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LINGUIST List 22.3943

Sat Oct 08 2011

Confs: Semantics/Germany

Editor for this issue: Amy Brunett <brunettlinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Volker Gast , Modality in Germanic languages

Message 1: Modality in Germanic languages
Date: 07-Oct-2011
From: Volker Gast <volker.gastuni-jena.de>
Subject: Modality in Germanic languages
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Modality in Germanic languages
Short Title: modgerm

Date: 14-Oct-2011 - 15-Oct-2011
Location: Jena, Germany
Contact: Volker Gast
Contact Email: < click here to access email >
Meeting URL: http://www.uni-jena.de/~mu65qev/modgerm

Linguistic Field(s): Semantics

Meeting Description:

The domain of modality plays a prominent role in Germanic languages, which are characterized by large inventories of functional elements specialized for modal meanings such as modal verbs and modal particles. The analysis of these categories poses a number of nontrivial challenges from a both syntactic and semantic point of view. Modal elements are highly 'dynamic' in at least two respects. First, their interpretation is heavily context-dependent and interacts closely with other grammatical categories such as person, tense, aspect and polarity. For instance, the English modal 'may' is typically interpreted deontically in combination with first and second person subjects and with dynamic predicates while it is mostly epistemic with third person subjects and with stative predicates. Second, systems of modal elements are often relatively unstable diachronically, in comparison to other verbal categories such as tense and aspect. As a result, modal (sub)systems are often rather loosely structured and tend to display syntactic and semantic idiosyncrasies and 'mismatches' in the mapping from form to function. For example, the modal verb 'might', morphologically a past tense form of 'may', has lost the deontic function that is still prevalent (though decreasing) in 'may', while 'could' and 'can' both (still?) have deontic readings. Many idiosyncrasies are also found in the interaction between modal elements and polarity. Some modals are restricted to downward entailing contexts (e.g. Engl. 'need'), others take variable scope relative to negation, depending on their interpretation (e.g. deontic 'may' vs. epistemic 'may'), and yet others exhibit interpretive preferences depending on the polarity context (e.g. 'can', which shows epistemic interpretations mostly under negation, e.g. 'You can't be serious'). As von Fintel (2006) points out, '[m]ost of these facts have resisted systematic explanation and remain mysterious'.

The dynamicity of modal meanings and the idiosyncrasies of modal systems may be related to the high degree of cognitive complexity associated with modality. The interpretation of modal utterances implies 'displacement' in the sense of Hockett and higher-order reasoning, insofar as it requires the ability to make a distinction between 'facts' - which are accessible through perception - and 'thoughts', i.e. hypothetical facts or abstractions over facts. At an even higher level of abstraction, modality concerns the processing of thoughts entertained by others ('theory of mind'/'foreign consciousness alignment', cf. Abraham & Leiss forthcoming), and the interactive negotiation of such thoughts in communication.

This workshop is intended to bring together specialists working on modality in Germanic languages in order to discuss matters like the following: the 'ecology' of modal systems, i.e. the 'division of labour' between different types of modal expressions; the degree of homogeneity or heterogeneity of modal systems; morphological, syntactic and morphosyntactic properties of specific modal elements or of entire modal categories; (morpho)syntactic and semantic relationships between modality and other grammatical categories; the role of (different types of) modality in common ground management; the levels of interpretation at which modal meanings operate and their interdependencies; relationships between modality and types of predicates/sentences/utterances; relationships between modal meanings (e.g. deontic, epistemic) and associated domains (e.g. bouletic and evidential meanings); typical historical developments in the domain of modality; relationships between lexical and grammatical ways of expressing modality; etc.

References: Abraham, W. & E. Leiss (eds.) (forthcoming). Modality and Theory of Mind Elements Across Languages. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter; von Fintel, K. (2006). Modality and language. In Borchert, D.M. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2nd ed. Detroit: MacMillan.

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