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Auteur: Alda MARI

Abilities, effort and control

Abstract/Résumé: Existential modal pouvoir in the present perfect in French and Italian has an abilitative and an epistemic interpretation. The abilitative reading can be associated with an actuality entailment. While prima facie the interpretations are the same in the two languages, we show that they are obtained in different ways and that (i) in French, present perfect pouvoir is a raising verb in all its interpretations, while (ii) in Italian present perfect potere is a control verb on the abilitative reading with actuality entailment. It is a raising verb on the abilitative reading without actuality entailment (which we call opportunity reading). For French, we propose a semantic/pragmatic view of the systematic ambiguity, exploiting the aspectual and temporal makeup of the present perfect, which we analyze as a perfect rather than an aorist (see Schaden, 2009). Our account builds on the common view that the present perfect introduces a result state whose running time is the utterance time tu (e.g. Kamp and Reyle, 1993; de Swart, 1998). We nonetheless treat it as a propositional operator. The semantic analysis states that there is a past possible state of affairs (poss p) and a possible present resulting state of affairs (poss q). On the pragmatic side, we subscribe to the view that the present perfect is used inferentially, that is to say, that the past event is not presented per se but it is inferred from some less direct result state (we consider the case in which the speaker knows q, knows that not q, and knows that poss q). With these ingredients in place, the paper redesigns the spectrum of interpretations of a pu-sentences, distinguishing between epistemic and counterfactual interpretations. It thus sheds a new light on the previously unanswered question of the competition between the present perfect modal and the modal in the past conditional for the abilitative without actuality entailment interpretation. For Italian, we propose a new entry for ha potuto on its control interpretation. We derive the effort component associated with the abilitative interpretation in two different ways in the two languages. We explain that in French it is an effect of the counterfactual interpretation, and that in Italian, it is associated with the semantic notion of control.