Time and modality

Time and modality. Ed. by Jacqueline Guéron and Jacqueline Lecarme. (Studies in natural language and linguistic theory 75.) New York: Springer, 2008. Pp. xvi, 296. ISBN 97814020-83532. $219 (Hb).

Reviewed by Ana Bravo, Granada University

Time and modality consists of eleven articles as well as an introduction and author and subject indices. This work, a follow-up to Jacqueline Guéron and Jacqueline Lecarme’s co-edited volume The syntax of time (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2004), gathers together the contributions presented at the International Round Table on Tense, Mood, and Modality in Paris, France in 2005. Specifically, the book covers topics on the grammatical relations between tense and modality.

Researchers can find an analysis of the differences between epistemic and root readings of  modal verbs along the lines of the minimalist program in Karen Zagona’s ‘Phasing in modals: Phases and the epistemic/root distinction’ (273–91). ‘On the temporal syntax of non-root modals’ (79–113), by Hamida Demirdache and Myriam Uribe-Etxebarria, offers a syntactic implementation of the different meanings (epistemic vs. metaphysical) that non-root English and Spanish modal verbs render when inflected with past morphology. Overall, the role of temporal information in modal verbs is addressed in Jacqueline Guéron’s ‘On the temporal function of modal verbs’ (143–71). She argues that the semantic contribution of a modal verb is not to introduce sets of possible worlds but rather (much as causative verbs do) to bridge the gap between the (hypothetical) spatial configuration denoted by the vP and the ongoing deictic world. This is accomplished through the temporal and aspectual content of the modal verb. In Bridget Copley’s ‘Temporal orientation in conditionals (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love UFO’s)’ (59–77), temporal information in conditional sentences is not causal but derives from the sort of modal flavor that each of these constituents expresses. For example, present orientation depends on epistemic modality, while future orientation depends on metaphysical modality.

The nature of the relation between modality, the speaker, and the subject of the sentence is examined with great detail in Gueron’s and Zagona’s contributions, where it receives a syntactic characterization. Apart from that, it follows that modal verbs do not differ in syntactic category, although epistemic and deontic readings may stem from other sources.

Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou, in ‘How to say ought in foreign: The composition of weak necessity modals’ (115–41), deal with the surprising fact that the meaning of the English weak necessity modal ought (as in You {ought /#have/#must} to do the dishes, but you don´t have to) is expressed crosslinguistically by a strong necessity modal augmented with counterfactual morphology, as evidenced in a number of languages (data provided by native speakers): Greek, French, Spanish, Russian, Croatian, Dutch, Icelandic, and Hungarian. Jacqueline Lecarme’s ‘Tense and modality in nominals’ (195–225) shows that past morphology in the nominal domain in Somali conveys temporal meanings as well as modal and evidential notions. A unified account of this property is achieved by considering that, in general, it is exclusion or dissociation that past morphology expresses.

Tim Stowell describes in ‘The English Konjunktiv II’ (251–71) what he calls the English Konjunktiv II construction (K2) (e.g. had’ve gone or had of gone). The K2 is a past perfect subjunctive that carries a strong counterfactual meaning and is restricted to informal register. Topics regarding the category of evidentiality are examined in ‘Intensional subjects and indirect contextual anchoring’ (39–57) by Ileana Comorovski. In this article, the author studies the contribution of modality (point of view predicates and conditional mood) to the syntax and semantics of specificational copular clauses in Romanian.

Intensionality, understood in the context of genericity, is treated in Greg Carlson’s ‘Patterns in the semantics of generic sentences’ (17–37) and it is explained, along with other properties of generic sentences, through the notion of pattern.

An analysis of the contribution of aspect to temporal interpretation is presented in ‘Time with and without tense’ (227–49) by Carlota S. Smith, which is devoted to the study of the tenseless languages Mandarin Chinese and Navajo. Finally, in ‘The English perfect and the metaphysics of events’ (173–93), James Higginbotham offers a new approach  to the general thesis that the English perfect  is purely an aspectual predicate. The author also considers metaphysical questions concerning the nature of events and situations, including the issue of event positions, which are said to be extended to manner adverbs and quantifiers.