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Detail of contribution


Co-Auteur(s): Isabel OLTRA-MASSUET, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

What we know about capacities

Abstract/Résumé: We discuss the semantic properties of an as yet unexplored modal, Catalan ser capaç ‘be capable’ (and its Spanish counterpart ser capaz). This modal shows dual behavior in that it has both abilitative, (1a), and epistemic interpretations, (1b). (1) En Joan és capaç de buidar la nevera. ‘John is capable of emptying the fridge.’ a. John has the ability of emptying the fridge & this is quite an achievement. b. It is possible that John empties the fridge & this is something daring/ audacious/ unusual. These interpretations can be empirically tested. The abilitative (1a) is compatible with non-present tenses, (2). And only the epistemic is compatible with perfective and progressive aspects, (3). (2) En Joan va ser/serà capaç de buidar la nevera. ‘John was/will be capable of emptying the fridge.’ (3) En Joan és capaç d’haver buidat/estar buidant la nevera. ‘John is capable of having emptied/being emptying the fridge.’ Only the epistemic licenses the temporal modifier qualsevol dia d’aquests (‘one of these days’), (4). (4) En Joan és capaç de buidar la nevera qualsevol dia d’aquests. ‘John is capable of emptying the fridge one of these days.’ We assume that abilitative modals contain both elements of existential and universal quantification (Portner 2009), and that Kratzer's (1991) notion of good possibility can account for (1)-(4). Ser capaç de p asserts the existence of a world w’ compatible with the modal base, and for all better ranked worlds w’’ in the ordering source, p is true in w’’. We leave aside the issue of how to derive the actuality entailment of abilitative modals (Bhatt 1999), but we ensure that achieving p requires effort by restricting the modal base to worlds where people have abilities to do things (Giannakidou 2001). Epistemic ser capaç denotes a good possibility with an epistemic modal base. Since in both interpretations, the prejacent p is viewed as something extraordinary (1a,b), we make ser capaç be defined only if p is not true in worlds normal to the speaker. (2)-(4) follow from the syntax of root vs. epistemic modals and the locus of aspect (Cinque 1999, Hacquard 2010). While epistemic modals sit above Aspect, root modals (i.e. abilitatives) sit below Aspect. Hence, epistemic readings can combine with perfective aspect but abilitative interpretations are ruled out, (3). The time anchoring of roots is VP’s tense: the time in which John empties the fridge in (2). The time anchoring in epistemics is the speech time: ser capaç is inflected for tense, so in the epistemic, it needs to be in the present tense. Concerning (4), the VP anchoring of the abilitative yields a clash with one of these days, while this is not a problem for the epistemic, since the VP time and the speech time need not coincide.