Complement Tense in Contrast: The <tt>SOT</tt> parameter in Russian and English


  • Atle Grønn ILOS, University of Oslo
  • Arnim von Stechow University of Tübingen



In an SOT-language like English, ‘past under past’ may have a simultaneous interpretation, i.e., we have temporal agreement. In a non-SOT language like Russian, we only have the shifted interpretation. In English, the temporal morphology of the embedded verb is determined by the matrix tense via a binding chain through verbal quantifiers such as ‘say’ or ‘think’. In Russian, these attitude verbs break the binding chain. The morphology of the embedded verb is determined locally by an embedded relative PRESENT, FUTURE or PAST. We propose that the difference between English and Russian is derived from: The SOT-parameter: A language L is an SOT-language if and only if the verbal quantifiers of L transmit temporal features. Verbal quantifiers quantify over times (e.g. fut. will) or world-times (e.g. verba dicendi). The paper will take up a recent challenge by Daniel Altschuler and Olga Khomitsevich against existing accounts: verbs of perception and, occasionally, factive verbs in Russian may express simultaneity by ‘past under past’. We will show that the problem is in fact non-existent when the complement is imperfective. Concerning factives, however, we argue that the complement tense is an independent de re past. Finally, perception verbs are normally not verbal quantifiers and hence not subject to the SOT-parameter.

Author Biography

Atle Grønn, ILOS, University of Oslo

Researcher, Russian linguistics