Sporadic  aspect as a  pragmatic   enrichment  of  root  modality Cécile Barbet University of Neuchâtel & University of Li...
Can as a sporadic marker <ul><li>Palmer (1965) and Boyd & Thorne (1969)  </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cf. (1) – (5) </li></ul></u...
Pouvoir  as a sporadic marker <ul><li>Kleiber (1983) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>pouvoir  as an existential quantifier </li></ul...
Sporadic   meaning  may not be a variant of epistemic meaning… <ul><li>Complementary conversion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(14)...
… nor  of root meanings <ul><li>Similarities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cf. Vetters (2007): Sometimes agentive eventualities </...
Relevance  Theory  ( Sperber & Wilson 1986 / 1995) <ul><li>Speaker intentional meaning    inferential procedure </li></ul...
Sporadic interpretation as a pragmatic enrichment  <ul><li>Find informativeness from tautological or underinformative sent...
Search  for relevance and sporadicity <ul><li>(23)  it is (materially/virtually) possible that [specific] X is Y     it i...
As evidence… <ul><li>Referential sporadic interpretation needs a generic subject </li></ul><ul><li>But also known referent...
Conclusion: why sporadic uses of  can  or  pouvoir  ?  <ul><li>Sporadic aspect communicates  more  than just quantificatio...
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Sporadic Aspect as a pragmatic enrichment of root modality

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2008. Presentation delivered at the 8th colloquium chronos, Austin, Texas, Oct. 2008. Cécile Barbet and Louis de Saussure.

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  • In this talk we will examine the sporadic aspect when triggered by modal verbs such as the English can or the French pouvoir. This sporadic aspect can be found in sentences like Lions can be dangerous, or in French, Les lions peuvent être dangereux. Définition de sporadic aspect Our hypothesis is that sporadic aspect , when triggered by these modal verbs, results from a pragmatic scheme of enrichment of (?)root modality/? the core meaning of ‘possibility’.. Earlier works assumed that these sporadic effects are either all variants of epistemic modality (for ex. Antinucci &amp; Parisi 1971or Palmer 1986), objective epistemic modality (‘alethic’ in Kronning 1996) or even not modal at all (cf. Boyd &amp; Thorne 1969). We will review a number of linguistic tests proposed in the literature in order to sustain the various hypotheses on offer. We will observe that none of these are indeed convincing, although this makes clear that sporadicity is neither reducible to epistemic nor to root modality. Our aim in this talk: how does a sporadic interpretation emerges from the semantics of can (in English) or pouvoir (in French)?
  • Palmer (1965: 116) and Boyd &amp; Thorne (1969) observed examples where can seems equivalent to an existential quantifier equivalent to some or sometimes . Classical examples include: Speech days can be revealing (some s.d. are) This can mean, but it doesn’t always mean… (sometimes) Cocktail parties can be boring (some) Welshmen can be tall (some) Lions can be dangerous (some / sometimes) Boyd &amp; Thorne assumed that in such cases, can has an aspectual rather than a modal meaning, and expresses what they call ‘sporadic’ aspect. ----------(( was the first to observe that … there is a use of can to express can has an existential usage, meaning ‘some’ or a temporal usage, meaning ‘sometimes’ ‘some’ or ‘sometimes’ which may be called the ‘existential’ use: The sentence Lions can be dangerous may mean that some lions are dangerous or that lions are sometimes dangerous. Palmer gives other examples where ‘can’ behaves like an existential or temporal quantifier: with distinct ‘some’ and ‘sometimes’ meanings: Speech days can be revealing. (some) This can mean, but it doesn’t always mean that… (sometimes) - Boyd &amp; Thorne first introduced the notion of sporadic aspect in a paper of 1969: They note that in sentences like Cocktail parties can be boring or Welshmen can be tall, can may be paraphrased with sometimes . This interpretation of can is more aspectual than modal, which differs from the other uses of can. They named this aspect, « for want of a better name, […] ‘sporadic’ aspect ». For them, this use of can is not a modal use because can “is a modal verb, that is, marks the illocutionary potential of the sentence, only when it is an alternative form for may ” . ---------------)) - According to Antinucci, F. &amp; Parisi, D. (1971), Welshmen can be tall doesn’t read as a quantification but as specific epistemic type where the intrinsic nature of the subject causes the speaker’s belief Epistemic may = CAUSE (X) (NEG(BIND (NEG(BELIEVE (Y) (Z)))) “there is something X which causes the speaker Y not to be bound not to believe that Z” Sporadic = epistemic = “there is something X [“intrinsic nature” of the surface subject] which causes the speaker Y not to be bound not to believe that Z” -Later, F. R. Palmer (1986 : 11-12) wrote that an e xistential meaning is, perhaps, expressed by can or may in: Lions can be dangerous. (Leech 1969: 223) … the lamellae may arise de novo from the middle of the cell and migrate to the periphery. (Huddleston 1971: 297-9) Actually, these sentences can be interpreted as ‘some lions are dangerous’, ‘some lamellae migrate…’ (or in terms of ‘sometimes’). Nevertheless, according to Palmer, there is no reason to recognize them as examples of another, distinct, type of modality, at least for English, since they can be handled in terms of epistemic modality with the gloss ‘It may be that…’ and the same verbs as for epistemic modality may and can are used. But, we think, the sporadic reading is lost with this gloss! (no?) yes! Mais il faut reformuler un peu. “May” forces an epistemic reading, which is indeed available in Lions may be dangerous (=it may be the case that lions are dangerous), while “can” forces a sporadic reading; thus Lions can be dangerous doesn’t look equivalent to It can be the case that lions are dangerous . En anglais: “may” = epistemic / “can” = root (à modaliser légèrement) préciser “root” (petit tableau?) In French, pouvoir has both epistemic and root meanings. French linguistics literature made a few relevant observations as regards sporadic aspects.
  • -In the French literature, we can find a seminal paper of Kleiber (1983) about the sporadic use of pouvoir . According to Kleiber 1983, the sporadic use of pouvoir is distinct from both epistemic and root meanings. When pouvoir has a sporadic interpretation, it plays the same role as an adverb of existential quantification Kleiber distinguishes two types of sporadicity: a temporal one and a referential one. In Luc peut être odieux , the quantification is temporal because it holds on states or events denoted by the predicate. And in Les Alsaciens peuvent être obèses , the quantification is referential because it holds on the individuals of the class denoted by the SN subject. Subjects have to be generic in this case. rajouter paraphrases some x are y / sometimes x is y sur la diapo ou exemplier -Kronning, in his book on the French modal verb devoir , tries to make a parallel between the uses and meanings of devoir and pouvoir , suggesting that the sporadic use of the latter is alethic. The sporadic use denotes an ‘objective’ possibility which is not – we refer to Papafragou 2006 – externally inscrutable, contrarily to the epistemic use. So the sporadic aspect can be challenged: Lions can be dangerous. It’s right/false that lions can be dangerous vs. *It’s right / false that Clark Kent can be superman (= It is right / false that x believes that…) trop ou pas assez, plûtôt pas assez. Préciser: il est aléthique parce que… Pronomonalisation en le (préciser que pas d’équivalent en anglais à cause de la reprise du verbe) - According to Le Querler 1996, 2001, sporadic pouvoir is extra-predicative / external to the proposition , i.e. hold on the all predicative relation S-V, as in his epistemic use. So, she relates this use to the epistemic one. She says that, as with the epistemic modality, the predicative relation, for ex. Luke – be odious , has chances to be validated or not: as said by Kleiber 1983, if Luke can be odious or Alsatians can be stout, you can find Luke odious as well as not odious, and Alsatians stout as well as not stout. converge vers l’idée que sporadique = épistémique OU aléthique - However Vetters 2007 shows that sporadic pouvoir is hardly alethic because of the conceptual link of sporadicity with capacity and agentivity. ---( asks wonders if sporadic pouvoir is really alethic or not as Kronning 1996 writes. His answer is that it is difficult to say that it is alethic because of the conceptual links the temporal sporadic use has with the root use of capacity: as in, for example, … the process are agentives, i.e. have an agent [+control] ---)
  • 1 er argument contre sporadic = epistemic We believe that the sporadic use of can or pouvoir is not epistemic as claimed by Palmer 1986 or Antinucci &amp; Parisi 1971. With sporadicity, no epistemic complementary conversion. Logical entailment with epistemic modality = it is possible that p  it is possible that not-p; with sporadicity, other logical entailment: some x are y  some x are not y / x is sometimes y  x is sometimes not-y. (if epistemic then A Welshmen can be tall: P: It is possible that Welshmen are tall  Q: it is possible that Welshmen are not tall or A n’implique pas Q.) P’ some W are tall  Q’ some W are not tall ---(As noticed by Kleiber (1983) sporadic pouvoir doesn’t fulfill the complementary conversion It is possible that p  it is possible that not-p contrarily to the all other usages of the modal. But it does verify the complementary conversion in the sense that X are sometimes Y  X are sometimes not-Y or Some X are Y  some X are not-Y. ---) 2 e argument The best argument to prove that the sporadic use is not epistemic is that the content is externally scrutable contrarily to the epistemic use. The reason for this is that the sporadic usage give rise to factual interpretations. Lakoff (1972) noted that Football players can be sex maniacs is false if it is proven that no football player has ever been a sex maniac, while Football players may be sex maniacs remains true in that case. The possibility of sentences like It is a fact that lions can be dangerous / C’est un fait que les lions peuvent être dangereux or It is a fact that she can be very unkind / C’est un fait qu’elle peut être très inamicale shows that sporadic can or pouvoir readings are not epistemic, since facts are true objects that don’t comply with epistemic possibility (i.e. they are not possible objects). In English the sporadic aspect is very often triggered by can, and very rarely by may . In French there is only one form pouvoir corresponding to both can and may . Thus sporadic aspect is triggered by a form which has significantly more root than epistemic usages, contrarily to may . We take this as an evidence for the link between sporadic and root usages of can . But when considering similarities and differences between sporadic and root uses, things remain unclear, as we will try to show now.
  • 1. similarities Agentivity  root modality normally needs agentive eventualities (cf. Vetters réf + autres refs) Sometimes it is, sometimes not, just as epistemic usages Cf. for ex. Pierre peut être charmant. (Vetters 2007, cf. se comporter… ) Pierre can be charming. ...behave in a charming manner. C f. I l peut faire très froid la nuit dans les plaines, même au printemps . (Lodge, Un tout petit monde , p. 332) it can be very cold at night on the plains even if it is spring Vetters (ref.?), and others before him (ref.?), showed that when the process is not agentive, the interpretation of pouvoir cannot be root. Cf. root = agent-oriented modality (Bybee, Perkins &amp; Pagliuca 1994; van der Auwera &amp; Plungian 1998) The problem is that the predicate is not always agentive (cf. I l peut faire très froid la nuit dans les plaines, même au printemps . (Lodge, Un tout petit monde , p. 332) it can be very cold at night on the plains even if it is spring ); and it is never agentive when the sporadicity is referential: Les Alsatiens peuvent être obèses. Welshmen can be tall. Vetters 2007 wrote about the temporal sporadic use of the French modal verb pouvoir , that it has a conceptual link with the ability use of pouvoir. As a proof, he wrote that an anaphoric repeat is possible with “cette capacité” (this ability): “ Pierre peut être charmant. Cette capacité fait de lui un collègue très apprécié. ( Pierre can be charming. This ??capacity, ?ability, quality makes him a very appreciated colleague ) ??? Palmer, F. R. (1965/87) noted that can may be used to indicate characteristic behaviour of people, often in a derogatory sense, in sentences like: He can tell awful lies. Or She can be very unkind at times. According to him, in these usages, that we have called sporadic , the modal verb is clearly dynamic in that it is subject-oriented, as ability use, but may have something in common with the existential use. “But [, he said,] one important difference between this and the ability use is that here can cannot be replaced by be able to .”  sporadic can doesn’t allow for a ability (root) reading. Sporadic readings can not be equivocated with epistemic nor with root (/capacity) readings but seems to share properties with both. Our suggestion will be that sporadic aspect with can stems rather from the need for pragmatic enrichment of basic and root possibilities, in the search for better informativity.
  • Tautological sentence = sentence which does not convey any information (a man is a man) enrichments from basic / abstract possibility: Welshmen can be tall --- from ability: Lions can be dangerous, Luc peut être odieux --- from material possibility Les Alsaciens peuvent être obèses I can be coincé par la neige l’hiver Kleiber 1983 notes that cases like Luc peut être odieux. Luke can be odious or She can be unkind. would express a tautology if the reading were of root possibility and not sporadicity: everyone has the possibility of being unkind or odious. Therefore, he concludes, temporal sporadicity does not express root / basic possibility. We suggest rather that sporadicity is obtained through pragmatic enrichment starting from the under-informative nature of - core meaning of possibility - the root reading of capacity - or ‘material possibility’. According to the relevance theory, the hearer searches for relevance of a priori unrelevant sentences: the principle of relevance presumption is that if the speaker says X, X must be relevant
  • We propose that the search for relevance triggers entailments of the type: it is (materially/virtually) possible that [specific] X is Y  it is to be expected that [specific] X is sometimes Y ( pourquoi? connaissances encyclopédiques sur la propriété et la nature du x) And for referential sporadicity: it is (materially/virtually) possible for all X [generic X] that X is Y  it is true that some X are Y pourquoi? So, the ‘possibility’ can convert into factual truth in a quantified domain . The modals « cut off » generic referents or the qualifying time of the process.
  • We said that referential sporadic interpretation of can or pouvoir needs generic referents subjects. But it is interesting to remark that the referential sporadic reading is blocked with unknown generic referents, or referents about which nothing or not enough is known as regards the property attributed. The reading of can in extraterrestrials/ligers can be dangerous will be of epistemic one: It may be that… The reading cannot be of capacity/ability for example because the hearer doesn’t know anything of the referents, and so, he is unable to say something about their possible abilities We name « unknown » referents, referents for which no appropriate encyclopaedic knowledges are available to the hearer. In such a case, it stems from pragmatic reasoning that if I don’t know anything about the category X, and if Xs can be Y, then, that Xs may be Y is not tautological and therefore is an accessible reading satisfying expectations of relevance.
  • Sporadic Aspect as a pragmatic enrichment of root modality

    1. 1. Sporadic aspect as a pragmatic enrichment of root modality Cécile Barbet University of Neuchâtel & University of Littoral – Côte d’Opale Louis de Saussure University of Neuchâtel Chronos 8 University of Texas at Austin, Oct. 3-5, 2008
    2. 2. Can as a sporadic marker <ul><li>Palmer (1965) and Boyd & Thorne (1969) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cf. (1) – (5) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ existential uses” (Palmer) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Sporadic aspect </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Antinucci & Parisi (1971) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>not sporadic but epistemic, cf. (6) & (7) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Palmer (1986) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cf. (1) & (8) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>“ It may be that… ” </li></ul></ul>
    3. 3. Pouvoir as a sporadic marker <ul><li>Kleiber (1983) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>pouvoir as an existential quantifier </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Temporal sporadicity, « X is sometimes Y », cf. (9) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>With generic subjects: referential sporadicity, «  Some X are Y », cf. (10) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Kronning (1996) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Sporadic use of pouvoir is alethic </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>externally scrutable (cf. Papafragou 2006), cf. (11) & (12) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Vetters (2007) </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Temporal sporadic use has conceptual link with root meaning of capacity < agentivity </li></ul></ul>
    4. 4. Sporadic meaning may not be a variant of epistemic meaning… <ul><li>Complementary conversion </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(14) It is possible that p  it is possible that not-p </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(15) Some X are Y  some X are not-Y </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(16) X are sometimes Y  X are sometimes not-Y </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Externally scrutable (cf. Papafragou 2006)  Factual </li></ul><ul><ul><li>R. Lakoff (1972) </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(17) Football players can be sex maniacs. </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>(18) Football players may be sex maniacs. </li></ul></ul></ul>
    5. 5. … nor of root meanings <ul><li>Similarities </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Cf. Vetters (2007): Sometimes agentive eventualities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cf. (19) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Palmer (1965): subjet-oriented </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Differences </li></ul><ul><ul><li>But sometimes not agentive eventualities </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cf. (22) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Palmer (1965): sporadic can cannot be replaced by « be able to » </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>cf. (20) & (21) </li></ul></ul></ul>
    6. 6. Relevance Theory ( Sperber & Wilson 1986 / 1995) <ul><li>Speaker intentional meaning  inferential procedure </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Looks for an information that compensates the effort of understanding (relevance) </li></ul></ul><ul><li>The hearer looks for relevance, which entails that he/she looks for informativeness. </li></ul>
    7. 7. Sporadic interpretation as a pragmatic enrichment <ul><li>Find informativeness from tautological or underinformative sentences </li></ul><ul><ul><li>(4) Welshmen can be tall </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Inherent property of humans: can (be (tall)) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Welshmen are worth mentioning as having this property </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Then some Welshmen must indeed verify the property (as opposed to other possible classes) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>(9) Luke can be odious </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Then sometimes Luke must indeed verify the property (Luke has proven to be odious at times) </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Sporadicity is an enrichment starting from the underinformative basic / root possibility reading </li></ul><ul><ul><li>without cancelling these basic readings </li></ul></ul>
    8. 8. Search for relevance and sporadicity <ul><li>(23) it is (materially/virtually) possible that [specific] X is Y  it is to be expected that [specific] X is sometimes Y </li></ul><ul><li>(24) it is (materially/virtually) possible for all X [generic X] that X is Y  it is true that some X are Y </li></ul><ul><li>so ‘possibility’ converts into factual truth in a quantified domain </li></ul>
    9. 9. As evidence… <ul><li>Referential sporadic interpretation needs a generic subject </li></ul><ul><li>But also known referents, i.e. for which appropriate encyclopaedic knowledge is available to the hearer </li></ul><ul><li>(25) Extraterrestrials/ligers can E be dangerous </li></ul><ul><ul><li>With unknown referents the modal can be interpreted as epistemic </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Pragmatic reasoning: epistemic possibility y of unknown x is a relevant information </li></ul></ul>
    10. 10. Conclusion: why sporadic uses of can or pouvoir ? <ul><li>Sporadic aspect communicates more than just quantification </li></ul><ul><ul><li>It invites an inference about the cause of the quantification </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Other information about this causal link which depends on context: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>That the considered individuals have particular reasons to be x </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Alsatians have access to rich food </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Welshmen have some natural properies of their own </li></ul></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>The grounds for which the speaker is entitled to say so </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>He has experienced the situation (of Luke being odious…) or has some encyclopedic relevant knowledge </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><li>Sporadic aspect can cancel the anticipatory assumption that the considered situation is impossible to meet </li></ul><ul><ul><li>And therefore raises expectations that the situation can be met </li></ul></ul>

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