Tense in Conditionals: Ins and Outs
Zahra Mirrazi
September 2022

This dissertation is concerned with the role of tense in bringing about the semantic and pragmatic differences in conditionals. Investigating the contribution of tense and aspect in Farsi conditionals, this dissertation expands the typology of temporal morphology in antecedents of conditionals. First, I make a novel observation that Farsi morphologically distinguishes between hypothetical and factual conditionals. Conditionals with zero tense in their antecedent require the truth of their antecedent to be unsettled in the context, and they yield hypothetical interpretation. Conditionals with present tense in their antecedent require the truth of their antecedent to be settled in the projected context set, and they yield factual interpretation. Second, I explore the pattern of Farsi X-marked conditionals (a.k.a., subjunctive or counterfactual conditionals). Like English and many other languages, the antecedent of X-marked conditionals in Farsi appears with past tense morphology. There are, however, two properties in which X-marked conditionals in Farsi and English differ: (i) the temporal orientation of antecedents, and (ii) the strength of antecedent falsity. After discussing the challenges such cross-linguistic variations raise for for mapping the form of X-marked conditionals to the meaning they contribute, I present a uniform past approach that can derive the interpretation of X-marked conditionals from the contribution of past tense to determining the domain of quantification (following the Stalnakerian insight), while keeping a unified semantics for past tense morphology. I propose that there are two tenses in conditional constructions that contribute to semantics and pragmatics of conditionals: the tense of the modal (the temporal specification of the situation variable which modals take as first argument), and the tense of the antecedent (the temporal specification of the situation denoted by the antecedent). Although in many languages the information carried by the two tenses are indistinguishably packed into the temporal morphology in conditional antecedents, Farsi teaches us that they independently contribute to the semantics and pragmatics of conditionals. The main contribution of this dissertation is to show how the cross-linguistic variations in X-marked conditionals can be explained by different properties of tense associated with the temporal location of antecedents, while positing that the semantic contribution of past tense in X-marked conditionals is the same across languages.
Format: [ pdf ]
Reference: lingbuzz/006816
(please use that when you cite this article)
Published in: University of Massachusetts, Amherst
keywords: conditionals, counterfactual, tense, aspect, subjunctive conditionals, indicative conditionals, semantics
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