Embedded presents and the structure of narratives

Pranav Anand, Maziar Toosarvandani


The orthodox view of tense mandates that the present tense, when embedded under a past attitude predicate, should give rise soley to what is called a "double access" reading (Abusch 1997; Ogihara1996; OgiharaSharvit2012). We consider a class of embedded presents which locate the embedded eventuality neither at the time of utterance nor the time of the attitude. Unlike some other recently identified cases of ill-behaved embedded tenses, we argue that our embedded presents are instances of the historical present, a non-indexical use of the simple present. This assimilation requires abandoning current theories of the historical present, which treat it as a purely pragmatic contextual shift (Schlenker 2004, Anand & Toosarvandani 2017}. Building on Lewis(1978), we introduce an intensional operator sensitive to a salient narrative in the context, which shifts a contextual time coordinate to a temporal vantage point on that narrative. This unifies our cases of embedded presents with their matrix counterparts, in fiction and non-fiction narratives alike.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/salt.v30i0.4833

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