Logic and Language

Corien Bary (Radboud): Present tense: challenges for a semantic account

Speaker: Corien Bary (Radboud)
Title: Present tense: challenges for a semantic account
Time: 16:00 - 17:30
Location: SP107 F1.15 (ILLC Seminar Room)

Tenses are one of the main devices for encoding time in language. Linguistically they have a special position as they are part of the verb paradigm in many languages of the world and thus often obligatory for finite verb forms. While the primary attention of philosophers originally went to the future tense and from a philosophical perspective the present tense seemed to be its easier, less interesting brother, work in semantics has shown in the last decades that the present tense poses many challenges as well, challenges that are interesting from both a philosophical and a linguistic perspective. Crucial for the present tense has been Hans Kamp's (1971) idea of double-indexing, which made it possible to capture the indexical nature of the present tense. Although this seminal idea is still considered a great insight, it has turned out an enormous challenge to incorporate all the different uses of the  present tense that we encounter. In this talk, I will focus on one notoriously difficult present tense phenomenon: the present tense in indirect speech report complements. I will present psycholinguistic experiments that I’ve carried out together with Daniel Altshuler, Kristen Syrett and Peter de Swart and that has identified factors that influence the felicity of the present tense in these contexts. I will discuss the theoretical consequences of these findings and put them in a broader perspective.