Representing time

Representing time: An essay on temporality as modality. By Kasia M. Jaszczolt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xiii, 192. ISBN 9780199214440. $49.95.

Reviewed by Ana Bravo, Granada University

The idea that time and modality are interconnected is by no means new. In fact, it is a long standing hypothesis in relation to the future tense. The main thesis defended by Kasia M. Jaszczolt in this book—that time is modality—is much less often argued and is much more controversial. J holds that time is not a primitive concept. Instead, internal psychological time is constructed out of basic concepts such as possibility (the past and the future) and certainty (the present). Real time, on which internal time is supervenient, may be identified in turn with possibilities of states and events. The link between time and space is described in several places throughout the essay.

The book also aims to build a semantic representation of temporality. Since the representation of time in semantic theory has to directly reflect mental representation—or, to put it the other way round, since semantic categories are a window on conceptual categories—and human conceptualization of time is modal, the author’s fundamental claim is that modal concepts will suffice for a semantic representation of time.

Ch. 1, ‘Real time and the concept of time’ (5–31), addresses such philosophical questions as the existence and flow of time, from Husserl and Heidegger to McTaggart, Einstein, and Hawking. J’s main conclusions are: (i) there must be distinctions between real, ontological time and internal, psychological time; (ii) real time is a feature of the universe, and internal time constitutes our consciousness of time; and (iii) real time does not flow, and the flow of time belongs to human experience.

In Ch. 2, ‘Time as modality’ (32–95), the modal nature of statements about the present, past, and future is demonstrated. J first presents a working notion for the conceptual and semantic category of modality, including evidentiality. Second, general arguments for the conceptual affinity between temporal and modal statements are reviewed, some of which, such as those based on the historical development of future tenses, are well known to linguists. Third, the modality of the concepts of the future, present, and past is examined in detail. In all three cases, internal time is demonstrated to assess internal detachment from certainty.

Having shown that time is modality, J proceeds in Ch. 4, ‘Time in default semantics’ (124–64), to offer a semantic representation of temporality within the framework of default semantics. Previously, in Ch. 3, ‘Semantic representation of time: A preamble’ (96–123), the author argues in favor of using propositions, not events, as the units on which the operator of temporality/epistemic modality operates. In default semantics, compositionality extends to pragmatic information, in the sense that all sources of information about meaning are treated on an equal footing. As a consequence, propositions are merged propositions, and thus tense-time mismatches follow from one of the sources of a merged proposition, so no additional rules are needed.

The issues J covers will be of interest to formal semanticists working in discourse representation theory and researchers of the categories of time (and tenses), situations, and eventualities.