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Title:Modal auxiliary verbs and contexts
Author(s):Moon, Lori Ann
Director of Research:Lasersohn, Peter N.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Lasersohn, Peter N.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Ionin, Tania; Schreiner, Sylvia L. R.; Meseguer, José
Department / Program:Linguistics
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):formal semantics
formal grammar
modal auxiliary verbs
epistemic modality
relativist semantics
categorial grammar
model theoretic semantics
intensional logic
natural language semantics
Abstract:Modal auxiliary verbs, such as `could', `might', `must', `would', and others, have different readings depending on the context in which they occur (Kratzer 1981). The sentence `Jess could fry the fish' can mean that, in a time previous to the utterance of the sentence, Jess had the ability to fry the fish, or it can mean that, at the time of the utterance, Jess frying the fish is a possible event. Modal auxiliary verbs often create intensional environments, leading the events described by the second verb to be understood to be non-actual events. When the readings are described as being determined by a context, it is often a broad notion of non-linguistic and extra-sentential linguistic context that is the focus of the interpretation. For example, descriptive pragmatic constraints are used in Lewis 1973 and Kratzer 1981 to characterize types of accessibility relations and types of orderings of worlds. A large part of the meaning of modal auxiliary verbs, however, centers around how the events described by the second verb are situated relative to the time at which the sentence containing the modal auxiliary is used. Information about the temporal situation of an event is conveyed through the linguistic context in which a modal auxiliary verb occurs, including, but not limited to, lexical properties of the linguistic expressions describing the event in the scope of the modal auxiliary, lexical properties of the modal auxiliary itself, and temporal and aspectual marking on linguistic expressions in the verbal projections. In order to provide a framework for representing the interactions of tense, aspect, and modality, a fragment of English is given in a Multi-Modal Combinatorial Categorial Grammar (Baldridge & Kruijff, Steedman 2012). Modal auxiliaries are given verb-like lexical entries in the grammar using lexical entries that combine features from Villavicenio 2002 and standard attribute value matrices of Head Driven Phrase Structure Grammar (Pollard & Sag 1999, Sag, Wasow, & Bender 2003). Modal auxiliaries have default lexical arguments with which they combine, and they combine with temporal and aspectual meaning that is sometimes morphologically manifested through grammatical tense and aspect. Portions of the combinatory methods are based on Bach 1983, who argued for less constrained combinatorial rules and unification of features in order to represent modal auxiliaries. The notion of event semantics (Davidson 1967) plays an important role in the formulation of the compositional semantics due to the way in which event times are related to aspectual meaning. The grammar uses a Neo-Davidsonian approach (Parsons 1990) to representing the arguments of the verb and builds on the work of Champollion 2015. The temporal component is very important in this work and uses portions of the temporal and event ontology proposed in Muskens 1995, 2003. Two paradigms of modal auxiliaries are proposed: Tense-bearing modal auxiliaries and non-tense-bearing modal auxiliaries. Within each paradigm, readings are shown to have differing semantics with respect to the semantic roles with which they combine and the temporal and aspectual readings that they can have. Differing results with respect to their behaviour in describing various states of affairs are addressed as is their behaviour in expressing past tense, sequence of tense contexts (Abusch 1997), and the distribution of perfect aspect. The formal grammar distinguishes parts of the meaning of sentences with modal auxiliary verbs that can be represented in terms of composition of temporal and aspectual expressions with modal auxiliary verbs or composition of a modal auxiliary verb with its arguments on one hand from parts of the meaning that are constrained by a broader notion of context, on the other hand. The notion of a broader context is not, however, neglected in the treatment. The English language fragment presented in the grammar is interpreted in a relativist semantic model, motivated by the assessment-sensitivity of epistemic modal auxiliaries (MacFarlane 2011, Lasersohn 2005, Lasersohn 2015). Readings that do not require assessment sensitivity are given truth conditions according to those given for monadic truth in Lasersohn 2015. The interaction of readings with their grammatical distribution provides additional theoretical insights into the linguistic contexts that are conducive to assessment sensitivity, actuality inferences, and counterfactual readings. Most notably, it is shown that assessment sensitivity is only present in modal auxiliaries that are in the non-tense-bearing paradigm. Parts of the theoretical treatment presented in this work have been applied in areas of automated classification of modal auxiliary verbs (Moon 2011, Moon 2012, Moon et al. 2016), showing that temporal, aspectual, and argument structure information can be used to determine the most likely reading of a modal auxiliary at the sentence level, increasing the ease of reading identification for automated tools.
Issue Date:2016-11-22
Rights Information:Copyright 2016 Lori A Moon
Date Available in IDEALS:2017-03-01
Date Deposited:2016-12

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