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Using 'Now' and the Present Tense to Talk about the Past (talk recording available)
Dr. Daniel Altshuler
Tuesday, March 25, 2014, 01:00pm - 02:00pm
Heinrich Heine Universitat Dusseldorf, Institut fur Sprache und Information, Department of Linguistics
In simple, discourse initial sentences like "I am happy now", the adverb 'now' and the present tense seem to contribute the same temporal information; both refer to the speech time. However, as was shown by Kamp & Rohrer (1983), 'now' can also pick out past times when embedded within a discourse. In fact, the British National Corpus reveals that this is the most frequent usage of 'now' (Lee 2009). Similarly, it has been well documented that the present tense can also refer to past times when it is embedded under propositional attitudes (Smith 1978, Comrie 1985, Ogihara 1989, Abusch 1997). The goal of this talk is to take preliminary steps towards explaining the seeming dual function of these temporal indexicals. In particular, I will show how recent research on anaphora resolution and discourse coherence enables us to explain why 'now' and the present tense are ever used to talk about the past.