Individuals, Times, and Worlds: Towards a Unified Semantics

Philippe Schlenker
Section: Language and Logic
Level: Advanced


Several analogies have been noted between the way natural language refers to individuals, to times and to possible worlds (and/or to events). Partee 1973 discovered that the notion of anaphora applied to time as well as to individuals, an idea extended to worlds by Stone 1997. Similarly, Cresswell 1990 showed that temporal and modal talk in natural language requires the full power of overt quantification over times and worlds - the same system as is needed for reference to individuals. Finally, event semantics has long noted that the telic/atelic contrast is semantically analogous to the count/mass distinction, which is thus seen to apply across referential domains.

The course reviews and systematizes these findings. The hypothesis ("Semantic Uniformity") is that the same ontological and logical categories underlie reference to individuals, times, and worlds. Lectures 1-4 each consider one module that applies homogeneously across referential domains (Anaphora, Quantification, Indexicality, Definiteness). Lecture 5 explores how events should be integrated to this picture.

Course Outline

Lecture 1. Temporal and Modal Anaphora [Critical review of Partee 1973, 1984 and Stone 1997]

Lecture 2. Quantification over times and possible worlds [Simpler presentation of the results of Cresswell 1990, within a system with overt world and time variables. Expressive power arguments are given by way of recursive translation procedures, e.g. from 1st-order logic to Temporal English (=that subpart of English which only includes temporal quantifiers like 'always' and time variables such as 'then')]

Lecture 3. Indexicality: person, tense and mood [Summary of the results of Schlenker 1999: The cross-linguistic typology of indexicals is identical in all three referential domains; 'Sequence of Tense' is formally parallel to 'Sequence of Person' and 'Sequence of Mood'; Logophoricity exists for reference to individuals as well as to tense/mood.]

Lecture 4. Definiteness: if- and when-clauses as definite descriptions [Lewis 1973 suggested that his logic of counterfactuals could be applied to definite descriptions and to when-clauses. A generalized version of Stalnaker 1975 is used to capture this intuition].

Lecture 5. Questions of Ontology: Adding Events [Review of the analogy between count/mass and telic/atelic. Exploration of the ontological possibilities: replacing times and worlds with events, or adding the latter to the former].


Cresswell, Maxwell (1990) Entities and Indices,  Kluwer
Iatridou, Sabine (2000) 'The Grammatical Ingredients of Counterfactuality',
    Linguistic Inquiry Vol. 31, No. 2
Lewis, David (1973) Counterfactuals,  Harvard University Press
Partee, Barbara (1973) 'Some Structural Analogies Between Tenses and
    Pronouns in English', The Journal of Philosophy  70, 601-609.
Partee, Barbara (1984) 'Nominal and Temporal Anaphora', Linguisics &
    Philosophy   7, 243-286.
Schlenker, Philippe (1999) 'Propositional Attitudes and Indexicality: A
    Cross-Categorial Approach', Doctoral Dissertation, MIT
Stalnaker, Rober (1975) 'Indicative Conditionals', reprinted in Jackson,
    ed.  Conditionals
Stone, Matthew (1997) 'The Anaphoric Parallel between Modality and
    Tense', IRCS Report 97-06, University of Pennsylvania



Philippe Schlenker
Department of Linguistics - GFS 301
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, CA 90089-1693
Phone: (213) 821 1312
Fax: (213) 740 9306