Dudman as prophylaxis

I note that Co-ordinator Bob is worried about an outbreak of subjunctivitis when I try to speak about the Ancient Greek verbal system, and offers some Dudman as cover. It’s intriguing to note, however, that Dudman makes his comments first and foremost about English grammar, in which he is entirely right to say that categories thought up for other languages do not work there, and is deliberately less confident in making assertions about those other languages. This, so it seems to me, is because his starting point in the ‘Indicative and Subjunctive’ paper is that English has no moods, because either it has not – or has lost – those inflections to the verb. Ancient Greek, however, has not. So the term ‘subjunctive’ is much less important than what it actually conveys: a system (and only one!) of verbal inflection (according to aspect, person and number) designed to deal primarily with future time. We shall see if the prophylaxis works, or is actually needed.

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Seminar 3: A Recap

The training for the research project concluded with last week’s seminar.  Now that we’re all reasonably familiar with Dudman’s thoughts about English, it’s time to start looking at other languages.  This phase will be exploratory rather than exhaustive, for the simple reason that it’s term time and everyone is busy, but it should provide the blueprint for more detailed investigation over the vac.  We’ll begin in our next seminar with Romance.

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Seminar 2: A Recap

Thanks again to those who came to our second seminar last week.  If you are coming to our third seminar on Tuesday, we would appreciate it if you could refresh your memory (or catch up) in advance by reading a summary of the material that we covered last time.

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Most Australians … volunteer

(continued from: Most Australians … gamble)

Indeed they do.  And we have much reason to be grateful.  I have visited the memorial at Hamel, where Australian troops turned back the German offensive of Spring and Summer 1918.  At great cost.  And I there learned the following.

As soon as war broke out, on a continent the other side of the known universe, men queued up to enlist.  There was no need to ever think of conscription.  The number of volunteers was so overwhelming that the authorities had to set exacting physical standards for recruits.  Even so, from a population of less than five millon, 416,809 men enlisted.  That’s nearly 10% of the population, in effect all of the fit adult males.  Australians volunteer.

They say things like this

If war is declared tomorrow, I will enlist immediately.

and they say things like this

If war was declared tomorrow, I would enlist immediately

And there is a difference. It is in times of great international tension and mobilising armies, with the outbreak of hostilities imminent, that you would find the first on the lips of Australians. In times less troubled, the second is their likely preference, and to my ear it intimates something of the Australian character, in a way that the first does not. Why?

If you have read Most Australians … gamble, you will see the answer coming. The effect of the aboriginal form in the first example is to locate the change-over point c at the present moment.  All the facts of history, including the most recent communiqués, the latest known developments, belong in the projected fantasy. So the speaker who selects

If was is declared tomorrow, I will enlist immediately

confides a resolve that is marked as taking into account the latest news (whether or not there is any, and whatever it may be).  But the speaker who selects the transported form

If was was declared tomorrow, I would enlist immediately

locates the change-over point c at some indeterminate point in the past.  And thus waives all reliance on the up-to-the-minute.

There may be more than one motive for this declension from aboriginality.  With a fantasy beginning at such a past point, our speaker does not have to contemplate in his fantasy a sudden descent into war (which is why we hear the transported form when the possibility of an outbreak of hostilities is remote).  Nor is he relying on his immediate circumstances, but presumably instead on something stable over time in his character, some trait he expects to endure (which is why we detect a sense of the Australian character).

I could continue with football, and the envisaged Arsenal-United Cup Final, but I tire.  You can read about such things, and many more, in “On Conditionals”, where Our Revered Leader has the story about Projective Messages laid out all pretty, with diagrams, as he revisits those dark days when it seemed that Hitler was on the point of invading England.

To complete this mini-series, I return to the sentences with which we began:

Most Australians won’t know the ODI result
Most Australians wouldn’t know the ODI result.

These do not encode projective messages, like our examples concerning the lottery and volunteering (where tense locates the change-over point c, and the overall message is a judgement concerning the outcome of a fantasized development).  They instead encode practical messages, judgements concerning matters of present or past historical fact.

Tense here is the temporal location of the standpoint s of the message, the standpoint from which the judgement is ventured.

Let me explain.  Any judgement will be supported by reasoning that justifies the verdict.  The reasoning may rely upon an up-to-the-minute assessment of the world and its ways, in which case s is the point of speech.  Or it may rely only upon past experience, and information gained thereby, in which case s is in the past. 

In projective judgements there is no way to encode s, for only tense could do so, and tense is allotted the more important task of identifying the change-over point c.  But in practical judgements there is no change-over point, making it possible for tense to do the weaker thing, and locate s.  And so it comes about that

Most Australians won’t know the ODI result

confides a verdict based upon an appreciation of how matters currently stand – as it might be, that the Sky transmitter broke down during the final overs, and although those of us here at the ground are celebrating, most Australians have yet to hear the news. Whereas

Most Australians wouldn’t know the ODI result

heralds a verdict based on experience assembled by the speaker en route through life – as it might be, that Australians are known to lose interest in a series when it has already been lost.  Or perhaps the ODI in question is between India and New Zealand, whereupon most Australians wouldn’t even know it was taking place. Which is why the transported form intimates to our undergraduate respondents ‘something about Australians’. 

A very subtle difference, to be sure.  But a difference nonetheless.

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Most Australians … gamble

(continued from: Most Australians)

Indeed they do.  Gambling losses in Australia are now running at some $20 billion per annum.  Combine that thought with a reflection upon the average Australian’s devotion to high culture, and you begin to see why sentences such as these

If I win the Lottery on Wednesday I will buy a Steinway
If I won the Lottery on Wednesday I would buy a Steinway

are to be heard on all hands. The messages they encode are by all accounts remarkably similar, each envisaging the buying of a Steinway in the aftermath of a Lottery win, and so it might be that most Australians detect no significant difference between them.

But not my correspondent Emilia B. Prunewattle, Chair of the Chatsworth Anti-Gambling League, who has a decided preference for the message encoded by the second of the pair.  The first sentence would never pass her lips.  Why? What can explain her resolute preference for the transported modal over the aboriginal alternative?  How can a purely temporal account of tense such as ours account for it?

The messages that our two sentences encode are both projectives, for in both cases tense is earlier than time-about (the hallmark of a projective message).  Both messages envisage a future Lottery win, but tense is either present (in the first case) or past (in the second). 

We teach that they encode verdicts, arrived at thus:  the speaker conducts an exercise of the imagination, a fantasy (let us call it), in which a Lottery win turns up, and she goes on to buy a Steinway.  Now every fantasy has a beginning, a moment from which onward imagination takes over from history.  And on our theory it is this moment, the moment of the fantasy’s inception, whose location is encoded into the ‘if’-clause via our tense-code.  We call it the CHANGE-OVER POINT.

Any narrative is conceived as following in the wake of some sort of past. A fantasy beginning at c takes over, as its past, the history of the real world up until c.  Historical facts with dates earlier than c are accepted into the fantasy because – in a sense – they are part of it.  They belong to its past.  Up until c, real world and fantasy world share a common history.  Any historical facts later than c are liable to imaginative revision, according to the whim of the fantast.

And now we can see why Emilia B needs to resort to the transported form.  She cannot sensibly fantasize winning the Lottery on Wednesday without setting aside a present fact, namely that she is a resolute non-gambler. Her fantasy then must needs begin somewhere back in the past, at a time before her resolution solidified.  Or at least, far enough back in the past for the fantasy to envisage the slow dissolve of that resolution, as she sinks imperceptibly into the gutter.  

And with that in hand we can also explain how our two sentences do not completely coincide in significance even for the inveterate gambler.  There is a slight access of generality in the preference for the transported form.  By switching to fantasy earlier, and therby disentitling all facts about his present circumstances, our gambler intimates that his resolve to buy the Steinway does not depend narrowly upon immediate circumstance.

(to be continued in: Most Australians … volunteer)

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Most Australians

In Seminar 2 we opined that there is a difference, which we think our theory explains, between the natural interpretation of

Most Australians won’t know the ODI result

and  the natural interpretation of

Most Australians wouldn’t know the ODI result.

Agents Kelly and Gombrich demur.  They discern ‘no real difference’ between the two messages, and they also opine that the vast majority of English speakers would discern no real difference either. 

They may well be correct in both these claims.  For the first, we have their word on the matter.  For the second, we have yet to gather the evidence.  But we would not be shocked to find that it was true.  (Of course,  it would not be enough to just offer the two sentences to a panel drawn from a cross-section of English speakers and ask if they could spot a difference.  The experimental procedure would have to be very carefully designed).  But suppose that a carefully designed experiment endorsed the suspicions of Agents Kelly and Gombrich.  What then?

We can at least report that there are many English speakers who do discern a difference.  Over the years we have run this pair of sentences (or something similar) past some 500 Oxford undergraduates, and Victor Dudman has done the same with generations of students at Macquarie.  And the vast majority of our respondents report a difference.  Pre-theoretically, they are unable to articulate the difference, but overwhelmingly they report that the second of the pair ‘seems to be conveying something about most Australians’, in a way that the first does not. 

So it looks as though there is at least a phenomenon demanding explanation.  Even if that phenomenon is confined to the adjudications of a (smallish) subset of native speakers.  And indeed, Agents Kelly and Gombrich were not quite willing to assert that there is no difference whatsoever between the two messages.  Hence the scare quotes around ‘no real difference’ above.  An exacter appreciation of their deposition would be that any difference between the two would have no real significance to either speaker or hearer.  And that most speakers and most hearers would be indifferent to any alleged difference. 

Well, we could certainly live with those weakened claims.  If there is a difference here, it is clearly a subtle one.  Barely significant, perhaps, even to those who craft their sentences with a diamond-cutter’s eye for exactness. And insignificant to anyone else.  (And so it will turn out, below).  But there are parallel differences which are not quite so fine. In pursuit of our claim that there is a difference between the two messages we offer the following pair of sentences:

An Arsenal-United final will be a fitting climax to the season
An Arsenal-United final would be a fitting climax to the season

Again, the only difference here is over the selection between aboriginal and transported forms for the modal. But it is a matter of observation that those of us found asserting the second before the finalists are decided will be found to switch to the first thereafter. (Unless, of course, one of our favoured teams has been ejected from the competition, whereupon we switch instead to asserting A Chelsea-United final would have been a fitting climax to the season).  Since we do thus switch, there must be some difference.  Or what about these two:

If war is declared tommorow I will enlist immediately
If war was declared tomorrow I would enlist immediately

This pair likewise must encode some palpable difference, because the first is what we expect to hear in times of international tension and mobilising armies, whereas the second is more natural in times of peace and international harmony.  Or again, look at

If I win the Lottery on Wednesday I will buy a Steinway
If I won the Lottery on Wednesday I would buy a Steinway

The inveterate Lottery fanatic might use either, indifferently, as with our Australians above, but the second is much likelier than the first on the lips of a confirmed non-gambler.  So again there must be a difference. 

And it looks as though there is a systematic difference.  In each of our pairs, the only difference between the sentences is the selection of the aboriginal form ‘will‘ versus the transported form ‘would‘.  Whatever it is that is thus conveyed, it ought to remain invariant across our four examples (basic principle of code-breaking).

Now, our theory of Tense and Time dictates that the only difference between the corresponding messages is tense.  And since tense is always time, the difference between the messages is that one encodes an item of present temporal intelligence, and the other an item of  past temporal intelligence.  The question is: how could this explain the observed phenomena?

To be continued, in: Most Australians … gamble

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Seminar 1: A Recap

Thanks to everyone who came to our first seminar last week, whether as an active participant, an interested spectator, or something in between.  If you are coming to our second seminar on Tuesday, we would appreciate it if you could refresh your memory (or catch up) in advance by reading a summary of the material that we covered last time.

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The Religious Maniac and Future Fact

Agent Comboni has another potential hand-grenade for the No-Future-Fact doctrine. Imagine, she says, a religious maniac, who has persuaded himself of both of the following:

  • He has had a revelation that God intends to end the world on Burns Night 2015.
  • It is impossible for God to cease to exist or to change His mind.

Then surely, says Agent Comboni, when said religious maniac incants

God will end the world on Burns Night 2015

he will Achtung! be expressing a proposition (with a truth-value) and not a judgement.

Let us allow that our man is utterly certain of his prediction. Let us allow that he thinks he is expressing a proposition. Let us allow that he (thinks he) holds a metaphysic on which there are future facts. Let us allow that he (thinks he) holds an epistemology which allows for infallible revelations of this nature. (After all, our own beloved Pope Benedict would lay claim to all four of these). Does it follow that he is expressing a proposition?

Alas, no. For the point at issue has nothing to do with what individuals might be thinking, reasonably or otherwise. It is a matter of what English can and cannot encode. And of course English encodes alike for the religious maniac and for the man on the Clapham Omnibus. The words will Achtung! mean the same on the lips of any speaker.

Claims of future fact are not expressible in English, and we have given the arguments elsewhere. Here we say only that the existence of the religious maniac does nothing to disturb our doctrine. We just give him the lie direct. Delivered with the sincerest malice.

But perhaps we can anyway press our religious maniac. Would he also assent to

God will end the world on Burns Night 2015 even if He changes His mind

? Presumably not. But if he had been proffering a proposition, a claim of fact, then (as propositional logic dictates) he would be committed to the even-if claim. The defence rests.

Now, Brunellus has some most interesting things to recount concerning the tangles that mediaeval logicians and theologians get themselves into over similar matters, especially over prophecies. Let us hope that he soon has the time to entertain us on these pages.

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Arithmetic and Future Fact

We are committed to the thesis that English has no way of encoding claims of future fact, because all English messages concerning future time are judgements (that is, tensed verdicts), and verdicts do not have truth-values and so cannot possibly depone fact.

Agent Comboni raises the question of arithmetic. In a nutshell, her worry is that

Two plus three will be five tomorrow

surely propounds a fact, albeit a mathematical one; and therefore something true or false. And yet on our account the form of the sentence indicates that the encoded message is a judgement, an item lacking a truth-value.

The problem (if it is a problem) is not just about ‘will’. It is about abstract thought in general. For we are in any case committed to the doctrine that the ‘is’ in

Two plus three is five

encodes a piece of temporal intelligence. Specifically, it locates the claim at the point of speech. And yet surely no temporal intelligence is either intended or conveyed when that sentence is uttered. How is this possible?

Simply because all parties know that time is not of the essence where arithmetic is concerned. English grammar requires a choice of verb form, so a speaker must select between (say) ‘is’ and ‘was’ and ‘had been’. But neither speaker nor hearer pay any attention to it, and the temporal information is not an ingredient of the message conveyed.

So if this is a problem for anybody, it is a problem for arithmeticians, and not a problem for the code, whose resources (nota very bene) remain unimpaired. After all, we can still say

2 plus 3 is 5 today, but things may have been different in the Old Stone Age.

And sometimes we will actually need to encode pieces of temporal intelligence:

Yes, Cretin-Mangler, two plus three will be five tomorrow. It is five, it always was five, and it always will be five.

If 2 was/had been odd, then all its powers would be/would have been odd.

So even though

2 plus 3 will be 5 tomorrow

technically encodes a judgement, all can appreciate that the arithmetical fact in question is not a future fact, because not a temporally located fact at all. It holds at any point in time purely because it holds simpliciter.

You can read a more detailed version of this point in Dudman, “Conditional Interpretations of If-Sentences” (1984).  Search for ‘arithmetic’, or just go to Section 48 on page 196.

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‘Will’ and Later Discovery

Agent tardigrade has proposed a most cunning idea to rescue the doctrine that English ‘will‘ encodes for future time. We are grateful to have our attention thus drawn to the matter: the idea is well worth thinking through. Here it is, as I understand it.

Upon hearing a knock at the door, we might opine

That will be the milkman.

In our design, this is a judgement about present fact, not any kind of prediction about the future. For according to us, ‘will’, being an aboriginal form, encodes presentness. Not being in epistemic contact with the facts (it isn’t as if we have looked out of the window and seen the man) we are not in a position to assert the proposition encoded by

That is the milkman.

So we do only thing available to us, offering a verdict based upon, and hopefully justified by, reasoning which we are prepared to make available on demand. (He always knocks at this time on a Saturday, and no-one else would trudge out to this benighted spot on the off chance of finding us in). As always, the other modals, and hence other verdicts, are available. Our verdict might have been any variant of the natural interpretations of

That will/could/may/might/should/must/needn’t be the milkman.

No-one is tempted to accord futurity to the verdicts expressed using the other modals, and nor, say we, should they be tempted to accord futurity to the verdict expressed by ‘will’.

But here is where the cunning idea comes in. ‘Will’ is unique amongst the modals, says tardigrade, in always encoding for future time. So the message envisages a future event. The future event in question of course cannot concern the presence of the milkman, for that is irreducably present. Instead what is envisaged is a potential future discovery of the facts of the matter, a later discovery that it indeed was the milkman who was knocking.

Cunning. The idea is that such uses of ‘will’ are elliptical – that when we say

That will be the milkman

our assertion should be understood as shorthand for something more complex, namely

That will-if-we-ever-come-to-know-the-facts-turn-out-to-have-been the milkman.

And that use of ‘will’ is, just as tardigrade theory requires, a straightforward prediction of a potential future event. Thus preserving the doctrine that ‘will‘ always encodes futurity.

What are we to make of this? For me, there are always two questions in such cases. (1) Can this proposal cope with all the teeming evidence? Does this theory work across the board, with all uses of ‘will’? And (2) if not, what made the proposal plausible in the first place?

Let’s take the first question first. I begin with the observation that tardigrade theory just does not apply to one large grammatical class of ‘will’-sentences, exemplified by

Nowadays, Grannie will often be found testing the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room.

No thought here at all about the future. The natural interpretation of the sentence is a claim about Grannie’s present habits, and the presence of ‘nowadays’ nixes the possibility of a tardigrade translation. (Which would presumably have to be the nonsensical:

Nowadays, Grannie will-if-we-ever-come-to-learn-the-facts-turn-out-to-have-been often found testing the famous echo in the British Museum reading Room).

And as always (say we) a wider panoply of the modal paradigm is available. For the above is just one variant of

Nowadays, Grannie will often/can sometimes/may occasionally be found testing the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room

And there are corresponding transported versions, now interpreted as claims about Grannie’s past habits:

In those days Grannie would often/could sometimes/might occasionally be found testing the famous echo in the British Museum Reading Room.

So tardigrade theory cannot hope to provide a completely univocal account of English ‘will’. Could it at least hope to unify the two distinct interpretations (present and future) of

Her Majesty will be drunk?

Stay tuned for Part II.

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