3.2. Temporal deixis


Temporal indexicals are expressed in time adverbials like “now, then, soon, lately, recently, ago, today, tomorrow, yesterday” (Bublitz 2001, 216) and in “complex time adverbials like last Monday, next year, or this afternoon [consisting] of a deictic modifier […] and a non-deictic […] measure word” (Levinson 1983, 75). Of course we also measure time in non-deictic systems like “calendar time […] and clock time” (Yule 1996, 14) but these measurements are learned much later than the deictic ones.

One can say that nearly every utterance is in some way dependent on the time of its production. Let us consider the following example from Shakespeare´s Titus Andronicus, Act IV, Scene 3 as an illustration:

“O, the gibbet-maker! he says that he hath taken
them down again, for the man must not be hanged till
the next week.”

As we do not know when this statement was uttered, we can not imagine the date of the execution. It might be in seven or in four days or even the day after tomorrow. That is why one has to distinguish “the moment of utterance […] or coding time from the moment of reception or receiving time” (Levinson 1983, 73) which do not always have to coincide.

In our example the coding time would be the time when the gibbet-maker produced the utterance “the man must not be hanged till the next week” and receiving time would be the time when the speaker transmits this utterance to others by saying: “O, the gibbet-maker! He says that […]”. The modifier next before the non-deictic measure word week signifies that the event will take place after the coding time while the modifier last would imply that the event happened before the coding time. That is, all time indexicals have to be seen in connection to the coding time to be understood.

The deictic expressions now and then can be very ambiguous. Now is normally “the time at which the speaker is producing the utterance containing now” (Levinson 1983, 73) but in Early Modern English now was also used to refer to the immediate past (Fries 1994, 113).

Let us therefore look at the following example from Shakespeare´s As You Like It, Act II, Scene 7 . Here now points to the very last moment when somebody left the place:

Duke. I think he be transform'd into a beast;
For I can nowhere find him like a man.
First Lord: My lord, he is but even now gone hence;

The following examples show that then can refer to past as well as to future events (Yule 1996, 14): Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3 :

“With that suit upon my
back, will I ravish her: first kill him, and in her
eyes; there shall she see my valour, which will then
be a torment to her contempt.”

Cymbeline, Act I, Scene 4 :

“By your pardon, sir, I was then a young traveller;
rather shunned to go even with what I heard than in
my every action to be guided by others' experiences:”

Another typical categorization of time indexicals is their separation in events moving towards the speaker like in “the coming day” or away from the speaker like in “ten days ago” (Yule 1996, 14).

In addition to it, the tense system is an important aspect of temporal deixis. The English language has only two tenses which are shown in the verb: the present tense and the past tense. “The present tense is the proximal form and the past tense is the distal form”. The actual distance or proximity to be expressed means not only the „distance from current time, but also distance from current reality or facts“ (Yule 1996, 14-15). So, if we for instance consider an utterance in present tense, we know that it was produced “during a temporal span including the coding time” (Levinson 2005, 115). Past tense would mean that the event took place before the coding time.

Let us recapitulate: Time deixis shows in

1. Time adverbials

a) single deictic words
(yesterday, recently, soon)
-->ambiguity in now and then

b) modifiers+measure words
(next day, last week)
--> tendency to categorize in moving away or towards the speaker in time

2. Tense

a) Present Tense --> proximal form
b) Past Tense --> distal form
c) Coding time vs. receiving time