The status of tense in non-finite clauses in English is controversial; the issues in dispute are partly terminological (people disagree on what counts as a “tense”) and partly empirical (non-finite clauses differ in some respects from finite clausesvis à vis temporal interpretation but resemble finite clauses in other respects.) In Stowell (1981, 1982), I suggested that a subset of infinitival clauses (control complements andfor-infinitives) contain a future-shifting “unrealized” tense. Hackl and Nissenbaum (2012) argue that the putative future-shifting tense is, at least in infinitival relative clauses, really a necessity or possibility modal. Wurmbrand (2014) adopts a similar position, arguing that infinitives may contain a counterpart to the future-shifting modalwoll (Abusch 1997) but not true tense. Wurmbrand also discusses cases of infinitival complements of attitude verbs with simultaneous interpretations and argues against the presence of present tense on the basis of the fact that finite sequence-of-tense effects can operate across them.
Setting aside Wurmbrand’s arguments (which, I claim, rest on a flawed conception of ‘present tense,’) I argue for the existence of true past tense in non-finite clauses—both in infinitives and in “bare VP” complements of modals, in the form of the non-finite perfect. The argument is based partly on observations of Hofmann (1966), and partly on independent observations concerning non-finite analogs of sequence-of-tense with the non-finite perfect, as well as what appear to be counterfactual ‘fake past’ interpretations.
The debate about non-finite tense in English is in some respects parallel to the debate about whether tense exists in languages like Chinese and St’át’imcets, a Salishan language of British Columbia. A widely held traditional view is that such languages lack true tenses in the traditional sense, and that they rely on a combination of verbal aspect, time-denoting adverbs, and/or pragmatic reasoning based on contextual information to draw inferences about the temporal location of events and situations. More recently, Matthewson (2002, 2006, 2017), Sybesma (2007), Sun (2014), and Demirdache and Sun (2017) have challenged this view, arguing for the existence of a phonetically null tense in St’át’imcets and Chinese. Demirdache and Sun’s arguments are particularly compelling, since they show that the full array of constraints on tense construal operative in English finite clauses have direct counterparts in Chinese.
I will draw comparisons between these two debates over the status of tense in non-finite clauses in English and ‘tenseless’ languages like Chinese), and argue in favor of the null tense approach.
Tim Stowellis Professor of Linguistics and Co-Chair of Department of Linguistics, UCLA. He obtained his PhD (dissertation title:Origins of Phrase Structure) from MIT in 1981. His dissertation and his ensuing publications have contributed greatly to our understanding of the nature of syntactic structure and its relation to semantic interpretation, the syntax of argument structure and predication, and the structure of clauses and subclausal constituents. His recent work has focused on the syntax of tense and the logic of temporal interpretation, and on the syntax of quantifiers and other determiners and the principles governing scope assignment and reference.
Professor Stowell has served on the editorial or advisory boards of a number of distinguished linguistic journals, includingLinguistic Inquiry,Natural language and Linguistic Theory,Linguistics and Philosophy,Syntax,Oxford Studies on Time in Language and Thought,Journal of Italian Linguistics.
Tim Stowell教授现任美国加州洛杉矶分校语言学系主任。美国麻省理工学院语言学博士。博士论文Origins of Phrase Structure及随后发表的诸多论文极大地加深了我们对句法结构及其意义解读、谓语及论元结构的句法表征、句子及小句成分的构成等方面的认识。近年来，Tim Stowell教授侧重“时”的逻辑解读及量词及其辖域分配原则方面的研究。Tim Stowell教授曾任和现任多本语言学重要刊物的合作主编和编委，这些期刊包括：Linguistic Inquiry,Natural language and Linguistic Theory,Linguistics and Philosophy,Syntax,Oxford Studies on Time in Language and Thought,Journal of Italian Linguistics.