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Modality in Language


24-25 juin 2019

Responsable de l'activité

Genoveva Puskas


M. David Blunier, UNIGE

Mme Hasmik Jivanyan, UNIGE


Mme Anastasia Giannakidou, University of Chicago

M. Jason Merchant, University of Chicago


The aim of the workshop is to gather PhD students, post-docs and other interested scholars around the concept of modality in language. Modality is a pervasive category across human languages, allowing us to talk about possible, necessary, imaginary, desirable, and unrealized states or events: as such, it constitutes one of the most prominent topics in current linguistic theorizing. The analysis of modality has its roots in formal logic (Lewis & Langford 1932, Barcan Marcus 1993, Kripke 1959, 1963 i.a.), later adapted into a full semantic framework for natural languages by Kratzer (1977, 1978, 1981, 1986, 1989). This framework is now used by most linguists in order to handle the various (and sometimes, quirky) ways languages represent alethic, but also epistemic, deontic, and bouletic modality. Research questions emerging from this line of research are numerous, including how to model in an appropriate way the semantic value of modality and its pertaining categories, the mapping of these categories to different structural positions within the clause, but also concern the relations modality entertains with other categories such as tense, mood, and aspect, which are systemically correlated in natural languages. The purpose of this workshop is to catch a glimpse of this vast field of inquiry, by providing a dual set of lectures with different purposes: the first two talks shall consist in an introduction to the syntactic and semantic treatment of modality, while the remaining two will consist in more advanced treatments of topics in the syntax and semantics of modality.


Modality workshop, University of Geneva, 2019
Modals and propositional attitudes
Anastasia Giannakidou and Jason Merchant, University of Chicago

Course description
The aim of this course is two-fold. First, we want to introduce the basic notions and tools for analyzing modal expressions in language-such as possible worlds, modal bases, ordering sources (Kratzer 1977, 1981, Portner 2009), and the Nonveridicality Axiom (Giannakidou 1998, 2013, Giannakidou and Mari 2016, 2018). Second, we want to study a number of empirical phenomena that will illustrate how these tools work for the analysis of epistemic modality, doxastic, and bouletic attitudes, and in ellipsis. We will use mood choice (indicative-subjunctive) and ellipsis as windows to the meanings of the modals and propositional attitudes, and we will show that these two categories have more in common than previously thought. We also discuss the interaction of modality with tense. We will illustrate primarily with English, Greek, Italian, and French, and we will consider both syntax and semantics.

Lecture 1: Framework, types of modality, Nonveridicality Axiom
In the first lecture, we introduce the Kratzer-Portner-Giannakidou&Mari framework of modality. We present the flavors of modality (epistemic, deontic, teleological, priority, etc), and show that shifts in modal base correlate with tense. We define modal verbs and particles as weaker than unmodalized sentences in the past and present-because modals, in all flavors and forces, obey the Nonveridicality Axiom which requires that the modal base be partitioned into p and not p worlds. We also discuss veridicality, informativity, and questions.

  • Giannakidou, Anastasia and Alda Mari. 2018. A unified analysis of the future as epistemic modality: The view from Greek and Italian. Natural Language and Linguistic Theory 36: 85-129.
  • Giannakidou, A. 2013. Inquisitive assertions and nonveridicality. In Maria Aloni, Michael Franke, F. Roelofsen (eds.), The dynamic, inquisitive, and visionary life of φ: A festschrift for Jeroen Groenendijk, Martin Stokhof and Frank Veltman, University of Amsterdam, 115-126.
  • Giannakidou, Anastasia and Alda Mari. To appear. Veridicality in Grammar and Thought: Modality, propositional attitudes, and negation. University of Chicago Press. Chapter 2.

Lecture 2: Doxastic and epistemic attitudesHere we build on the Hintikka semantics of belief and discuss the difference between belief and knowledge. We propose a new treatment of doxastic attitudes that relies on layers in the lexical entry of belief verbs, and distinguish between solipsistic belief which is subjectively veridical and selects the indicative, and conjectural belief which is nonveridical and selects the subjunctive.

  • Giannakidou, Anastasia and Alda Mari. To appear. Veridicality in Grammar and Thought: Modality, propositional attitudes, and negation, ch. 4. University of Chicago Press.

Lecture 3: Volitional attitudes and complementizer (that/to) alternations. First we give a basic syntax and semantics for attitudes of volition which renders them nonveridical and correlates with future oriented tense. We offer an analysis of this tense NONPAST. We then discuss complementizer and mood shifts with verbs of promising and persuading, and distinguish the various syntactic realizations of to.

  • Giannakidou, Anastasia and Alda Mari. To appear. Veridicality in Grammar and Thought: Modality, propositional attitudes, and negation, ch. 5. University of Chicago Press.
  • Wurmbrand, Susi. 2014. Tense and aspect in English infinitives. Linguistic Inquiry 45.3:403-447

Lecture 4: The syntax of modals, modal complement ellipsis, and head movement
We present an overview of the syntax of modal verbs in English and the auxiliary system, exploring the interactions of head movement, selection, and inflection. We review the unique properties of modals in languages such as Dutch, Italian, Greek, and Italian, where modals but not aspectual or other auxiliares license ellipsis of their complements. We then discuss a novel discovery concerning the interaction of head movement, extraction, and ellipsis in English and Hungarian, and its implication for the parallelism and identity constraints on ellipsis.

  • Lipták, Anikó and Jason Merchant. 2019. Extraction from copulars is bled by ellipsis: On the interaction of head movement, phrasal movement, and ellipsis. Ms, Leiden University and the University of Chicago.
  • Merchant, Jason. 2018. Verb-stranding predicate ellipsis in Greek, implicit arguments, and ellipsis-internal focus. In Jason Merchant, Line Mikkelsen, Deniz Rudin, and Kelsey Sasaki (eds.), A reasonable way to proceed: Essays in honor of Jim McCloskey, 229-269. University of California eScholarship.





Programme détaillé CUSO Workshop: Modality in language

Geneva, June 24-25, 2019


University of Geneva, Bâtiment Candolle (2, Rue-de-Candolle), room L107 (first floor)


Monday, June 24

9h30-10h Coffee and Registration

10h-12h Lecture 1: Framework, types of modality, Nonveridicality Axiom



On possible worlds, assertion, and common ground: R. Stalnaker, "Assertion" 

On modality and mood: A. Kratzer, "The notional category of modality"; P. Portner, Modality

On veridicality and the non-veridicality axiom: A. Gianakidou, Polar sensitivity as (non-)veridical dependency




12h-14h Lunch at Emilios

14h-16h Lecture 2: Doxastic and epistemic attitudes

16h-16h30 Coffee break

16h30-18h Student session

Dinner at Pasta d'Oro

Tuesday, June 25

10h-12h Lecture 3: The syntax of modals, modal complement ellipsis, and head movement

12h-14h Lunch at Le Radar de pOche

14h-16h Lecture 4: Volitional attitudes and complementizer (that/to) alternations

16h-16h30 Concluding remarks



Délai d'inscription 17.06.2019
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