The Semantics of the English Progressive

K. S. Kearns, 1991

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This thesis proposes that the English progressive sematnically modifies the relation between events and times, and that this semantics uniformly underlies a variety of apparently disparate readings of the progressive.  Chapter 2 begins with Jespersen"s observation that the progressive presents an event as a temporal frame around a given time.  This intuition may be expressed as follows: where t is a given time, and t" is the time of an event e, a progressive sentence reporting e asserts that t", the event time, properly contains the framed time t.  On this view, a progressive sentence entails the existence of an event of greater duration than the framed time t.  I demonstrate that the temporal frame reading is not an entailment of the progressive but arises by implicature; the existence of an event of greater duration than the framed time t is implicated but not entailed.  I also show that restrictions on the framed time t proposed elsewhere, claiming that t must be an instant, or that t must be non-initial and non-final in t", are incorrect.

Drawing on the contrasting readings of present progressive sentences and simple present tense sentences with event predicates, it has also been claimed that the progressive has a metaphysical character, reporting actual phenomena, while the simple present tense, interpreted as a habitual predication, reports characterisitics of the "structure of the world".  I argue that the progressive/non-progressive contrast in the present tense is basically temporal: the progressive, unlike the (habitual) simple present tense, explicitly dates or temporally locates reported events.  The different readings at issue follow by implicature arising from this contrast.

In Chapter 3 I address certain problems with the progressive of state predicates, including habituals.  Having argued that the progressive is not ill-formed or false with state predicates per se, I offer an account of the temporary or limited duration reading of progressive state predicates in terms of the implicature outlined in Chapter 2 for the progressive/non-progressive contrast in the present tense.  Drawing also on a modified version of Carlson"s (1977) distinction between individual-level and stage-level predications, I argue that where a simple tense state predicate has the individual-level reading, the progressive form implicates temporariness because it explicitly dates or temporally locates the state described.  I also review a class of psychological state predicates, and argue that certain of these resist the progressive because the explicit dating of a state or event expressed by the progressive is anomalous.

A very old traditional observation, holding that the progressive is a "definite tense", contrasting with the "indefinite" perfect, is addressed in Chapter 4; definite tense forms make reference to specific times and indefinite forms to non-specific times.  This classification is seen as resting on the pre-Russellian view of the articles a and the, developed more recently as the Familiarity Theory of Definitiness.  I argue for a quantificational analysis of the novelty and familiarity effects, and claim that the original definite/indefinite classification of verb forms should be captured by differences in the quantification over times.  In present perfect sentences event times are existentially quantified, and in progressive sentences the framed time is bound by quantificational the.

Finally, in Chapter 5 I discuss the Imperfective Paradox, and the two main types of response to it.  Dowty (1979) is the chief example of the first approach, which is to analyse the progressive as a kind of counterfactual.  I explore what I consider to be the essential components of this view, and argue that certain inadequacies indicate the correctness of the second view.  The second view holds that the paradox is only apparent, as the predicate found in a progressive sentence is not the same as the predicate in the corresponding non-progressive sentence; the troublesome entailments are not valid on this view.  I present additional evidence for the second view and also argue that the two distinct readings are found in the uninflected predicate, which is ambiguous.

Thesis Advisor: James Higginbotham

Title:                             Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy

Table of Contents

Chapter 1         General Introduction                                                                             9

Chapter 2         The Progressive as a Temporal Frame                                       33

            The traditional view                                                                                           33

            An alternative analysis                                                                           38

            Restrictions on the framed time                                                              48

            When-clauses and the sequential reading                                                           53

                        Sequential when requires brief bounded events                          54

                        Punctual events                                                                         59

                        Implications of causality                                                                        63

                        Summary: When-clauses                                                                       67

            The present progressive and the simple present tense                             68

                        Goldsmith and Woisetschlaeger (1982)                                     69

                        The simple present tense interpreted as habitual                         75

                        The temporal range of habituals                                                 77

                        Stage-level and individual-level predications                                          79

            The quantificational structure of habituals                                                           81

                        Adjectival and non-adjectival quantifiers                                                83

                        Adverbial quantifiers and habituals                                                         89

                        Bare plurals                                                                                          99

                        Event variables in habituals                                                                    102

                        Summary: quantification and habituals                                        108

            Summary: the progressive as a temporal frame                                       109

Chapter 3         Predicates Which Resist the Progressive                                                111

            State predicates                                                                                                112

                        Progressive state predicates                                                                  122

                                    Habituals as states                                                                    125

                                    Formal statements                                                                     133

                        The BE class                                                                                        137

                        The HAVE class                                                                                   141

                        The psychological states                                                                        147

                        Participial adjuncts                                                                                159

                        Summary: state predicates                                                                     163

            Acheivement predicates                                                                                    166

Chapter 4         Definite and Indefinite Times                                                                 170

            Introduction                                                                                                      170

                        The simple past                                                                         170

                        The perfect                                                                                           175

                        The progressive                                                                                    176

            What is the "definiteness" of times?                                                                   184

                        Discourse representations                                                                     187

                        DRs and quantification                                                              191

            The perfect                                                                                                       203

            The progressive                                                                                                222

            The simple past                                                                                     228

            Existential closure                                                                                             233

            Adverbial quantification                                                                         240

Chapter 5         The Imperfective Paradox                                                                     248

            Michael Bennett: closed and open intervals                                                        250

            Dowty: the inertia worlds analysis                                                                      256

            The basic counterfactual analysis                                                                       258

            Achievement predicates                                                                                    271

            Processes                                                                                                         274

            Progressives of telics with expressions of quantity                                              280

            Unfinished objects                                                                                            284

            Where does the process reading come from?                                                    292

            Conclusion                                                                                                       301