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Auteur: Kasia M. JASZCZOLT

Temporal reference in discourse: A modality-based asymmetric account

Abstract/Résumé: There is no doubt that the topic of how humans conceptualise time is a complex one. It is complex for various interrelated reasons that fall into four broad categories: metaphysical, epistemic, conceptual/semantic, and pragmatic. In my Representing Time (Jaszczolt 2009), I drew on all four of these domains to put forward arguments in support of the modal conception of temporal reference in discourse. I argued that the human concept of time logically supervenes on the gradable concept of epistemic commitment. In other words, on the underlying level of basic concepts, temporality is epistemic modality, where our temporal concepts of past, present, and future eventualities alike are founded on the degrees of commitment to the truth of the proposition-like construct. These temporal concepts are underlyingly degrees of detachment from certainty of an eventuality. Although the thesis of the modal supervenience of temporality was well-supported by theoretical arguments and by evidence from various languages, and it also easily yielded to a contextualist post-Gricean formal analysis in the framework of Default Semantic/Interactive Semantics (DS, IS, Jaszczolt 2005, 2010, in preparation), there remained an important Unresolved Question (UQ). It concerns the translatability of what intuitively seems to be a qualitative difference between the past, the present and the future into quantitative differences, that is, in the DS-terms, differences represented as the ‘delta index’ on the acceptability operator (ACCD). In other words, ‘degrees of detachment from certainty’ and equally ‘degrees of commitment to the (truth of the proposition representing an) eventuality’ are quantitative concepts, while the past/present/future distinction intuitively appears to be a qualitative one. If one founds the latter on the former, one has to either provide a way of correlating one with the other, or explain away the intuitive qualitative contrast between the past, the present and the future. In this talk I present two possible answers to the UQ: that (i) the differences between P, N, and F are underlyingly quantitative rather than qualitative (which I call the Direct-Quantitative View, DQ), and that (ii) the differences are qualitative and the value of modal detachment (D) is contextually established (the Modal-Contextualist View, MC). Next, I focus on the DQ view and assess its compatibility with the tensed and tenseless theories of time, concluding that both uphold it. Finally, I argue that the MC view is also tenable as an answer to the UQ, and is independently supported by cross-linguistic data. I conclude with some remarks on conceptual and naturalistic reduction and its role in the understanding of the phenomenon and the concept of time.