Hope for syntactic bootstrapping
Some mental state verbs take a finite clause as their object, while others take an infinitive, and the two groups differ reliably in meaning. Remarkably, children can use this correlation to narrow down the meaning of an unfamiliar verb.
We explore children’s use of syntactic distribution in the acquisition of attitude verbs, such as think, want, and hope. Because attitude verbs refer to concepts that are opaque to observation but have syntactic distributions predictive of semantic properties, we hypothesize that syntax may serve as an important cue to learning their meanings. Using a novel methodology, we replicate previous literature showing an asymmetry between acquisition of think and want, and we additionally demonstrate that interpretation of a less frequent attitude verb, hope, patterns with type of syntactic complement. This supports the view that children treat syntactic frame as informative about an attitude verb’s meaning
How can children acquiring a first language distinguish semantic from pragmatic contributions to what a speaker means?
Epistemics and Attitudes
Epistemic modals are natural in the complements of some attitude verbs but not others. Valentine Hacquard and Pranav Anand describe the pattern.
Embedding epistemic modals in English: A corpus-based study
A corpus study on the distribution of epistemic modals, targeted at the question of whether such modals do or do not contribute to the content of their sentences.
Measuring and comparing individuals and events
"He drank more wine than I did and also danced more than I did." Alexis Wellwood gives a unified analysis for both adnominal and adverbal "more," with Valentine Hacquard and faculty visitor Roumyana Pancheva.
On the Event-Relativity of Modal Auxiliaries
The syntactic position of modal auxiliaries restricts interpretations of their uses. Valentine Hacquard explains why, with a modification of the standard Kratzerian assumptions: modal auxiliaries are evaluated with respect to an event, not a world.
Crosslinguistically, the same modal words can be used to express a wide range of interpretations. This crosslinguistic trend supports a Kratzerian analysis, where each modal has a core lexical entry and where the difference between an epistemic and a root interpretation is contextually determined. A long standing problem for such a unified account is the equally robust crosslinguistic correlation between a modal’s interpretation and its syntactic behavior: epistemics scope high (in particular higher than tense and aspect) and roots low, a fact which has led to proposals that hardwire different syntactic positions for epistemics and roots (cf. Cinque’s hierarchy). This paper argues that the range of interpretations a modal receives is even more restricted: a modal must be keyed to certain time-individual pairs, but not others. I show that this can be captured straightforwardly by minimally modifying the Kratzerian account: modals are relative to an event—rather than a world—of evaluation, which readily provides a time (the event’s running time) and (an) individual(s) (the event’s participants). I propose that this event relativity of modals can in turn explain the correlation between type of interpretation and syntactic position, without having stipulation of an interpretation-specific height for modals.
On the Interaction of Aspect and Modal Auxiliaries
"Sam was able to eat a dozen eggs" may imply that Sam did eat a dozen eggs. Such implications arise, argues Valentine Hacquard, from interactions between the modal predicate and perfective or imperfective aspect.
This paper discusses the interaction of aspect and modality, and focuses on the puzzling implicative effect that arises when perfective aspect appears on certain modals: perfective somehow seems to force the proposition expressed by the complement of the modal to hold in the actual world, and not merely in some possible world. I show that this puzzling behavior, originally discussed in Bhatt (1999) for the ability modal, extends to all modal auxiliaries with a circumstantial modal base (i.e., root modals), while epistemic interpretations of the same modals are immune to the effect. I propose that implicative readings are contingent on the relative position of the modal w.r.t. aspect: when aspect scopes over the modal (as I argue is the case for root modals), it forces an actual event, thereby yielding an implicative reading. When a modal element scopes over aspect, no actual event is forced. This happens (i) with epistemics, which structurally appear above tense and aspect; (ii) with imperfective on a root modal: imperfective brings in an additional layer of modality, itself responsible for removing the necessity for an actual event. This proposal enables us to solve the puzzle while maintaining a standardized semantics for aspects and modals.