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Lecture | Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series

Modeling progress: event types, causal models, and the imperfective paradox

Thursday 2 June 2022
Com(parative) Syn(tax) Series
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Under progressive marking, telic predicates (e.g. write a novel, run a marathon) can describe events that fail to reach culmination, an effect famously known as the imperfective paradox (Dowty 1979).  Prominent accounts of the effect tie the truth of telic progressives to the accessibility of culmination (Dowty, Asher 1992, Landman 1992, a.o.), intensionalizing the progressive operator (PROG), so that it instantiates qualifying (culminated) eventualities across a set of modal alternatives to the evaluation world.  This approach faces empirical challenges from acceptable progressives of unlikely-to-succeed events (e.g., cross a minefield) and progressives in 'out of reach' contexts, where culmination is circumstantially precluded by reference-time facts (cf. Szab√≥ 2008, Varasdi 2014).

We propose an approach on which telic progressives are instead sensitive to (mereological) structure inherited from an event type introduced by (telic) predicate P.  An event type constitutes a formal causal model (e.g., Pearl 2000) in which P's culmination condition C occurs as a dependent (caused) variable.  The model provides a set of causal pathways for realizing C, each of which comprises a set of jointly sufficient conditions (events and/or properties) for C, and establishes (sets of) conditions which preclude C.   On this approach, the progress of an actual (token) P-eventuality can be measured with respect to the event type.   A reference time situation s satisfies PROG(P) just in case it is a plausible cross-section of an incomplete causal pathway in Pmust verify some but not all the conditions in a causal pathway for C, and fail to verify a sufficient set of conditions for non-culmination.

This approach severs the truth of telic progressives from the locally-assessed likelihood of culmination, shifting the intensional element of imperfective paradox effects from the progressive aspectual operator to the mereological structure of telic predicates themselves.    We show that this delivers improved judgements for challenging paradox data, including progressives of unlikely and 'out of reach' events, and---by means of the special status awarded to intentions in models for agentive predicates---offers an immediate account of progressive data where an agent's intentions appear to supersede realistic assessment of the likelihood of culmination.

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