12 November 2005


Remember I told you all that I have a presentation today? Well, I did, and it went well. It went perfectly well. It went uber-perfectly well. All my hardwork did pay off. My fifteen minutes of fame, at least, was very productive, and I got very positive feedback.

Let me elaborate on that a little. So when my turn came up, I then wrote the two sentences that illustrate the problem I am working on (This is still with regard to the problem of inferring temporal relations in Tagalog, which is a language without tense.). I then explained what was happening in the language, and then it just took a life of its own. There are two professors that are in the room; one is the professor that conducts the seminar, and the other is another semanticist who is interested in the topic of the seminar and joins the class regularly. And I got positive feedback from both of them. Some of the students too contributed what they know about the topic, and my professor liked my presentation, because it was neat and concise, and straight to the point.

So what was my presentation about? I basically presented about my paper, which is a work in progress. Let me present it again here.

First, let me give you four sentences.

1. Tumawa ang mga tao. - Nagpanik ang tagapagsalita.
PRFT-laugh ABS-PL-person - PRFT-panic ABS-speaker
"The people laughed. (That's why) the speaker panicked."

2. Tumatawa ang mga tao. - Nagpanik ang tagapagsalita.
PROG-laugh ABS-PL-person - PRFT-panic ABS-speaker
"The people (were) laughing. (That's why) the speaker panicked."
"The people (are) laughing, (because) the speaker panicked."

3. Tumawa ang mga tao. - Nagpapanik ang tagapagsalita.
PRFT-laugh ABS-PL-person - PROG-panic ABS-speaker
"The people laughed. (That's why) the speaker (is) panicking."
"The people laughed, (because) the speaker (was) panicking."

4. Tumatawa ang mga tao. - Nagpapanik ang tagapagsalita.
PROG-laugh ABS-PL-person - PROG-panic ABS-speaker
"The people (are) laughing. (That's why) the speaker (is) panicking."

The above shows four sentences, with varying aspects. Tense is not marked, therefore, the sentences are not marked whether they are in the present or in the past. The parentheses in the translations show the information that is not marked in Tagalog but is required in English.

Notice the second and third sentences. These sentences are noteworthy because the two clauses differ in their aspect. The first and fourth sentences only get one interpretation, that is, the second event starts to happen after the first event. However, with the second and third sentences, one can get two interpretations. Of course, with the use of temporal connectives, such as before or after, one can restrict and disambiguate the readings, however, without those temporal connectives, one has to use the context in interpreting the sequence of events.

The ambiguity results from the lack of aspect. In English, one has the past perfect versus the simple past constructions. Therefore, given the two sentences:

The audience laughed. The speaker had panicked.

One can tell, that the panicking event happens before the laughing event, because there is interplay between tense and aspect on the second sentence that signals it to be happening before the first sentence. However, in Tagalog, one doesn't see that mechanism. One can only rely on world knowledge, or in times like the one described above, context cues. Without a context, there is ambiguity between the two readings.

Here is the interesting part. Look at the second sentence. If one interprets it that the second sentence happens after the first sentence, since the second sentence is in the perfective, this will coerce the first sentence to be interpreted as in the past, even though it has progressive aspect. This phenomenon is called temporal inclusion. However, the reverse does not exhibit temporal inclusion. If we interpret the second sentence to be the first event, then the progressive aspect of the second event does not coerce the first event to be interpreted as in the present. The progressive aspect just cannot do that.

Temporal inclusion is also true of the third example. If we interpret the first sentence to happen first, then the second sentence, which is in the progressive, does not coerce the first event to be interpreted as happening in the present. However, if we interpret the second sentence as happening first, then the first sentence, which is in the perfective, coerces the second sentence to be in the past as well, which is another case of temporal inclusion. You could see this in the parenthesized information in the gloss.

Well, that basically summarizes my presentation. I should produce a paper regarding this phenomenon in tenseless languages. There are many languages that does not have tense. And there are different ways that the language uses in order to express the facts of the world. Tagalog uses temporal connectives and aspect. Other languages use other mechanisms.

Well, after the class, which was three hours long, ended at noon, the professor that joins that class for fun pulled me into his office and gave me some good suggestions on how to proceed with my paper (This is the same professor I have for my Semantics 1 class.). So in the end, it just made my day.

Oh I guess this is a long post by now. And a technical one too. I hope you all will not tire out and oogle your eyes and not comprehend the technical stuff I have here, and click the X button on the upper right corner.


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  2. congrats. with the way you related your presentation, the professors seemed quite impressed. keep up the good work!