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Auteur: Angelika KRATZER

Modality for the 21st Century

Abstract/Résumé: Humans have the unique ability to externalize complex thoughts so that they can be shared with others. This process comprises several stages, ultimately resulting in an acoustic event. Semanticists explore the first of these stages, where thoughts are mapped onto syntactic structures. Syntactic structures are cleverly designed tools that humans use as scaffolding to weld together information from distinct cognitive domains. A single sentence like "There must have been five puddles of water on the floor", for example, engages cognitive domains dealing with reasoning from evidence, time and space, counting, measuring, and individuation. The sentence as a whole ends up characterizing a set of actual or merely possible situations when uttered in a particular context. How can it do so? What’s the path leading from the utterance of a sentence to a set of possible situations? The answers are bound to come from different fields, and semantics has therefore been interdisciplinary from the very start, with linguists, philosophers, logicians, and cognitive psychologists all contributing crucial pieces of the puzzle. The talk will be built around case studies in the area of modality. Traditionally, modality has been investigated almost exclusively with modal auxiliaries like "must", "might", and "can". I will illustrate the role of modality in producing microvariation in all areas of semantics. Modality with its many different flavors is everywhere in the verbal domain − sublexically, with voice, aspect, tense, mood, and complementizers. It’s at the core of the typology of sentential complementation, and it provides crucial parameters of variation for indefinites. I ask: why is that?