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The Semantics of –ta in Japanese Counterfactual Conditionals

By Toshiyuki Ogihara


This paper contends that Japanese counterfactual conditionals with a past tense in the consequent always involve a counterfactual presupposition in that the proposition conveyed by the antecedent is required to be false. This observation reveals an important difference between English and Japanese and provides strong support to Iatridou’s (2000) contention that a “fake past tense ” (i.e. a past tense that does not indicate temporal anteriority) is used to exclude the actual world. The current literature on Japanese conditionals (including the papers collected in Masuoka 1993) does not espouse this generalization. English uses past tense to indicate counterfactuality, but not to the extent that the falsity of the antecedent is presupposed. Lewis’s (1973) analysis of counterfactuals is compatible with this fact. Examples like (1) (Anderson 1951) indicate that the falsity of the antecedent is not guaranteed in English counterfactual conditionals; it is merely implicated. (1) If a patient had the measles, he would have exactly the symptoms he has now. We concluded, therefore, that the patient has the measles. The same is true of future less vivid (FLV) conditionals, in which past tense is used in a sentence that describes a future situation. In this case (e.g. (2)), the speaker “excludes ” th

Year: 2009
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