Events, States and Times
An essay on narrative discourse in English
Open access

This monograph investigates the temporal interpretation of narrative discourse in two parts. The theme of the first part is narrative progression. It begins with a case study of the adverb ‘now’ and its interaction with the meaning of tense. The case study motivates an ontological distinction between events, states and times and proposes that ‘now’ seeks a prominent state that holds throughout the time described by the tense. Building on prior research, prominence is shown to be influenced by principles of discourse coherence and two coherence principles, NARRATION and RESULT, are given a formally explicit characterization. The key innovation is a new method for testing the definitional adequacy of NARRATION and RESULT, namely by an abductive argument. This contribution opens a new way of thinking about how eventive and stative descriptions contribute to the perceived narrative progression in a discourse.

The theme of the second part of the monograph is the semantics and pragmatics of tense. A key innovation is that the present and past tenses are treated as scalar alternatives, a view that is motivated by adopting a particular hypothesis concerning stative predication. The proposed analysis accounts for tense in both matrix clauses and in complements of propositional attitudes, where the notorious double access reading arises. This reading is explored as part of a corpus study that provides a glimpse of how tense semantics interacts with Gricean principles and at-issueness. Several cross-linguistic predictions of the analysis are considered, including their consequences for the Sequence of Tense phenomenon and the Upper Limit Constraint. Finally, a hypothesis is provided about how tense meanings compose with temporal adverbs and verb phrases. Two influential analysis of viewpoint aspect are then compared in light of the hypothesis.

The monograph is directed at graduate students and researchers in semantics, pragmatics and philosophy of language. The analysis of narrative discourse that is developed in the monograph synthesizes and builds on prior collaborative research with Corien Bary, Valentine Hacquard, Thomas Roberts, Roger Schwarzschild, Una Stojnić, Károly Varasdi and Aaron White.

Daniel Altshuler is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the School of Cognitive Science, Hampshire College and an Adjunct Professor of Linguistics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

"This book is an important and innovative contribution to the literature on time, aspect and discourse structure. By carefully probing into the different uses of a single word (the English adverb `now’) and into the various theories that have been put forward to account for those uses, Altshuler succeeds in throwing new light on the intriguing interactions between temporal reference, event structure and rhetorical relations. The insights of Part I are put to excellent use in Part II, where they are applied to two notorious puzzles from the tense and aspect literature, cessation and double access. As Altshuler shows convincingly, only a penetrating analysis of the interaction between temporal, aspectual and rhetorical relations will lead to a solution of these puzzles."
Hans Kamp, University of Stuttgart, Germany

"This book is a significant addition to work on temporal indexicals, tense and aspect, and even more importantly, to the understudied relations between the temporal and the discourse structure of texts. It brings together some of the most exciting, recent work in linguistics on these subjects and weaves a compelling picture of temporal structure in narrative discourse."
Nicholas Asher, Institut en Informatique de Toulouse, France

"This book is the most thorough, authoritative and innovative treatment of narrative discourse to date. The main thesis is that the notions of prominence and coherence constitute the core notions of a formal theory of narrative discourse. In an innovative move, temporal anaphora and narrative progression are motivated by means of two coherence principles, NARRATION and RESULT, whose explanatory adequacy is tested by an abductive reasoning method. The striking feature of this approach to narrative discourse is the wealth of analytical tools that are developed based on insights from a number of subfields of semantics and pragmatics, spanning tense, temporal adverbs, aspect, discourse coherence theory and Gricean pragmatic principles of interpretation, each explored in collaboration with researchers who are specialists in the respective fields. The book will be an indispensable resource to all researchers interested in narrative discourse, be it linguists, philosophers or others in neighboring fields of cognitive studies."
Hana Filip, Heinrich-Heine-University, Düsseldorf, Germany