The imperfective paradox in the English progressive and other semantic course corrections
The topic of this work is semantic course corrections. I use this term to refer to a discourse-level phenomenon that sheds light on a number of puzzles in semantics and pragmatics at the level of the sentence. At issue in this study is the fact that language users, even while endeavoring to express themselves truthfully in a discourse overall, may nevertheless temporarily stray from expressing the literal truth in particular sentences or clauses within the discourse. This is permissible provided that the speaker eventually "corrects course" back to the truth.For example, if someone goes to a bookstore and buys a copy of Wuthering Heights only to discover later it is a book on stamp collecting mistakenly covered with the dust jacket from Wuthering Heights, a speaker might state, "I bought a copy of Wuthering Heights today, but it was actually a book on stamp collecting." This is a curious sort of utterance. The first clause is literally false and the propositional content of the sentence overall is contradictory. However, if understood as a particular species of non-literal utterance, it can be seen to quote an error and then effect a semantic correction.Beyond an interesting topic of study in their own right, semantic course corrections may be a key to certain deeply entrenched puzzles in semantics and pragmatics. The central problem I address in the work is the semantic behavior of the English progressive aspect. For decades, semanticists have attempted to formulate an adequate treatment of the progressive. Yet, even after dozens of proposals, no consensus has been reached. A problem known as the imperfective paradox, the basic facts of which were noted by Aristotle, has been a major roadblock. The progressive is thus frequently characterized as "vague" or "strange" semantically. This has led to increasingly ad hoc and complicated explanations of its behavior. In this work, I advance a simple, principled, precise, and logically-consistent semantic analysis of the progressive, well supported by evidence. In addition, the form that this explanation takes provides some interesting insights into certain fundamental issues including compositionality and the nature of the semantics-pragmatics interface.
- Linguistics