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Linguistic Inquiry

Fall 2003, Vol. 34, No. 4, Pages 669-681
(doi: 10.1162/ling.2003.34.4.669)
© 2003 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Embedded Tense and Universal Grammar
Article PDF (73.84 KB)

Languages that allow a "vacuous" past tense morpheme in complement clauses of attitude verbs  are  referred to  as SOT (sequence-of-tense) languages, and languages that do not  are referred to as non-SOT languages. This squib observes that quite generally, if in a given language the present tense morpheme obligatorily refers to the utterance time  in  present-under-past sentences, that language allows a "vacuous" past. I show that in order to account for this correlation, any theory of SOT has to be supplemented with a principle of Universal Grammar that requires every well-formed matrix sentence to be "embeddable" under a propositional attitude verb. I call this principle the Embeddability Principle.