Embedded Tense: Insights from Modern Greek
Anastasia Tsilia
June 2021

Embedded tense in Modern Greek (MG) displays an unexpected ‘optionality’: both present and past tenses can be used under a past tense attitude verb to convey a simultaneous reading. We claim that MG has a mixed tense system, being able to delete the embedded past like English and shift the embedded present like Russian. Are these two the only routes to the simultaneous reading in MG? We claim that sometimes there is a third one, namely interpreting the embedded past with respect to the time of the utterance. Based on a cross-linguistic investigation of the availability of simultaneous readings in languages without a deletion rule, we provide evidence that there is variation, both across languages and across speakers. We provide an analysis using a pragmatic Prefer De Se principle and a syntactic Prefer Local Binding parameter. The first states that de se readings are preferred whenever possible, be they obtained via de se Logical Forms or via de re ones with temporal descriptions that happen to be de se. Prefer Local Binding expresses a preference for locally bound temporal variables, therefore giving rise to a back-shifted reading of past-under-past in the absence of a deletion rule. Based on data from ellipsis, we argue that in MG this parameter is inactive, and thus MG has a third route to the simultaneous reading. Finally, we introduce the ‘then’-present puzzle, namely the observation that ‘then’ is incompatible with the shifted present. We extend Ogihara & Sharvit’s (2012) and Vostrikova’s (2018) paradigm for Hebrew and Russian, arguing that the puzzle holds not only for present-under-past but also for present-under-future environments cross-linguistically, both under attitude verbs and in relative clauses. Furthermore, we provide novel data, and conclude that the puzzle also holds in a mixed tense language like MG. Finally, we show that ‘then’ is compatible with the present in other environments and we argue against competition-based accounts, leaving the puzzle open.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006127
(please use that when you cite this article)
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keywords: sequence of tense, deleted past, shifted present, temporal adverbials, simultaneous readings, prefer de se, de re readings, russian, hebrew, 'then'-present puzzle, tense semantics
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