- Fake Tense in Conditional Sentences: A Modal Approach
- Natural Language Semantics
- Volume | Issue number
- 22 | 2
- Pages (from-to)
- Document type
- Interfacultary Research Institutes
- Institute for Logic, Language and Computation (ILLC)
Many languages allow for “fake” uses of their past tense marker: the marker: can occur in certain contexts without conveying temporal pastness. Instead it appears to bear a modal meaning. Iatridou (Linguist Inq 31(2):231–270, 2000) has dubbed this phenomenon Fake Tense. Fake Tense is particularly common to conditional constructions. This paper analyzes Fake Tense in English conditional sentences as a certain kind of ambiguity: the past tense morphology can mark the presence of a temporal operator, but it can also signal a specific modal operator. The ambiguity is proposed to be the result of recategorization: the Simple Past develops a second, modal meaning because of structural similarities between the temporal and the modal/epistemic domain. The proposal is spelled out in the generative semantics framework (Heim and Kratzer, Semantics in generative grammar, 1998), using the restrictor approach to conditionals (Kratzer, in: R. Bäuerle et al. (eds.) Semantics from different points of view, 1979; in: A. von Stechow and D. Wunderlich (eds.) Semantics: an international handbook of contemporary research, 1991), and building on von Stechows et al.’s recent work on the English tense system (von Stechow, in: W. Klein (ed.) The expression of time in language, 2010; Romero and von Stechow, Tense: introduction, 2008).
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