A Simultaneous Perception of Things, Relatively Speaking

Daniel Altshuler, University of California, Los Angeles

It is widely held in the literature that Russian differs from English with regard to tense interpretation in complement clauses. Building on this generally accepted fact, Kondrashova (1998) argues that when the matrix is Past, the embedded Present provides simultaneous readings while the embedded Past provides past shifted readings in Russian. Subsequently, Kondrashova holds that the SOT phenomenon is not only absent in indirect speech (Comrie 1986), but more generally, in complement clauses. However, consider the following:   

(1)         Dina videla, čto/kak voda l′etsja iz vedra.
(2)         Dina videla, čto/kak voda lilas′ iz vedra.

In (1) and (2), there is a simultaneous reading available. However, whereas (1) has an optional double access interpretation, (2) does not. The data suggests that Kondrašova (1998) is empirically inadequate insofar as the SOT phenomenon is evident in Russian complement clauses. In the paper, I conclude that simultaneous readings in Russian are forced by semantic properties of attitude verbs (Schlenker 2003) and perception verbs (eventive/stative), while the SOT phenomenon is only forced by the semantic properties of perception verbs (eventive/stative). The question concerning what the semantic properties of such verbs are, however, is left open for further research. Now consider (3), which exemplifies relative clause construal:

(3) Ja zametil rebënka, kotoryj sidit na skamejke.

Disregarding the habitual reading of the embedded predicate, (Kondrašova 1998, Kusumoto 1999, Schlenker 2003, among others) observe that in constructions like (3), only indexical readings are available. This is surprising because in Japanese, which like Russian is a “non-SOT language”, simultaneous readings are also available (Kusumoto 1999). Prima facie, this suggests that unlike the Japanese Present, the Russian Present displays the same interpretive possibilities as the English Present, which only provides indexical readings in such construal. In the paper, I adopt the analysis in Yokoyama (2001), which argues that the restrictive/non-restrictive meaning of relative clauses in Russian is correlated with the intonation of the matrix clause. The analysis is crucial because the intonational variance affects the tense interpretation in constructions like (3). For example, if the contour on “rebënka” is rising in (3), then the available restrictive reading is one of simultaneity. If such is the case, then like Japanese, Russian differs from English with regard to tense interpretation in relative clause construal. In the paper, I argue that with minimal assumptions, Stowell (1996) correctly predicts the interpretive possibilities of both English and Russian tenses in relative clause construal.


Comrie, Bernard. “Tense in Indirect Speech.”  Folia Linguistica 20 (1986): 265-296.

Kondrašova, Natalia. Embedded Tenses in English and Russian. Ms., Cornell University, 1998.

Kusumoto, Kiyomi. Tense in Embedded Contexts. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Massachusetts, 1999.

Schlenker, Philippe. “A Plea for Monsters.”  Linguistics and Philosophy 26 (2003): 29-120.

Stowell, Tim. “The Phrase Structure of Tense.” Phrase Structure and the Lexicon.  Eds. Rooryck, J. and Zaring, B. Dordrecht: Kluwer 1996.

Yokoyama, Olga. “Neutral and Non-Neutral Intonation in Russian: A Reinterpretation of the IK System.” Die Welt der Slaven XLVI.1 (2001): 1-26.