Thursday, March 21, 2013

Temporality in Natural Language

This is a very late continuation of Of Time and Other Disasters. On that occasion I had found and posted the notes on temporality in Natural Language for beginners that the husband taught at ESSLLI'98.
I don't like Quine, or since I haven't read much by him (nao li e nao gostei), I don't like the ideas usually associated with him. But I have always agreed with this quote:
 Our language shows a tiresome bias in its treatment of time. Relations of date are exalted grammatically as relations of position, weight and color are not. This bias is of itself an inelegance, or breach of theoretical simplicity. Moreover, the form that it takes that of requiring every verb form to show a tense is peculiarly productive of needless complications, since it demands lip service to be paid to time even when time is farthest from our thoughts.(Quine1960)

Whether we like it or not time is really that important in language, so we need to make some choices and they'd better be defensible for a while.

Which are these choices? Crouch has a list of 14 items in his introduction.
1. The indexical nature of tense: all well formed English sentences appear to build in some indexical reference to the time at which the sentence is uttered. (vcvp: need to pay attention  to this time - the speech time needs to be part of any model, but maybe not of the representation of the meaning of the sentences themselves?)
2. The anaphoric nature of tense: most utterances are about a particular time, though the identity of this time is often only implicitly given by context. (vcvp: only deal with explicit to begin with?)
3. The temporal structure of narrative.  Lascarides example "Max fell, Bob pushed him" as well as "I got out of bed. I turned on the light. (vcvp: only deal with explicit to begin with?)
4. The structure of time: instants versus intervals, all reals...(vcvp: both are necessary)
5. Events, states, propositions and facts:  does language make an ontological commitment to temporally located entities like events or states? (vcvp: some decisions have been made already, can I punt on the others?)
or does it merely relate the truth of propositions to times?

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