Modality in Slavonic languages

Modality in Slavonic languages. Ed. by Björn Hansen and Petr Karlík. Munich: Otto Sagner, 2005. Pp. xxiv, 388. ISBN 3876909163. €23 (Hb).

Reviewed by George Cummins, Tulane University

This volume contains the proceedings of the Regensburg-Brno conference on modality held at the University of Regensburg, November 2004, and co-hosted by Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic. It presents twenty-four papers by Slavists from twelve nations. The papers are divided into four parts: ‘New perspectives on modality in semantics’, ‘New perspectives on modality in language contact, ‘New perspectives on modality in language change’, and ‘New perspectives on pragmatic and cultural aspects of modality’. The variety of topics and theoretical approaches is stimulatingly rich. I list only a few without giving their full titles: modality and semantic maps (Ferdinand de Haan), force dynamics and Russian impersonal modals with dative subjects (Egbert Fortuin), formal modal logic and reference (Mojmír Dočekal), the typology of irrealis and modal structures (Vladimir Plungian), the grammaticalization of modals as seen in a Slavic parallel corpus (Johan van der Auwera, Ewa Schalley, and Jan Nuyts), epistemic modality and evidentiality (Viktor Xrakovskij), the new Regensburg diachronic corpus of Russian (Roland Meyer), modality in OCS and other historical varieties of Church Slavonic (Radoslav Večerka, Eva Pallasová, and Alla Kozhinova), modality in speech act theory and pragmatics (Björn Wiemer, Hanna Pulaczewska, and Milada Hirschová).

The papers presented by the editors are especially interesting and stand out for their elegance and persuasiveness. Pavel Caha and Petr Karlík’s ‘Where does modality come from?’ analyzes Czech modal adjectives such as viditelný ‘visible’ using minimalism, distributed morphology, and Karlík’s work on Czech microsyntax. The verbal roots in question must be able to assign an external theta-role and must be able to license their internal arguments by structural case. Czech morphology distinguishes the nomen agentis formant -tel- and the adjective formant -n-. Psych-verbs and intransitives can’t form these modals, but unergatives, a subclass of intransitives, can form agentive nouns in -tel-, such as cestovatel ‘traveler’. The first morpheme in words like viditelný assigns the external theta-role, while the second is introduced into the syntax by an index and binds the internal theta-role inside it. Evidence from Czech shows that this is a natural solution, one with implications for the theory of the lexical origin of word-formation processes. Björn Hansen’s ‘How to measure areal convergence: A case study of contact-induced grammaticalization in the German-Hungarian-Slavonic contact area’ measures the areal clines of polyfunctional modal predicates using bundles of weighted features (isopleths). Slavic languages culturally and historically closest to German show its influence clearly, with the single exception of Slovene. The more remote Bulgarian and Russian show no influence, nor does the typologically distant Hungarian.

This volume is a thought-provoking contribution to modality theory and will be of interest to Slavists, general linguists, and students of semantics, pragmatics, formal linguistics, and modal logic.