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Counterfactuality and past

Abstract

Many languages have past-and-counterfactuality markers such as English simple past. There have been various attempts to find a common definition for both uses, but I will argue in this paper that they all have problems with (a) ruling out unacceptable interpretations, or (b) accounting for the contrary-to-fact implicature of counterfactual conditionals, or (c) predicting the observed cross-linguistic variation, or a combination thereof. By combining insights from two basic lines of reasoning, I will propose a simple and transparent approach that solves all the observed problems and offers a new understanding of the concept of counterfactuality.

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von Prince, K. Counterfactuality and past. Linguist and Philos 42, 577–615 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10988-019-09259-6

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Keywords

  • Tense
  • Modality
  • Conditionals
  • Counterfactuality
  • Branching time