Tense alternation of 'dialogue introducers' (said vs. says) is not consistent with the functional behavior of other verbs' past-present tense-switching in conversational English narratives. This paper presents cognitive models to reveal systematic behaviors of tense-alternation, supported by quantitative and qualitative analyses of discourse data.
When a speaker determines schema to reconstruct past events, she/he assumes specific vantage points, conceptualizing first and third preson asymmetrically. In reporting third person interactions, the narrator's choice of tense is related to the degree of psychological ego-involvement in interactions recalled. In reporting interactions that involve the past self, choice of tense is further regulated to protect the ego's self-identity.
The ego's identity as narrator is a premise shared by the speaker and the audience. First, tense-switching shows displacement of person, space, and time from the 'I', 'here', and 'now' of the current situation, following the discourse rule of 'constructed dialogues' (Tannen 1989). Second, ego-identity correlates with levels of narrative and with manipulation of 'footing' (Gofman 1981). Third, senses of self and of temporality are factors integral to the sound operation of the human psyche, as seen in cognitive monitoring theories (Flavell 1978).