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What’s so unreal about the past? Past tense and the hypothetical
The hypothetical and the past tense • In several related and unrelated languages (e. g. Russian, French, Latin, Cree (Alonquian), Garo (Tibeto-Burman), Tonga and Haya (Bantu)) hypothetical meanings are expressed using the past tense marker (James, 1982). • We also see this in English and Dutch: Als ik jou was, zou ik het niet doen I wouldn’t do that if I were you • This talk is about counterfactuals: -clear-cut category -the only application of the past tense as hypothetical all languages share
Past tense in counterfactuals • Explanation often given : the base meaning of past tense marker is actually not past tense but something like “distant from present reality” (Steele 1975, Iatridou 2000) • But: - Marker is fully productive as past tense marker but can only have a contrary to fact meaning in certain constructions - Crosslinguistically the constructions with past tense indicating hypotheticality are very diverse • Question to ask: how did the past tense acquire a counterfactual meaning in certain constructions?
Alternative proposal (Dahl, 1997) • Based on the branching futures modal of Tedeschi. If: - If Germany had invaded England, they would have won the war. • In conditionals there is (normally) a choicepoint in the past from which the options were still open - If Mary were here now, John would be happy.
Alternative proposal (Dahl, 1997) Problems: • For many conditionals the choicepoint in the past is hard to see - If I were a girl, I would have long hair It he had his driver’s license, he would be over 18 • Crosslinguistically: all languages that use past tense, use it in the consequence, they do not all use them in the antecedent
Hypothesis: The counterfactual grammaticalized as a construction from using conditionals with past reference, implying counterfactuality
Grammaticalization Grammatical change by inference: “a semantic change can take place when a certain implication commonly arises with a certain linguistic form. That implication can be taken as part of the inherent form and can even go so far as to replace the original meaning” (Bybee a. o. 1994) - Semantic argumentation - Historical argumentation - Crosslinguistic argumentation
Semantic arguments 4 major types of counterfactuals (Dancygier and Sweetser, 2005): • Predicting: - If I push, he will fall • Epistemic: - If the bells are ringing, it is 9 o’clock • Generic: - If you work, you earn money • Speech-act conditional: - if you need any help, my name is Anne
Semantic arguments Counterfactuals can be of the predicting type: (1) If you didn’t have your jacket on, you would get sick And of the epistemic type: (2) If we heard church bells ringing, it would be nine o’clock. But not all: (3) If Reagan was president, he lived in the White House.
Semantic arguments Epistemic conditionals can predicting or non-predicitng (Dancygier and Sweetser, 2005). Non-predicting epistemic conditionals express a conclusion more then they predict something conditionally. After finding out Tom is the cat (4) If Tom is the cat, Jerry must be the mouse Before turning on the television (5) If the news has started, it is already 8 o’clock
Semantic arguments The same holds for generic conditionals. There are real generic conditionals (6) and specific indefinite conditionals which are predicting something (7). (6) If you put salt on a snake, it dies (7) If you ever play against him, you will loose In contrast with the real generics, the specific indefinite conditionals can be counterfactual. (8) If you put salt on a snake, it died (9) If you had ever played against him, you would have lost
Semantic arguments Making predictions in the past implies counterfactuality - With a predicting conditional if p, (then) q the speaker predicts q on the basis of p. This is only appropriate if the speaker knows -p or is ignorant of the veracity of p. If he knew p was the case, he would also know whether that caused q to happen or not - In a non-predicting epistemic conditional if p, (then) q, the speaker concludes p on the basis of q (-p is not under discussion) - In generic conditionals a speaker indicates that in all situations where p was the case (he excludes the situations where -p is the case), q is the case.
Historical arguments Early present and past counterfactuals: simple past in antecedent as well as consequent (Dahl 1997, Molencki 2000). - ƒrauja, iÞ vereis her, ni Þau gadauÞnodedi broÞar meins “Lord if thou-were here, not then died brother mine” (pre old English) - Giƒ Þu wistest hwæt Þe towaerd is Þonne weope Þu “If thou knewest(IND) what thee imminent is then wept(SUBJ) thou mid me “with me” (Old English) - Bot al his praier had ben als noght If godd self his might had wroght “But all his prayer had been as nothing if God himself has might had wrought” (1250 -1350) Same pattern found in the development of counterfactuals in Roman languages (Harris, 1986)
Historical arguments Same pattern found in the development of counterfactuals in Roman languages (Harris, 1986) I. Conditional in simple past: past reference, implied counterfactuality II. Conditional in simple past: past and present reference, inherent counterfactuality III. Conditional in simple past: present reference, inherent counterfactuality, extra markers needed to refer to the past (pluperfect)
Semantics and history - predicting conditionals used with past reference imply counterfactuality This implication led them to be used with present reference as well. At a later stage the simple past counterfactual lost its ability to refer to the past and extra markers are necessary (plusperfect). (10) if you didn’t wear a jacket, you would get sick (11) If you had not worn your jacket, you would have gotten sick
Semantics and history True generic conditionals (12) with past reference and non-predicting epistemic counterfactuals (13) do not imply their falsity and hence is never lost the ability to refer the past. (12) If you worked, you earned at home (13) If Laural was the big one, Hardy was the small one
Typological evidence Within languages that use the past tense in counterfactuals there can be three types of patterns: I. Conditional in simple past: past reference II. Conditional in simple past: past and present reference III. Conditional in simple past: present reference extra markers needed to refer to the past
Encountered patterns • James’ (1982) group of languages: Only past counterfactuals (found): Chipewyan, Garo, Nitinaht (stage 1) Both: English, French, Latin, C. Greek, Russian, Tonga (and Haya) and Cree, Old Irish Of which do not formally distinguish between past and present: Old Irish, Russian (stage 2) And of which do distinguish: French, English, Latin, Cree, C. Greek, Tonga (and Haya) (stage 3)
Problems General phenomenon: Past and hypothetical • Other forms (like would) developed independently • Other hypothetical forms are derived from counterfactuals. All languages that use past tense to express hypothecality, use it in counterfactuals. The second most attested construction with past tense is the counterfactual wish. - if only I had a car - als ik toch eens een auto had
Problems Other hypothetical constructions derived from counterfactual Turkish: no connection past tense and counterfactuals but conditional marker –se - Hava güzel olsa, parka gideriz weather beautiful be(irrealis conditional) park-to go(first person plural) ‘If the weather would be nice, we would go to the park’ -se also used in wishes: yarin gelse tomorrow come(third person singular)(irrealis conditional) ‘If he only came tomorrow’ -and probability Ali hasta olsa gerek Ali sick be(irrealis conditional) obligation ‘Ali is probably ill’
Problems All languages in the sample have the past tense marker in the antecedent of the conditional, they don’t all have them in the consequence
Conclusion What’s so unreal about the past? Nothing! Just because the past is known, conditionals with past reference imply counterfactuality and conditionals with simple past grammaticalized into counterfactuals. This is shown by: ● making predicitions in the past implies counterfactuality ● conditionals with simple past that refer to the past and present counterfactuals are mutually exclusive ● historical and typological pattern Tendency to use counterfactuals with pluperfect marking for present reference (Dahl, 1997)