Universiteit van Amsterdam


Institute for Logic, Language and Computation

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18 February 2005, ILLC/ACLC seminar on Modality

Date: Friday 18 February 2005
Time: 13:00-16:30
Location: PC Hoofthuis 105, Amsterdam

Friday, February 18, 2005 (in the afternoon), four speakers of both ILLC and ACLC will present a paper on the subject of Modality.


13.00 - 13.45
Fabrice Nauze (ILLC)
Title: Combining modalities: 'Apparently, I might have to give a talk!'
13.45 - 14.30
Annerieke Boland (ACLC)
Title: Modality from a functional perspective.
14.30 - 15.00
tea/coffee break
15.00 - 15.45
Rosja Mastop (ILLC)
Title: No using subjects in these sentences.
15.45 - 16.30
Hedde Zeijlstra (ACLC)
Title: Negative quantifiers in modal constructions.
Drinks afterwards in the cantine of the PC Hoofthuis, at the third floor.


Combining modalities: 'Apparently, I might have to give a talk!'
Fabrice Nauze

Combining different modalities within one sentence seems to be, at least in English, subject to some restrictions. Deontic modalities can appear in the scope of epistemic ones, see (1); epistemic modalities appear sometimes in the scope of evidential ones, see (2). It is however quite problematic to combine those modalities the other way around, see (3) and (4).

(1) I may have to give a talk in February.
(2) Clearly, he must be happy with his promotion.


(3) ?? It has to be the case that I might give a lecture.
(4) ?? Maybe he is clearly happy with his promotion.

There is surely a syntactic story to be told about the possible combinations of modal expressions but I will argue that the restrictions cannot be accounted for by a purely syntactic explanation. I will then introduce the standard semantic account of modality where modal expressions are sentential operators that scope over the propositions expressed by the embedded sentence. Within this framework, however, combinations of modalities do not seem to be restricted at all. I will finally hint toward a solution for the epistemic/deontic scope restriction and toward a possible cross-linguistic generalization.

Modality from a functional perspective
Annerieke Boland

============================================================ In this talk I will discuss an analysis of the field of modality along the parameters of sense, scope and source. Sense divides the domain of modality into a scale from possibility to necessity. The term scope is taken from Functional Grammar and concerns the part of the clause that is modified by the modal expression. Finally, the source of modality is the factor held responsible for the modal meaning: it can be participant-internal, participant-external or epistemic. I will show that these three parameters are sufficient to describe the different uses of English modal auxiliaries and that their application raises interesting hypotheses. If time permits, I will discuss cross-linguistic and diachronic data that support the analysis.

No using subjects in these sentences
Rosja Mastop

Infinitivals and imperatives share a number of intriguing properties, involving future orientation, optional subject, and restriction to performative uses and intention-related verbs. Also, the overt subject seems to be more than the expression of a verb argument alone:

(1) I enjoyed (my) playing the piano.
(2) (Everybody) grab one corner of the sheet.

In the literature these observations have led to a wide variety of analyses, involving future tense and irrealis features and empty syntactic categories for subjects.

Some of these explanations face serious problems but, more importantly, they also fail to explain the connections between the phenomena. In this talk I will discuss some of those shortcomings and propose an alternative account. In it I assume a fundamental distinction in the cognitive representation of actions: as things we observe others perform and as things we are capable of doing ourselves. What the above mentioned sentences share is this latter perspective on the action. This is what is used to explain their common properties. Furthermore, the distinction is used to account for the differences between root and epistemic modal readings of modal auxiliaries and between adhortative and optative readings of `let' sentences.

Negative quantifiers in modal constructions
Hedde Zeijlstra

Negative indefinites in Germanic languages such as Dutch and German are standardly considered to be negative quantifiers. However, it is known that in these languages negative indefinites yield split scope readings in modal constructions (cf. Penka 2003).

(1) Je kunt niets zien
You can nothing see
It is not possible that you see anything

Here the negation takes scope from a position higher than the modal verb, whereas the indefinite is interpreted below the modal verb. In my talk I will propose an analysis that takes negative quantifiers to be lexically decomposed into an abstract negative operator and an existential quantifier. This negative operator may raise to a position higher than the modal. A crucial prediction is that the reading in which negation takes scope under the modal verb is always possible, but ruled out by pragmatic constraints.

Please note that this newsitem has been archived, and may contain outdated information or links.