Commitment and states of mind with mood and modality

Natural Language Semantics 26 (2):125-166 (2018)
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This paper develops an account of mood selection with attitude predicates in French. I start by examining the “contextual commitment” account of mood developed by Portner and Rubinstein Proceedings of SALT 22, CLC Publications, Ithaca, NY, pp 461–487, 2012). A key innovation of Portner and Rubinstein’s account is to treat mood selection as fundamentally depending on a relation between individuals’ attitudes and the predicate’s modal backgrounds. I raise challenges for P&R’s qualitative analysis of contextual commitment and explanations of mood selection. There are indicative-selecting predicates that are felicitous in contexts where there isn’t contextual commitment ; and there are subjunctive-selecting predicates that involve no less contextual commitment than certain indicative-selecting verbs. I develop an alternative account of verbal mood. The general approach, which I call a state-of-mind approach, is to analyze mood in terms of whether the formal relation between the predicate’s modal backgrounds and an overall state of mind represents a relation of commitment. Indicative mood in French presupposes that the informational-evaluative state determined by the predicate’s modal backgrounds is included in the informational-evaluative state characterizing the event described by the predicate. The account provides an improved explanation of core mood-selection puzzles, including subjunctive-selection with emotive factives, indicative-selection with fiction verbs, indicative-selection with espérer ‘hope’ versus subjunctive-selection with vouloir ‘want’, and indicative-selection with commissives versus subjunctive-selection with directives. Subjunctive-selection with modal adjectives is briefly considered. The mood-selection properties of the predicates are derived from the proposed analysis of mood, independently attested features of the predicates’ semantics, and general principles of interpretation.

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Alex Silk
University of Birmingham


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