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Thursday, October 12, 2006

More Tense

There appear to be more scope interactions among quantifiers, relative clauses and tenses than predicted by most theories of tense. If you have time, take a moment to appreciate the differences between these structurally similar relative clause sentences. The reading indicated for each sentence is the most salient reading, not the only one (P is past, F is future, E is a stand-in for the existential quantifier, and the predicates are appropriately abbreviated):

200 years ago John Smith hired a senior professor who got his Ph.D. from Harvard.
P(Ex(senior professor x & John hires x & P(get Ph.D. x)))

200 years ago John Smith hired a junior professor who later became president
P(Ex(become president x & P(junior professor x & John hires x)))

A colleague of mine who was a child prodigy got her Ph.D. from Harvard.
Ex(colleague x & P(get Ph.D. x & P(prodigy x)))

A colleague of mine who got her Ph.D. from Harvard was a child prodigy.
Ex(colleague x & P(get Ph.D. x & P(prodigy x)))

A colleague of mine who was a child prodigy will run for president
Ex(colleague x & P(prodigy x) & F(run x))

A colleague of mine who will run for president was a child prodigy
Ex(colleague x & F(run x) & P(prodigy))

John hired a junior professor who will become president
Ex(P(junior professor x & John hires x) & F(x becomes president))

A child prodigy who won five competitions will soon graduate from college
Ex(P(prodigy x & x wins) & F(x graduates))

An adequate theory of tense should explain all of these scope interactions and more.

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