In this paper by Astrid De Wit and Frank Brisard, a unified semantics for the English present tense is proposed.

According to their view, the present tense is all about epistemic modality: the present simple is connected to epistemic necessity, and the present progressive is connected to epistemic contingency.

Consider the sentence:

She is living with her parents.

The sentence, then, on our view, means precisely the following:

"She lives with her parents" is true at some epistemically accessible worlds, and false at others.

I'm having trouble grasping this as this seems clearly wrong to me. Can someone elaborate?

  • Can you elaborate on why it is clearly wrong? If she is "living with her parents", that implies that this is a known temporary situation (as contrasted with "she lives with her parents"). Presumably you're seeing something I don't see.
    – user6726
    Aug 4 '15 at 20:31
  • I am talking about the proposed semantics. Indeed, I understand the actual meaning of the sentences above.
    – user132181
    Aug 4 '15 at 21:01
  • 1
    There are some interesting observations in this paper, but the grand conclusion seems to me to stretch the notions of modal and epistemic and monosemy so thin that they become very close to meaningless. Aug 4 '15 at 21:28
  • So, instead of quantifiers to account for the generic sense of Mary drinks tequila reposada, which refers to past events and expectations of future behavior, they're proposing modals? An odd choice; epistemic modality is logical, all right, but it's not clear at all that generic are.
    – jlawler
    Aug 4 '15 at 23:07
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    It's just an obscure way of saying that she happens to be living with her parents. (Actually, the difference between "She is living with her parents" and "She lives with her parents" is that the first implies it is a temporary condition. It's true for the time being. So I don't think much of the theory.)
    – Greg Lee
    Aug 5 '15 at 1:08

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