Remoteness Distinctions

Robert Botne

in The Oxford Handbook of Tense and Aspect

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780195381979
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

 Remoteness Distinctions

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  • Linguistics
  • Grammar, Syntax and Morphology
  • Semantics


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A small but significant number of the world's languages have the capacity to express grammatically not only simple tense relations of past and future, but also finer distinctions indicating the distance or “degree of remoteness” from the deictic center, typically the time of utterance. This capacity to express grammatically various degrees of remoteness, whether temporal or modal, constitutes an important dimension of the tense-aspect-mood systems in these languages. This article examines the common bases for delineating temporal intervals—natural cyclic divisions, human life cycle and memory, and epistemic value—and also discusses the concept of remoteness, the typical organization of multi-tense systems, and the complexity of such systems. Moreover, it summarizes three natural daily cycles that serve to organize multi-tense systems: today (Hodiernal), with its complementary counterparts yesterday (Hesternal) and tomorrow (Crastinal); a 24-hour cycle (Diurnal); and a conflation of today and one-day-away (Biduonal). Finally, the article considers complex systems and remoteness, time scales, and deictic centers.

Keywords: remoteness; temporal intervals; natural daily cycles; human life cycle; memory; epistemic value; complex systems; time scales; deictic centers; tense

Article.  9289 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Grammar, Syntax and Morphology ; Semantics

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