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Discourse properties of now 1

  • EUNHEE LEE (a1)

This paper proposes an updated analysis of the uses of now to modify past-tense clauses in narratives. It is by now well known that indexical expressions such as now are not as rigid as previously thought and can shift in some contexts (e.g. a literary style like Free Indirect Discourse in English or under report verbs in some languages). What is interesting about shifted now is that its distribution is much broader than these limited contexts. The conditions under which it can shift, however, are unclear and still under debate. Many recent proposals have tried to derive this property from the lexical meaning of now, thus treating it as a special case. Unlike previous analyses, I argue that the temporal perspective shift and temporal relations are functions of narrative discourse itself rather than the lexical semantics of now. The lexical meaning of now, I contend, is that it refers to a contextually salient time, regardless of whether it derives from actual speech context or discourse context. In addition, now invariably indicates a change of state, denoting the turning point dividing the past and the future seen from this contextually salient time. My claim is based on a quantitative study of naturally occurring narrative examples from the British National Corpus, and formalized in the discourse-level formal framework of Discourse Representation Theory.

Corresponding author
Author’s address: Baldy Hall 605, Department of Linguistics, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York, Buffalo, NY 14260, USA
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I thank the editor and the three anonymous referees of the Journal of Linguistics for their valuable comments on earlier versions of the paper. I also thank Mark Nathan for editing the paper.

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