and (ii) that the event time of simple tensed predicates is represented by tense morphemes. Tense morphemes are analyzed as temporal variables that saturate the time argument slot of the predicates they are affixed to. As a consequence, the proposal implies that the event time of tensed predicates is realized in syntax as a temporal variable while the event time of tenseless predicates is not. Evidence for this distinction is provided from the temporal interpretation of nouns, differences between the temporal interpretations of relative clauses and participles, and cross-linguistic differences regarding the temporal interpretation of relative clauses. Evidence for explicit quantification over the evaluation times of tense operators is also provided from the tense interpretation of relative clauses, and from cross-linguistic differences regarding the distribution of tense and its interpretation in temporal adjunct clauses.
The introductory Chapter 1 presents background assumptions and reviews the previous literature. Cross-linguistic data regarding tense in relative clauses and temporal adjunct clauses are also introduced. Special attention is paid to a previously relatively unnoticed difference among languages that do not exhibit the so-called sequence of tense phenomena, such as Japanese, Polish, and Russian. In Chapter 2, a theory of tense is proposed that employs explicit quantification over times. The temporal interpretation of relative clauses and participle constructions in English, Japanese, Polish, and Russian is examined. Cross-linguistic differences are shown to follow from the proposed tense system and structural differences in relative clauses among these languages. Chapter 3 examines the distribution of tense and its interpretation in temporal adjunct clauses. Again, cross-linguistic differences are derived from our proposal regarding the tense system in conjunction with differences in the structure of temporal adjunct clauses.