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LEC British Studies, I B, 2013

Course coordinator: D. Ionescu


Course 5: THE CATEGORY OF TENSE
1.0. Time vs. Tense
Tense - an intrinsic feature of the verb (-s/-ed/will); formally, semantically,
pragmatically marked. The tense markers of S {-V (inflections); - adverbials,
adverbial phrases}.
Definition of TENSE= the chronological order of events in time as perceived by
the peaker at the moment of speaking.
Notions to be defined: TIME, CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER OF EVENTS, MOMENT
OF SPEAKING.
Time - objective time not inherent to objects, it is a form of of our perception
of the situations in the W - these situations are perceived sequentially. Time
has no absolute {R} outside the form of our perception of the W. It belongs to
the perceived Subject. Time has then empirical reality, in relation to the
perceived objects. Time is the form of our experience of the W. Time is an
epistemic notion, not an ontological one.
Otto Jespersen, 1965: Time and Tense - Tense = the linguistic expressions for
the natural (or notional) concept of time and its subdivisions.
Time has a linear representation :

_____________

which preserves

the sequential character of our perception of the W. This representation allows


us to infer the properties of time:

- segmentable

- durational
- reversible, bidirectional (Physics)
Humans experience space and time

- unidirectinally
- irreversibly. We can only refer to

events by choosing

certain segments of time. The division of time into

segments is performed by two different procedures:


- a personal, subjective estimation of Duration;
- a public estimate based on the periodicity of natural phenomena.

The

crosslinking of these 2 procedures of segmenting Time yields conflicting


results.
3Subjective time: liable to contraction or expansion, acc. to ones own experience of the
possible world. (Personal time, W.Bull, 1971).

3 The clock time (public time): established on the periodicity of some observable natural
phenomena.(time measured by mechanical devices, clocks, etc. i.e. revolution of the
earth round its own axis, the coming of seasons).

C. To be able to order perceived events, one has to set them in relation to one
another. Events occur either - before or
- after or

with the respective event.

- simultaneously
The axis of orientation has a source event, relative to which a chronological
order can be established for the perceived events: they can be either taking
place simultaneously with the source event of the axis, or they can occur
sequentially (before/after). To establish what kind of events can serve as
source events for axes of orientation, THE MOMENTS OF SPEECH are
considered as the primary axis of orientation. Two perceived events are
sequential or simultaneous only in terms of an observer. But the order of
events is not the same for all observers. Because of the existence of SPACE
and the distinct velocities of light and sound, by convention, simultaneity and
sequnetiality of events are converted at SPEECH TIME into a construct of 3
points:
- moment of speech (locating speaker in time and relative to the speech
event;
- other events (present/past/future). In actual speech, the primary axis
of orientation is the speech moment: NOW (present point - PP):
_________________________________
__________________________________
________________________

the axis of the present;


the axis of the past;
the axis of the future.

Therefore, there are projectional possibilities of time perception. RP is recalled


at PP. AP is anticipated at PP. Total recall implies that we remember at PP at
once, we anticipated an axis from RP - the RAP (retrospective-anticipated
axis). Ch. Bull outlined a Tense-Time specification related to a representation
like the one below:
_______________________________________
_________________________________
__________________________________________

____________________________________________
Tense is deictic, it grammaticalizes features of the context of utterance. NOW
is central according to which PAST and FUTURE represent axes of orientation
(directions).
Hans Reichenbach (1947) gave a semantic interpretation of Tense in terms of
PRIMITIVES (ST, ET, RT) along the axis of time representation; these primitives
are translated into time specifiers in the language: tense realization (tense
inflection(s)) and time adverbials (temporal phrases).
Speech time (ST)

- at which a certain S is uttered.

Reference time (RT) - T indicated by the S need not be the same as ST.
Event time (ET)

- the moment when the event occurs.

Examples:
(1)

She won the price last week.


ET = RT (not specified)
RT, ET
ST ; ST =now; RT - past/ET =? WHEN? (not specified)
(2)
Marilyn had already won the prize last week.
How do these primitives interact to form the tense structure of a S?
ST - now
RT
ST
ET
RT
1982, Hornstein: time moments (or intervals on the time line) are considered
ways of temporarily represneting events vis-a-vis the monet of speech. Each
tense appears represented as a complex configuration with a characteristic
structure whose elements are ST, RT, ET concatenated by the relations of
simultaneity or sequency.
TENSE = an ST,RT,ET configuration structured by the relations of simultaneity
and sequency.
A set of sentences not fully specified for a temporal interpretation:
(3)

Mary is leaving tomorrow.


ST = now
RT ST
ET = RT

(4)

John had eaten the cake.

ST = now
RT ST
ET RT
(5)
John will have eaten the cake.
ST = now
RT ST (after)
ET
RT
In Reichenbachs theory : the number of possible tenses is the number of
possible ST, RT, ET configurations, structured by the operations of sequency

and simultaneity. Each tense need not appear in any one specific language,
rather this theory delimits the range of tenses a G chooses from in
constructing the particular tense Grammar of a natural language.

Course 6 (TENSE, II)


THE VALUES OF THE ENGLISH TENSES
(1)

The Simple Present Tense (values: generic, habitual, instantaneous,

future time, past).


(2)

The Simple Past Tense


The simple past tense has a basic time association with a past moment

of time, e.g. then, yesterday, 2 h ago etc. which are deictically interpreted and
create a retrospective axis of orientation, the axis of the past. Along this axis
events are interpreted according to the same spatio-temporal relations of
simultaneity, anteriority or posteriority. Hence, at ST NOW, the content of the
event or state is recollected:
e.g. a. I bought this bronze statue when I was in Naples.
b. I misplaced my pencil a moment ago and I can't find it.
The past tense is used to represent an act as done, or as regularly or habituallt
don in time wholly past at the present moment, although it may have been
performed only a few seconds before. So, according to this characterization,
the simple past can be defined as describing a situation that occurs before the
present moment at a definitely specified time (in the past0: yesterday, last
week etc. If we analyse a sentence like:
The lightning struck a house yesterday,
the temporal adverbial yesterday specifies a definite time in the past; the past
tense inflection (-ed)+definite past time

adverbial specify the RT wh. is

anterior to the NOW of the ST. The ET of the S is simultaneous to the RT as it


receives no special characterization. The analysis:
ST = now
RT = yesterday, past, RT ST

ET - nonspecified, ET = RT
ATR [RT ST; ET= RT ].
The past tense is used to locate an event or state at some specified time in
the past. The content of the event or state is recollected at ST. Past time
adverbials are most frequently associated with the simple past tense:
yesterday, last NP (night, week, month, year) etc. the other say, once, two
days ago, in the year 1901, on MOnday, in June, when I was a child etc.
All these adverbs specify a definite point or interval of time in the past.
a). Cases with no time adverbial specification, where the adverbial can be
inferred from the larger context in which a S occurred:
e.g.

This time last year I was in Vienna.


Oh, how curious, I was there too.

b). Past Tense without adverbial specification: I've been in Switzerland once.
How did you like it?
It was glorious. We had beautiful
weather all the time.
The present perfect is used to introduce an event unspecified that takes place
anterior to ST in a period that began in the past and includes ST. So the frame
of reference is established: PAST for the discourse. when refrence is resumed
to the already introduced event, it is made by a definite past time specifier,
i.e. the simple past tense.
c). A third case - the simple past tense can be used without a definite
indication of time when a comparison is drawn bet. present and past
conditions:
e.g.

England is not what it was.


Life is not so pleasant as it was.

Jespersen: such vague implications of the past are ususally expressed by the
frequentative: used to, which denotes repeated action but also permanent
state in the past: I used to live in Chelsea (no time specification - state)
Conclusion: All these examples show the deictic use of the simple past tense,
i.e. oriented to ST, in combination with a deictic temporal adverbial. Besides
the deictic use, the simple apst tense is also apparent in the narrative mode,
i.e. non-deictically, to narrate situations that happened at a time before now,
but which is not given. Such S s inform of situations ordered with the aid of
common information not present in the psentences themselves.

"she sat at the window watching the evening invade the avenue. Her
head was leaning against the window curtains.... ("Eveline', J.Joyce)
In the non-deictic, narrative mode, the past tense is used without temporal
adverbs, as its main function is to convey information about the events,
sattes, processes that make up the fiction network.
Among the possible semantic values of the PAST TENSE, we have to mention
the following (RT ST; ET = RT):
1. the habitual past (similar to the habitual S s in the present tense):
e.g.

John got up at noon vs. John got up at noon every day during his

childhood.
The past habitual can contain an adverbial that indicates the interval during
which the recurring event took place: during his childhood (RT).
Frequency specifications, common to present or past tense occurrences: 3
times a week, every afternoon, at 3 o'clock that year.
Habitual interpretations can be context-bound: At lunchtime, every day the
same thing happened: Mary ate an apple.
C. Smith (1978): An ambiguity with habitual past sentences occurs because
they may contain adverbials that specify the interval in wh. the repetition took
place: Jane swam from June to September (every year, during her childhood).
2. The simple past tense with Past Perfect value
As we know that the simple past is used to describe events that happen either
simultaneously or sequentially along the past axis of orientation, we have to
draw a semantic distinction bet. the foll. S s:
e.g.

a. He enjoyed and admired the sonnets of Petrarch.


b. He addressed and sealed the envelope.

In a. we have 2 state predications. States denote duration, hence, the S is


understood to describe 2 simultaneous states. In b. 2 events wh. can be
performed only consecutively, therefore the event of addressing is prior to that
of sealing the envelope. This sequential interpretation results from our general
knowledge about the way people proceed with envelopes in such cases.
Therefore, the semantic interpretation of the temporal expression in b. is:
RT

ST

ET RT.
So, to underline, the past perfect interpretation of b. is based on our general
knowledge of the world we live in, more specifically about the way activities

are performed. In short, the past perfect interpretation is based on pragmatic


assumptions. the same will stand for;
a. He knocked and entered. (only a sequential reading)
b. He shaved and listened to the radio (either simultaneous or sequential).
Temporal relations bet. 2 consecutive events are overtly marked by: - an
adverbial or conjunction, HAVE (for anteriority marking), both:
e.g.

I thought of him v. much after I went to bed.


He dropped the letter before he went away. ( St - now, Rt
As soon as she heard that, she rose quickly. - he went away, past: RT

ST); ET - before RT; ET RT).


3. The simple Past referring to Future Time
We have established that within RT specification in a S, the combination past
morpheme of the V+future time adverbial does not specify an RT.
Therefore,

the use discussed now is like the historicalpresent tense, in the

sense that it is a fictional licence and it does not occur in everyday speech. It
is a use confined to literary style, more specifically to science fiction.
e.g. It was the year 3057. The interplanetary vehicle made a routine journey to
the Moon with 50 people on board.
The simple past tense in SF is used in virtue of the existent known convention
about recounting events, i.e. events that took place in the past. This
convention a make-believe technique: future events are recounted as if
being recollected, not anticipated, thus projecting the reader further in time
than the time specified in the narrative (retrospective view).
1. The simple Past tense referrring to the Present time
In everyday conversation a possible extension of the meaning of Paste tense is its use with present
time reference.
No adverbial specification occurs with such use. It is the context that disambiguates the use of the
past tense. The use of the simple past tense with present time reference describes events that
happened in the past and once performed, they cannot be changed after their occurrence. The context
in which it appears is that where the speaker elicits information from the listener.
e.g.

a. Did you want me? /Did you want to see me?


b. Yes, I hoped you would give me a hand.

Despite the use of the past tense, the speakers wishes over the listener would probably be present.
The Present and Past are in fact interchangeable. Only, there is a difference in tone. The effect of the
Past is to make the request indirect and therefore more polite. It avoids a confrontation of wills.
III. The Present Perfect Tense
(RT = ST; ET RT)

The main problem with the description of the meaning of He went and He has gone is whether we
must interpret the two forms as forms of different aspect realizations (simple vs. perfect) or whether
we have to consider them as two different tense realizations (past vs. present perfect).
McCoard (1978): The English Perfect Tense choice and Pragmatic Inferences:
tackles the various interpretations given to the past tense and present perfect opposition: The
frequent question is whether the Perfect is a tense.
There are two basic perspectives from which we can interpret the present perfect in relation or in
opposition to the past tense:
a). The Indefiniteness Past Theory;
b). The Extended NOW theory (theory of inclusion)
a). If we take two sentences:
1.

He left today.

2.

He has left today.,

we can interpret sentence 1 as enunciating an event located in a definite


time (today), while sentence 2 includes the present perfect, which is a tense
form that locates the event in an indefinite period before ST. McCoard analyses
the relations bet. temporal adverbs and the two tenses, to show that
definiteness is not an adequate criterion for separating the past from the
present perfect, e.g.
3.

From last Friday up till now I have had nothing but problems.

The adverbial phrase in 3. should be definite, still, the present perfect is


elicited.
Another argument is that those adverbs which normally require the past and
indeed seem to exclude the perfect altogether:
4. (a) I went back to visit him 2 months ago/just yesterday/last week.
(b) *I have gone to visit him just yesterday.
If we combine all these adverbs into an implicitly overall period which extends
up to ST, the present perfect is good:
2. I have gone up to visit him 2 months ago/last week/just yesterday, so
far.
So far opens up a new interval, including the present moment of speech.
Moreover, adverbs like: never, ever, always, which appear to be indefinite
according to the Indefiniteness theory occur with both the Perfect and the
Past.
3. I never learnt how to swim.

4. I have never learnt how to swim.


Adverbs like this morning, this week, this year occur with both the present
perfect and the past, but a characterization in terms of definiteness is not
relevant. The ciriticism brought about with the ID theory is that in the
description of the temporal specification of a S, the temporal adverbials apply
not for to the event, but to the reference time. This is necessary to provide
for the correct adverbial co-occurrence: Now I see John. Now I have seen John.
I saw John yesterday. I had seen John yesterday.
We have argued that since only RT takes temporal adverbials, whenever the
ET and RT are not simultaneous, the ET is specified by other linguistic
expressions, in our case the auxiliary HAVE, the adverb ALREADY, the
preposition BEFORE, which occurs as part of the adverbial phrase.
b. The Extended NOW Theory (McCoard, 1978):
The present perfect is a marker of prior events which are nevertheless
included within the overall period of the represent (extended now), while the
past tense marks events assigned to a past which is concluded and separated
from the extended present. He further characterizes the present perfect as a
tense form which presents an activity or state taking place in thepast which
either may extend up to the present moment of speaking or it may be
momentary as in: The messenger has just arrived or else, it may last for a
certain period in the past, covering a whole period of past time:
7. Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for
love.
(Shakespeare)
Along with this theory, the tenses in question (past and present perfect) have
been investigated and associated with various adverbs of time.
e.g. lately, recently are commonly regarded as synonyms, but lately can be
used only in the context of the perfect, while recently can be used in both
contexts:
8.

He has been ill recently. He has been ill lately.

9.

He was ill recently. *He was ill lately.

On the other hand, there are temporal adverbials like: in the past, in past
years, in former years that usually occur with the preterit (past), but which

contextually can include the present moment, hence they co-occur with the
present perfect as well.
e.g. In past years I have been in England many times.
Once = formerly: It was a cathedral once.
= on one occasion: Ive only seen it once/I only saw it once.
Just now goes usually well with either tense:
I did it just now.
Ive just now received word from you.
At the lexicon level, Mc Coard proposed 3 different groupings of adverbs
according to their tense idiosyncrasies:
[+THEN]

[+/-THEN]

[- THEN]

long ago

long since

at present

5 years ago

in the past

up till now

since=formerly

once=one time

so far

yesterday

today

as yet

the other day

in my life

not yet

on those days

for 3 years

during the 5 years

past
last night

recently

herewith,

in 1900

just now

since the war

at 3 oclock,

always, never

after the war

before

before now,
lately

no longer
As a conclusion, in order to reflect the opposition past-including the present
(present perfect) and past-excluding the present (past tense), we need to set
up the notion of INCLUSION. Anteriority is common to both the Perfect and
Past, but the anteriority of the past is always tied to the moment of coding,
whereas that of the perfect need not be. So, the category of inclusion emerges
when the past and perfect are competing in the same territory. The perfect
will indicate inclusion of the present NOW (RT=ST), will past will exclude the
present NOW (RT ST). In sum, the past time expressed by the perfect is not a
definite contextually determined time. The simple past indicates a contextually
defined parameter:
The present perfect shows that the event is to be located in an unspecified
interval of time from the past up to and including the present, hence:

The present perfect includes the moment of speech, which is NOW.


Past Perfect relates to an event that is recollected from the past time axis of
orientation; therefore, it relates to a past moment;
e.g. When I was 15 I had already gone skiing for more than 3 years. The
telephone had been ringing for more than 10 minutes when someone entered
the house. After they had finished work, they went to the cinema. Anteriority is
the basic semantic relation in a sentence which includes a past perfect, as the
adverbial temporal clause will usually denote a sequential order of events,
from which one is in the past. Therefore, the second one would either be
pursuing the former or it would have occurred before it. Otherwise,
simultaneity is rendered through use of the past tense:
He shaved himself and listened to the tune at the same time.
Future Time (Futurity): Ways of expressing future time in English:
-

the simple present tense + an explicit future time adverbial;

be going to (a frozen structure);

will/shall;

Present progressive (Be+V+ING);

Be about to.

Apart from the simple present (the only marked form of expressing
futurity), such forms belong either to the modal system or to the
aspectual paradigm. Therefore, Future tense is discarded in English.
Modal SHALL/WILL express prediction (epistemic value).