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Anchor 9

Formal Properties of 'Now' Revisited


The traditional view is that ‘now’ is a pure indexical, denoting the utterance time. Yet, despite its initial appeal, the view has faced criticism. A range of data reveal ‘now’ allows for discourse-bound (i.e., anaphoric) uses, and can occur felicitously with the past tense. The reaction to this has typically been to treat ‘now’ as akin to a true demonstrative, selecting the prominent time supplied by the non-linguistic context or prior discourse. We argue this is doubly mistaken. The first mistake concerns the semantic value of ‘now’, which is not a time, but a state—the consequent state of a prominent event. The second is that ‘now’ is a pure indexical after all, insofar as its interpretation is determined without recourse to extra-linguistic supplementation. Specifically, we argue that any occurrence of ‘now’ selects the consequent state of the most prominent event, where event-prominence is linguistically maintained through prominence-affecting updates contributed by coherence relations. Our analysis accounts straightforwardly for a wide range of discourse initial and discourse bound uses of ‘now’, while giving it a simple indexical meaning.

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