LINGUIST List 9.1756

Thu Dec 10 1998

Sum: Modality and Intentionality

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Ken Hughes, Summary: Modality and intentionality

Message 1: Summary: Modality and intentionality

Date: Thu, 10 Dec 1998 01:53:02 -0800 (PST)
From: Ken Hughes <>
Subject: Summary: Modality and intentionality

 comp.speech, alt.usage.english, sci.lang and the
 Linguist, Psycoloquy, Psyche, Cogling and Husserl lists.
 (Please excuse any deja vu. Just press the delete key.)
 I posted a cluster of queries to various listservs and Usenet groups
 regarding modality and infinitival TO for an MA completed in 1996.
 After a huge delay, I'd like to thank everyone who helped me and to
 post the results of a formative (i.e., assuredly not a summative)
 effort located at in a document
 called Modality and intentionality: infinitivals and zero-inflection.
 The response rate was very light but respondents were often quite
 eminent (it's the topic I guess, but it leaves me a little nervous).
 Below find some very brief summaries, excluding those persons who
 only requested summaries (though this file was sent to everyone).
 The work tries to describe a portion of non-finite English modality
 -- focusing on modal verbs and untensed complements -- by applying
 Husserlian and Heideggerian perspectives onto Chomskyan primitives.
 Something unusual needs to be said about modals in order to describe
 their power and performance. This work asserts that functionality 
 stems from structure which evokes/contains two INFL or tense nodes.

 The project sought to apply transcendental phenomenology to a small
 area of syntax, making use of a narrow or eviscerated version of
 intentionality. But it is neither modern syntax nor is it rigorous
 phenomenology. (Nor is special "belief" in intentionality required.)

 Concerns lie with the function and performance of irrealis complements
 and inflection using a descriptive and graphical approach to syntax.

 The paper is not very technical. It followed a design that treated
 syntactic constructs within a science education curriculum approach.
 I greatly value all of the responses. Some topics follow below.
 My thanks to Cynthia Allen (Australian Nat U) and Don Ringe (U Penn).
 They corrected my verb forms and lent a more intelligent perspective.
 The basic gist is that as the preterite-presents (or stative-presents)
 evolved into the English modal precursors, or the modals themselves,
 that they acquired a morphologically-null referent that is roughly
 equivalent to a tenseless syntagma (akin to Chomsky's LGB -INFL).

 There are also familiar formal similarities with verbs of perception
 and other forms (viz., causatives, subjunctives, small clauses, etc.).
 This approach also reflects an Anglo-centric artifact falling out of
 the massive use within English modality of zero-inflected verb stems.
 No information received. Phonological phenomena allied with modern
 periphrastic modals (viz., WANNA, HAFTA/HASTA, etc.) are addressed.
 Focus is on infinitival TO's obvious role. Please see the document.
 No info received. This seems to be an excellent phenomenological issue:
 infinitival TO is notably syncategorematic and perhaps the only 'true'
 instance of semantic emptiness in the OED (definition B III:13, 14).

 Other 'words' also may get the designation but they tend not to be as
 problematic or as interesting. Of all the kinds of meaninglessness
 profiled, this one makes for a particularly evocative Grenzbegriff, 
 that is, "a (Kantian) limit-concept" or a horizon to cognition.

 About 200 proximity searches of the OED-CD were used to make a rough
 beginning phenomenography of categories for semantic emptiness.
 Some other functional or Zen-like empty-elements that impinge on
 formal structures are also glossed (a.k.a. Meinongian ghosts?).
*AN INTERPRETATION OF HUSSERL: [ intentionality [ reflexion ]]
 A conclusion allies this bracketed phenomenological relation with
 a syntactic interpretation for the sentence. The Mohanty/Hintikka
 division (intentionality-as-intensionality and intentionality-as-
 directedness) is used to map notions from Benveniste and Chomsky.
 Marvin Minsky (MIT) sent valued criticism about his view of my basic
 conceptual error, thereby framing an important epistemological edge.
 I failed to clarify that the focus was on elemental [S] constituents
 (and not *life* or *mind*) ... where a derived or local construct for
 intentionality-as-directedness might be allied with Fregean binding
 or Chomskyan c-command. Grammaticality's gestalt or connection of
 expressed form with referentiality might also yield some relief.
 I do not, of course, deny Dr. Minsky's position (q.v. the document).
 Barry Smith (SUNY, Editor of The Monist) provided stimulating papers 
 which were over my head but which I might now begin to make use of,
 if some version of this project is found worthy of further pursuit.
 Bill Croft (U Manchester) gave some suggestions on the links between
 language and phenomenology, and some leads to Langacker's work.
 John Snyder made a witty comment that the effort was a "fur teapot"
 (viz., Marcel Duchamp's grossly unfunctional surrealist sculpture).
 Rich Hilliard (Intermetrics) suggested the relation could be reversed.

 Negations, in particular, greatly helped in improving or clarifying
 issues and various commitments to tree structures and Venn diagrams.
 Henk Wolf (Fryske Akademy) sent interesting relevant work on Frisian.
 (Regrettably, almost no cross-linguistic discussion was attempted.)
 Noam Chomsky (MIT) (very modestly) provided some references pointing
 to work by Eric Reuland, Alec Marantz and David Pesetsky.
 One conclusion argues that modals evoke a dual [ S [ S ]] structure
 that is familiar from logic. One syntactic model for a modal verbs 
 is ...[ +INFL [ V [ -INFL ]]]... or ...[ +TNS [ V [ -TNS ]]]...
 Actual structure used is slightly different, with some elaborations
 on [V] realizations and a gesture towards an empty subject position.

 Such a form seems like it would be an obvious cliche but no material,
 pro or con, was found to address this (problematic? ugly?) approach.
 A crude initial attempt at defining *irrealis* is made based on the 
 cleavage given by Chomsky as [ +/-TNS ]. This also seeks to address
 a concern that modality and speech act studies seem mostly to work 
 with semantic descriptions applied (mainly) to compound [ S [ S ]].

 No pointless effort is directed at trying to define *realis* though
 anyone might safely observe that it must rest vaguely somewhere in
 the set of those [ S ] grounded in the past and present tense. :-|
 My thanks also go to Richard Hudson (University College London) for
 permission to quote, and to Steven Schaufele (Soochow) for support
 which wrested me out of my mess of "notational variance".
 Thesis is available on a web site in Adobe Acrobat (pdf) format.
 An Acrobat reader may be downloaded easily from the same location.
 The document is designed to be printed. Due to its print density,
 it will be hard to read on screen, but you may be able to decide
 about whether or not you wish to bother further with it by scanning
 the introduction or table of contents on the web page.
 Please be advised that this work took a phenomenological approach to
 syntax in science education, and thus may not meet the level or style
 of erudition you are accustomed to. (And I haven't quite managed
 to edit out all the informal, naive and purple bits.) Nonetheless,
 brutal or grounded criticism from any quarter is extremely welcome.
 I haven't sought out much feedback from linguists, or anyone else,
 so I am grateful for any corrections that might be sent my way.

 The paper is 107 pages long with the appendices, regrettably bulky,
 but if you want some argument about modals, try p. 64, 69, 86 and 93.
 Some semantic emptiness material is in the first appendix (page 90).
 Other topics can be found by looking in the index.
 Thanks to everyone. This has been a fun learning experience, one
 that validated the usefulness of computer-mediated (collaborative)
 communication, and for me, the spirit and values of academia.
 Ken Hughes Science Education, Curriculum Studies
 University of British Columbia
 Vancouver, B.C. Canada V6T 1Z4
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