Modals, Contextual Parameters, and the Modal Uniformity Hypothesis

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There is a common assumption in the semantics of modal auxiliaries in natural language; in utterances of MOD φ , where MOD is a modal and φ is the prejacent, context determines the particular flavor of modality expressed by the modal. Such is the standard contextualist semantics of Kratzer and related proposals. This winds up being a problem, because there is a significant class of modals which have constraints on the admissible modal flavor that are not traceable to context. For example, in MUST φ , subsentential properties of φ, like the aspectual class of the predicate in the prejacent, can affect the flavor of MUST. By encoding the above assumption into the semantics, such contextualist accounts fail to be able to explain, much less to predict, this pattern. Worse yet, attempts to exploit the resources of the theory in service of an explanation run afoul of important commitments of the view, like the hypothesis that modals have a uniform semantics. Given these circumstances, these data might seem like a justification for dispensing with the uniformity hypothesis. The present paper lays out the above problem in detail. Against the pessimistic view, I argue that the the contextualist account can in fact explain and predict these patterns while preserving the uniformity hypothesis. This requires adopting an amendment to the semantics of modals based on the work of Valentine Hacquard. Aside from maintaining the contextualist paradigm and preserving uniformity, the proposal also clarifies the role of context in the interpretation of modals. As it will turn out, the role of context ought to be circumscribed in its flavor-determining role for modals.
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General Semantics.Lewis, David K.

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