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The Pragmatics and Semantics of Temporal Meaning
Carlota S. Smith
92-106 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


The sentences of all languages convey information that allows the receiver to locate situations in time, a necessity for truth-conditional assessment. This article shows that three general pragmatic principles can account for temporal location in languages of very different structures. The principles are realized according to the forms that are syntactically obligatory in a given language. Languages may be tensed, tenseless, or in-between, with tense-like morphemes. Tensed languages, such as English, convey time directly and are constrained by the pragmatic principles. In tenseless and partially tensed languages, such as Mandarin Chinese and Navajo, respectively, aspectual information allows the inference of temporal location, according to the principles. Strikingly, the notions of Speech Time, Reference Time, and Situation Time are needed to account for temporal location across languages. An appendix to the article sketches an implementation of the indirect, inferential approach for Mandarin Chinese.

Published in

Proceedings of the 2004 Texas Linguistics Society Conference: Issues at the Semantics-Pragmatics Interface
edited by Pascal Denis, Eric McCready, Alexis Palmer, and Brian Reese
Table of contents
Printed edition: $180.00