On root modality and thematic relations in Tagalog and English

Maayan Abenina-Adar, Nikos Angelopoulos


The literature on modality discusses how context and grammar interact to produce different flavors of necessity primarily in connection with functional modals e.g. English auxiliaries. Hence the grammatical properties of lexical modals (i.e. thematic verbs) are less understood. In this paper, we use the Tagalog necessity modal kailangan and English need as a case study in the syntax-semantics of lexical modals. Kailangan and need enter two structures, which we call ‘thematic’ and ‘impersonal’. We show that when they establish a thematic dependency with a subject, they express necessity in light of this subject’s priorities, and in the absence of an overt thematic subject, they express necessity in light of priorities endorsed by the speaker. To account for this syntax-flavor mapping, we propose a single lexical entry for kailangan / need that uniformly selects for a ‘needer’ argument. In thematic constructions, the needer is the overt subject, and in impersonal constructions, it is an implicit speaker-bound pronoun. 

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3765/salt.v26i0.3810

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