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I am trying to understand how the plain form is used in novels set in the past through the explanations in the paper referenced below. I wonder if someone could explain how we should understand the Japanese version of the following examples:

Example 24:

(1) 広田さんは髭の下から歯を出して笑った
(2) わりあいきれいな歯を持っている/??持っていた

(1) hirota-san wa hige no sita kara ha o dasite warat-TA.
(2) wariai kireina ha o motte-i-RU/??motte-i-TA.

(1) Mr. Hirota SMILED showing his teeth below his moustache.
(2) He’D GOT good-looking teeth.

Example 25:  

(1) 「お出になりませんか」と聞くと、先生は少し笑いながら、無言のまま首を横に振った
(2) 子どものような所作をする/??した

(1) “odeni narimasen ka” to kiku to, sensei wa sukosi warai nagara, mugon no mama kubi o yoko ni hut-TA.
(2) kodomo no yoona syosa o su-RU/??si-TA.

(1) “Wouldn’t you like to go out?” asked Sanshiro, and then Sensei smiled faintly and SHOOK his head without saying a word.
(2) That WAS a childlike gesture.

Example 29:

(1) 「おしだ。」と信吾はつぶやいた
(2) ぎゃあっと言った蝉とはちがう

(1) “osida,” to singo wa tubuyai-TA.
(2) gyatto itta semi to wa tiga-U.

(1) “This one’s mute,” Shingo MUTTERED.
(2) It WAS different from the one that had sung so loudly.

My limited understanding is that:

  1. ta-form are main sentences about the foreground, plain form are about the background.
  2. In each case the English translation places the plain form sentence in the past tense and makes it part of the author's narrative but, as the paper explains, this is wrong. You lose the perspective of being there, conveyed by the plain form.
  3. In sentence 2 of example 24 the past tense does not work, but I am not sure why.
  4. Again in example 2 of example 25 past tense does not work, but I am not sure why.
  5. Sanshiro seems to be "thinking" sentence 2 of example 25 but I am not really sure.
  6. English translations do always help. Sometimes they feel unnatural. For example, in the second sentence of "Example 25", I am not sure why the author has used "That" instead of "It". "It" (as used in sentence 2 of "Example 29") would have been more natural if the sentence was written from the author's perspective. "That" would fit if sentence was from Sanshiro's perspective, but if it his unspoken observation or the narrative has switched, how are we supposed to tell?, what is the convention? There is a bit more to it than just: background, plain form = time of utterance.
  7. In example 29 we are told that sentence two is the "voice" of Shingo's: Are these his actual thoughts or observations, or even just what he could observe? I am confused.

My guess is that:

Possibly this writing can be likened to the frames in a US-Comic book(?) where:
- The authors narrative appears in the rectangular boxes?,
- the ta-form sentences represent the words appearing in speech bubbles?
- The plain form sentences refer to the images/pictures and the thoughts appearing in the "thought bubbles"?

But, I don't really know if this works. I have struggled with explanations in the paper (link below) but if somebody could explain in simple terms how to interpret the plain form sentences above I should be grateful.

Paper: TENSE-ASPECT CONTROVERSY REVISITED: THE -TA AND -RU FORMS IN JAPANESE Yoko Hasegawa; Link to paper: http://hasegawa.berkeley.edu/Papers/Hasegawa99.pdf

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I am interested in this question because I speak a tense-less language and it is extremely hard for me to understand how tense works. I think I have seen the <background>suru. <foreground>sita. pattern. It is argued that a と after suru is omitted. <action>sita. <state>suru. is common too. –  Yang Muye Jun 29 at 15:11
Very helpful answer to a similar question here but if anyone can add to my specific questions I'd be grateful:japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/3600/… –  Tim Jun 30 at 0:43
自由間接話法free indirect speech(描出話法representative speech)とか、自由直接話法(←日本語でよく使われるらしい)とか、そういうのじゃないんですかね・・・ 臨場感を出す、みたいな・・・ ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/… –  Choko Jun 30 at 9:26
Timさんの貼られた論文を見ましたら、3ページ5行目に"historical/narrative present" が出てきますが、その下、...however, that not all sentences in narrative can be ended with -TA とか in sentences in the free indirect style — representing a character’s consciousness — exemplified by (25) ②, -RU resists replacement with -TA. の辺りを見ていくと、"free indirect speech" も言及されてますが、「た」を使うとただ語り手が事実を述べている感じ、「る」を使っているところは視点・意識が登場人物に移行した感じ(つまり「割合きれいな歯を持って‌​いるんだな」とか「子供のような所作をする人だなぁ」と、登場人物が思った、という感じ)・・・かな?と思います。 –  Choko Jul 1 at 6:02
We have a question about "free indirect speech": japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/16083/… –  snailboat Jul 2 at 0:12

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