March 15, 16-17:30, Erasmusbuilding 14.01

Rosja Mastop, Amsterdam

How past tense imperatives can be meaningful

Abstract: Despite the 'dynamic turn' and the blurring of the semantics-pragmatics divide, the ''proposition'' still has a central place in semantics.  In most semantic theories of imperatives those sentences are attributed a propositional content, often without motivation.  In my thesis I argue against this form of reductionism.  For an adequate semantics of imperatives we need to adopt a pluralistic view on semantic content. Imperative content differs from declarative content in at least two respects.  First, the imperative subject is not the same as the declarative subject.  It is used to identify who of the addressees are being instructed to perform the action.  Second, imperatives are future oriented.  Whereas declaratives require a perspective on the event as complete or ongoing, imperatives present the action as future or still to be completed.  One issue is particularly interesting in this respect: Dutch appears to have past tense imperatives.

I will explain that these sentences should indeed be understood as past tense imperatives.  Thereby they constitute a clear argument for why imperative meaning cannot simply be equated with directive force over some moodless, truth conditional content.  I will propose an analysis of these sentences in a constructive update semantics, drawing on the work of Cleo Condoravdi on modals for the past.