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21.6: Conclusion

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    We have adopted Klein’s definition of (absolute) tense as indicating a temporal relation between TT and TU, and aspect as indicating a temporal relation between TT and TSit. We assume further that relative tense indicates a temporal relation between TT and some perspective time (PT), which is determined by context. It is important to remember that the observed uses of tense-aspect markers do not depend only on the semantic content of these morphemes. When we seek to analyze the meanings of these markers, we need to consider the following additional factors as well:

    • aspectual sensitivity (restriction to specific aktionsart/situation types);

    • potential for different semantic functions in different situation types;

    • coercion effects;

    • potential for different uses in main vs. subordinate clauses;

    • presuppositions triggered by the marker;

    • implicatures which may add extra meaning;

    • potential polysemy and/or idiomatic senses.

    Several of these points were illustrated in our discussion of the simple present tense in English.

    Further reading

    Comrie (1985: ch. 1) provides a good introduction to the study of tense, and (in §1.8) a good discussion of the importance of distinguishing meaning from usage, for tense markers in particular. Michaelis (2006) is another helpful introduction, focusing primarily on English. Botne (2012) summarizes what we know about “metrical tense” systems.

    Discussion exercises

    A: Draw time-line diagrams and provide an appropriate label for the italicized verb in the following sentences:

    1. When I got home from the hospital, my wife wrote a letter to my doctor.

    2. When I got home from the hospital, my wife was writing a letter to my doctor.

    3. I fled from the Khmer Rouge in 1976; my brother would escape two years later.

    4. I can get to the station by 5:00 pm, but the train will have departed at 3:00 pm.

    5. This morning the President rescinded an executive order that he had issued just 12 hours earlier.

    Homework exercises

    A: Draw time-line diagrams for the clauses which contain the italicized verb forms, and name the tense/aspect expressed by those forms:

    1. When I got back from my trip, a family of stray cats were living in my garage.

    2. The new President will move into the White House on Jan. 20th; the previous President and his family will have vacated the premises on Jan. 19th.

    3. Kipling was sent back to England at the age of five; he would return to India eleven years later to work as a journalist.

    4. The road to Fort Driant began for the United States Third Army when it landed on Utah Beach at 3 pm on August 5, 1944. The Third Army had been activated four days earlier in England under the command of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr.a


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