Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Workshop on the Meaning of Past Tense Morphology

Göttingen, December 19-21

Venue: Tagungszentrum an der Sternwarte. Adress: Geismar Landstraße 11, 37083 Göttingen.

Program: Click Here. All workshop participants have access to the abstract via the easy-chair site. Send us an email, if you want to be included.

Social program:
Monday, 19th: Drinks at Cafe & Bar Celona

Tuesday, 20th: Dinner at L'Osteria

Accomodation: check or airbn&b. We recommend 'Hotel STADT HANNOVER', 'HOTEL CENTRAL', or 'HOTEL EDEN'

Travel info:

  • Arrival by plane:
    We suggest you fly to Frankfurt. There is a direct train (ICE) from Frankfurt Airport to Göttingen which takes about two hours. You can buy tickets online at Select Frankfurt Flughafen Fernbf as your point of departure. If you buy the ticket online ahead of time, you need to bring the credit card that you used for your booking for identification on the train. It is easiest to take a taxi (no more than 10 Euro) to the hotel when necessary.
    Another option would be Hannover Airport. There is a regular direct connection from Hannover Hbf to Göttingen. Regional trains take roughly an hour, and ICE or IC trains take 30 minutes.

  • Arrival by Train
    Göttingen is fairly well connected to various rail networks. For routes and pricing, please consult

  • Registration:
    Please send an email to Hedde Zeijlstra if you intend to attend.

    Invited speakers:
    Daniel Altshuler (Hampshire College), A scalar theory of past and present.
    Bronwyn Bjorkman (Queen's University), Dependant Past: sorting out modality, adjuncts, and embedded clauses.
    Sabine Iatridou (MIT), Fake things here and there: evidence from now and then.

    Hadil Karawani (ZAS Berlin)
    Carina Kauf (Göttingen)
    Manfred Krifka (ZAS Berlin)
    Hedde Zeijlstra (Göttingen)

    Funded by the joint Berlin-Göttingen DFG project 'Past Tense Morphology in Tense and Modality'

    Meeting Description:

    In typical cases, past tense morphology simply marks that the event expressed by the verb or predicate is located prior to the time of utterance:

    (1) John had a car (last year / *next year).

    But this is not always the case. For example, in the embedded clause of (2), the past tense conveys, in its prominent reading, that the embedded clause expresses that the car owning holds at the time of John's dream. In such Sequence-of-Tense (SoT) cases, the contribution of past tense appears vacuous; note that it can be replaced by present tense, John dreamed he has a car, which has a different reading.

    (2) John dreamed he had a car.

    In other cases, past tense seems to express something different than reference to the past. In counterfactual conditionals like (3)a, the past tense in the antecedent conveys that she does not own a car right now, as opposed to (3)b.

    a. If she had a car now, she could drive to school.
    b. If she has a car now, she can drive to school.

    Sometimes, past tense is compatible with reference to times in the future. In some languages, past tense morphology may be used in imperatives, even though imperatives, being performative (cf. Han 1998, Schwager 2005, Grosz 2011, a.o.), generally require a present or future interpretation. And finally, past tense morphology can sometimes convey particular speech acts.

    The apparently divergent semantic contribution of past tense morphology has received a large amount of study with respect to counterfactual conditionals and SoT. In contrast, the other three phenomena have not been investigated into much detail.

    What is remarkable, however, is that these phenomena have almost always been analysed independently from each other, not as a uniform property of past tense morphology. Hence what is needed is an overarching perspective on past tense morphology that covers all usages, including those that seem to deviate from past tense reference.

    Moreover, the cross-linguistic variation with respect to the meaning of past tense morphology has not been systematically investigated. Counterfactual conditionals have only been investigated in detail for a small number of languages (English, French, German, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Hindi); the discussion on cross-linguistic variation with respect to SoT focuses primarily on English, Russian, Hebrew and Japanese, and a few related languages. However, establishing the range of cross-linguistic variation is a necessary ingredient for any theory of form-meaning (mis)matches, since it forms strong diagnostics in determining what constraints this variation is subject to and why this should be so.

    A reason why an overarching theory of the syntax and semantics of past tense morphology is lacking is that, as of yet, it has not been investigated whether the phenomena outlined below, in particular counterfactual conditionals exploiting past tense morphology and SoT effects, are cross-linguistically independent or whether they are correlated. If theories of tense morphology take these phenomena to be independent from each other, this should naturally have typological consequences: it is then expected that they are not correlated (unless such a correlation would receive a separate explanation). If they are typologically related, this would call for a more integrated theory of past tense morphology. Hence, typological research can be used as an empirical testing ground to evaluate different theories of the semantics of past morphology.