A compositional account of counterfactual conditional clauses in Old Japanese

Kyoko Sano


The paper is concerned with tenselessness of the past tense morpheme in counterfactuals. The question is twofold.  One is why is it the past tense that marks counterfactuality (Iatridou 2000, Ogihara 2000), which indicates anteriority. Another question is why the past tense is tenseless (or “fake tense”) in the counterfactuals.  The previous theories (past tense as modal and past tense as exclusive operator) have not offered answers to these questions.  In this paper, I argue that the conditional clauses originate in temporal adverbial clauses, and therefore it is only natural for the conditionals to be represented by temporal abstracts (Stump 1985). Second, I argue that the temporal abstracts are intensionalized in conditionals and causatives.  This assumption not only provides a compositional analysis for the conditional, causal, and temporal adverbial clauses but also explains the reason why a proposition in the past tense can denote anteriority in the extensional context but counterfactuality (a temporal interval in the possible world) in the intensional context. I support my proposal by presenting data of counterfactuals from Old Japanese. The previous studies show the past tense morpheme is essential to counterfactual interpretation cross-linguistically (Karawani 2014) but I show that it is not a necessity, as counterfactual interpretation originates in the temporal abstract represented by the temporal adverbial clauses. I present four types of temporal clauses from which the counterfactual can be formed: at the time when, whenever (always when), in the circumstance/event that, and and then.  All these temporal clauses can be intensionalized to be conditional or causal clauses under a modal operator.


counterfactuals; temporal adverbials; modal; Old Japanese

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.3765/plsa.v7i1.5280

Copyright (c) 2022 Kyoko Sano

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