Journal of East Asian Linguistics

, Volume 26, Issue 1, pp 77–107 | Cite as

The temporal interpretation of tenseless relative clauses in Korean



This paper investigates the temporal interpretation of Korean relative clauses that are not morphologically marked with overt tense morphemes (plain KRCs). Previous researchers (e.g. Lee in Tense, aspect, and modality: a discourse-pragmatic analysis of verbal affixes in Korean from a typological perspective. Ph.D. thesis, UCLA, 1991, Stud Lang 17: 75–110, 1993; Yoon in Temporal adverbials and Aktionsarten in Korean. Ph.D. thesis, The Ohio State University, 1996) have postulated phonologically null temporal markers in plain KRCs, and have accounted for their temporal interpretation in terms of the meaning of the postulated temporal markers. In this paper, I show that these analyses are empirically problematic, and argue that the temporal interpretation can be captured without assuming null tense or aspect, in line with Lee and Tonhauser’s (J Semant 27:307–341, 2010) tenseless analysis of the temporal interpretation of Korean and Japanese coordination constructions. I show that the temporal interpretation of plain KRCs is determined by interactions among various factors such as Aktionsarten, discourse relations, discourse context, and world knowledge, and propose a compositional analysis of the observed facts.


Relative clauses Temporal interpretation Tenseless Aktionsarten Discourse context World knowledge Korean 


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I am grateful to two anonymous reviewers for their insightful feedback. This work was supported by the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF-2016S1A5A8020398).


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of English Language and LiteratureSungkyunkwan UniversitySeoulKorea

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