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The Semantics of German 'sollen'

Abstract/Résumé: In this paper I argue for a unified account of the semantics of the German auxiliary verb 'sollen' in both its use as an evidential marker indicating that the evidence for the truth of the proposition denoted by the embedded clause is of the hearsay type (Schenner 2008) and in its use as (what seems to be) a deontic modal verb. I show that not only in the first use 'sollen' relates the proposition denoted by the embedded clause to a prior intentional act (namely to a speech act of assertion), but also in the second use, where the intended result of the respective act is not a change in the (common) knowledge states of the interlocuters, but some other change in the world where the sentence with 'sollen' is uttered. In both cases, 'sollen' makes the same contribution: The proposition denoted by the sentence containing it presupposes the existence of an intentional act whose author is not the (individual denoted by) subject of the sentence and is true if in all epistemically accessible worlds where the intended result of that act obtains, the proposition denoted by the embedded clause p is true. Now, the hearsay-evidence reading comes about if the act is one or several acts of asserting a proposition entailing p: Since the intended result of an act of assertion is that the proposition asserted becomes part of the Common Ground (henceforth: CG), and since a proposition p that is part of the CG of the interlocuters of a conversation taking place at a world w is automatically true at w, p and all propositions entailed by p are guaranteed to be true in all (epistemically accessible) worlds where the intended result of the act obtains. Concerning the second use, the crucial observation is that in contrast to imperatives and sentences containing deontic modal verbs such as 'must' or 'should' (see Ninan 2005, Portner 2007 and Schwager 2006 for their performative uses), ones with 'sollen' are only acceptable if the existence of a relevant corresponding act is entailed by the context or can easily be accommodated. Finally, I show the relevant act need not be a speech act, but may also be some non-verbal act. References: Ninan, D. (2005). Two puzzles about deontic necessity. In J. Gajewski, V. Hacquard, B. Nickel and S. Yalcin (eds.), New work on modality, Vol. 51 of MIT Working Papers in Linguistics. Cambridge, MA: MITWPL. Portner, P. (2007). Imperatives and modals. Natural Language Semantics 15. Schenner, M. (2008). Double face evidentials in German: reportative ‘wollen’ and ‘sollen’ in embedded contexts. In A. Gronn (ed.), Proceedings of SuB 12, Oslo: ILOS. Schwager, M. (2006). Interpreting Imperatives. Ph. D. thesis, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt a. M.