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The interpretation of tense in discourse

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  • This paper gives an account of the role tense plays in the listener's reconstruction of the events and situations a speaker has chosen to describe. Several new ideas are presented: (a) that tense is better viewed by analogy with definite NPs than with pronouns; (b) that a narrative has a temporal focus that grounds the context-dependency of tense; and (c) that focus management heuristics can be used to track the movement of temporal focus. 1

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  • Verbal and compositional lexical aspect provide the underlying temporal structure of events. Knowledge of lexical aspect, e.g., (a)telicity, is therefore required for interpreting event sequences in discourse (Dowty, 1986; Moens and Steedman, 1988; Passoneau, 1988), interfacing to temporal databases (Androutsopoulos, 1996), processing temporal modifiers (Antonisse, 1994), describing allowable alternations and their semantic effects (Resnik, 1996; Tenny, 1994), and selecting tense and lexical items for natural language generation ((Dorr and Olsen, 1996; Klavans and Chodorow, 1992), cf.

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