On the interaction of aspect and modal auxiliaries

Linguistics and Philosophy 32 (3):279-315 (2009)
Abstract
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, Covert modality in non-finite contexts) 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.
Keywords Modality  Aspect  Event  Actuality entailments
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References found in this work BETA
Dorit Abusch (1997). Sequence of Tense and Temporal de Re. Linguistics and Philosophy 20 (1):1-50.

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