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Ivelina Savova


1. In their century-old practical and theoretical activities people have synthesized concepts of different types of ‘times’, of different aspects of Time, respectively. At present we talk (with respect to the concrete conditions and aims of the activity) for example about natural, real or physical time, about objective and subjective time, about absolute and relative time, about conceptual and perceptive time, about universal and individual time, about chronological, calendar, historical, social time, about philosophical, psychological, biological time, about fictitious and plot time, about linguistic, grammatical, contextual time, etc. In this line of times we should include text time as well. It is the time which the whole verbal products (i.e. texts) model as an inseparable attribute to the real or imaginary world represented in them; the time in which things ‘happen’ which the text ‘talks’ about.

The category of time is a fundamental property of text semantics. There cannot possibly exist a text void of time - every situation in the world, every activity and every event exist in time and texts reflect this fact out of necessity.

Text time should not be equated with the aggregate of verb forms referring to time in the text. Firstly, it has an ontological aspect (it is a whole meaningful construct of time parameters and relations of objects and facts from the textual world). Secondly, it has a linguistic aspect (it is presented in the linguistic form of the speech product by means of a whole series of expressive devices, among which the system of tense). Here text time is shown in the unity of these two aspects - as an ontological and a linguistic phenomenon.

In this respect, text time should be thought of as time in which the textual world is situated. The ‘fragment of reality’ modelled linguistically in a given text forms a (mini) world, namely the specific textual reality enclosed within the boundaries of the text. The textual world as well as the real world exists in time of necessity. The time in which the textual world exists is the text time itself. Text time is for the textual world what physical time is for the real world. It is a property of the existence of the textual world, a kind of measure for its development from a starting point to the next one and the next one - a development in which the future becomes the present, the present - the past, and the end is always later than the beginning.

The specificity of the text time, unlike other times (e.g. philosophical, linguistic, absolute, relative and so on), is that it is not an outlook about time and a theoretical concept, but it is time itself - as it is recreated and shown by the linguistic product.

The importance of text time evolves from the fact that the time aspect of reality in its entirety as a complex structure of time points, phases and correlations cannot be modelled from separate forms, words and constructions which have only a partial contribution in its depiction. The flow of time in its entire form can be encompassed only in a whole and communicative autonomous product of its own. From all linguistic forms only the text is such a product and it is only the text, which has the resources for the depiction of the time parameters of the natural and the human world.

Time in the text has yet another feature, namely its flow does not happen in reality but is depicted by words, i.e. time parameters, time coordinates and correlations only appear in verbal form.

2. For the representation of the time parameters of the textual world a special temporal macrostructure is built. It is the component from the deep level structure of the text, which unfolds the temporal aspect of the information nucleus of the speech product. In fact, the temporal macrostructure reflects the time relations among the elements of the textual denotate and represents them in the surface structure level of the text with the help of different means - temporal markers. These markers are situated at different places along the linear flow of the speech product and are entwined in the textual surface in the form of a network called a temporal network.

3. In modelling of the text time two key aspects are of crucial importance: the way of organizing time and the means of expressing temporal parameters.

3.1. The organization of text time is connected with four elements, which are, in fact, the components of the temporal macrostructure.

First, each text has a starting point of orientation from which the textual world is temporally structured. It is the zero temporal point of the text, its absolute time mark. If we represent text time as a continuum from left to right, the initial (absolute) point of orientation will be the zero; to the left there will be the past, while the present and the future will unfold to the right.

Temporal plans come second. They form the highest level of text time organization. Texts can unfold four temporal plans - of the present, the past, the future and omni time. The first three are concrete temporal plans while the fourth one is of the generalized temporality. The text can contain only one of the plans and that is the simplest case. The most common case is the one of the multilayered organization, i.e. the coalition of the plans with one another in a double, triple and quadruple format.

The third element of the temporal organization has to do with time blocks - the separate fragments divided on the basis of time indication within the boundaries of each plan (without the omni time one). These fragments represent the change of the temporal point of view in the respective plan.

The last element refers to the chronology of single facts. Single facts change consecutively with the unfolding of the text; they enter into temporal relations with one another. They ultimately form one temporal line, which creates the primary impression of text time movement forward. Single facts are concurrent or consecutive. The sequence relates them as either preceding or subsequent ones following one another immediately or at a distance.

The text time structure formed from the combination of the mentioned above four elements, can be of a different degree of complexity. It depends on the number of the unfolded temporal plans, on the frequency of the change of the time perspective in them, on the introduction of the time fragments and the separate facts in a normal or disarrayed chronological order.

3.2. The second key aspect is the one referring to the means with which temporal parameters and correlations are expressed in the surface structure of the text. The means can be defined as direct and indirect.

The direct means are elements of linguistic levels - morphological, lexical and syntactical means expressing time with their categorical meanings. They act without any restrictions in any situation and in any text. The first ones among the direct means are the verbal tenses, which build temporal plans grammatically. Temporal expressions come next (as for frequency and importance). They are time adverbs, adverbial groups and noun phrases, which point to the location of facts along the temporal axis or characterize the way of their time realization. To the direct means we can also refer sentences with temporal semantics, separate lexical elements with time-related meaning, some phraseological time schemes, the ordering sentence strategies and phrase structures.

All signals for time outside the explicit temporal markers with a systematic linguistic character can be defined as indirect means. These means act on the principle of implication. Such means are contextual implications, some composition techniques, stylistic devices (e.g. for slowing down or accelerating of time), as well as any extra textual indicators - elements from the context of situation, from the wider social and cultural context and information drawn from the participants’ encyclopedic and worldly knowledge.

4. The next problem of paramount importance is the one of the temporal organization of the separate categories of text. It is quite natural that text types and genres have characteristic temporal features. The differences refer to the complexity of the temporal macrostructure, the preference to certain temporal plans, to chronologically correct or disarrayed introduction of temporal fragments, to the techniques of retrospection and prospection, and to the use of certain surface temporal indicators.

5. The essence, the properties and the manifestations of text time can be generalized in comparison with the properties of real time of the physical world. There are similarities as well as differences between the two temporal systems.

Analogy can be traced first in the essence of time (it is of the same type in both cases) and then in the way of its existence. Text time such as real time is characterized with duration and change of moments. It is also defined with concepts such as present, past, future, simultaneity, succession, precedence, subsequence, continuity, temporal order, moment and interval. Text time also ‘runs’ from left to right - from earlier to later states; it is also coordinated with chronological and historical time and such as real time it can be measured and arbitrarily divided into smaller fractions.

The differences, however, are significant. What is typical for text time is the fact that it is aware of the omni time dimension - a modus, which is not inherent for real world time. In real time, secondly, the past, the present and the future exist only in this order and no other and the past is constantly increasing its relative share while the present is the borderline between the past and the future. That is not the case with text time. In it the present, past and future as well as omni time exist concurrently and in disarray occurring in various combinations. Text present is not simply the borderline point between the ‘not yet’ and ‘already not’. It is usually a plane with a different length and can last from a second up to centuries. It is due to the fact that the text not only marks, but fixes the successive change of the ‘now’-moments: previous ‘nows’ do not remain in the past but they remain (because of their grammatical markers) as they are. Besides, in the beginning of the presence there stays as if ‘pinned’ the absolute temporal zero of the text, which divides the past from the present and guards the border between them.

The comparison between real time properties (the way philosophy and physics describe them) and text time properties presents a very interesting picture:

Real time is one-dimensional (it has only length). Text time is multi-dimensional with different manifestations. It is a diversified time and has not only length but width and breadth as well.

Real time is irreversible. The arrow of time flies from past to future and never back. Text time is reversible. Retrospection is one of its most significant features.

Real time cannot overtake its own flow. Text time quite naturally ‘jumps’ into the future.

Real time is uninterrupted. Text time can be interrupted. Temporal jumps are quite possible in it.

Real time progresses steadily. Text time is unsteady. It can have deceleration, acceleration and uneven development.

Real time is homogeneous. Text time is non-homogeneous. It has no equivalence and comparativeness of its separate phases.

Real time is infinite (unlimited at both ends). Text time is finite and limited. It has a beginning and an end as well as fixed continuity.

The main reason for the occurrences of all the characteristics of text time is that it is a secondary (modeled) time. That is why it allows for transformations, which oppose it drastically to real time structure.

6. Having in mind the more general problem of the human being and time (of the human being in time and time in the human being, respectively) we can say that people can deal with time, think and theorize over it only because language gives them the means with which to do all this - the words, the forms and the constructions with which to designate and express their ideas about time. In connection with this, we can certainly claim that language and the overall linguistic products - texts - enable us to practically come into contact with Time. Texts enable us to mediate time for us, to make it our ‘own’ time transforming it from an abstraction into something concrete, something which belongs to everybody, though it does not really belong to anybody at all.



© Ivelina Savova
© E-magazine LiterNet, 31.08.2007, № 8 (93)