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On Covert Modality in German Root Infinitives
Hans-Martin Gärtner
199-206 (complete paper or proceedings contents)


It will be shown how to formalize the inference approach to the covert modality of German adult bare root infinitives (BRIs) by Reis (1995; 2003) on the basis of the theory of "transparent logical form" (TLF) by von Stechow (1993; 2004). Modal interpretation is the result of existential closure affecting an otherwise untranslatable world variable. It will then be demonstrated that this mechanism fails in the analysis of root wh-infinitives (WRIs). The discussion will then turn to the illocutionary account of BRIs by Truckenbrodt (2006a; 2006b), which induces covert modality by means of a volitional attitude operator. This approach will be shown to equally fail on WRIs, due to an intervening epistemic operator. Next it will be argued that, when it comes to predicting the performativity and non-embeddability of BRIs, the indirect approaches to covert modality by Reis and Truckenbrodt have advantages over direct ones based on ellipsis (e.g., Bünting and Eichler 1976) or the construction-specific "hardwiring" of a modal operator (Fries 1983). The ellipsis approach will further be criticized for its complete lack of restrictions on modal interpretations assignable to BRIs and WRIs. Finally, the illocution-based theory is going to be shown to run into difficulties wrt the use of BRIs as permissions and self-directed wishes, where a volitional analysis is inadequate.

Published in

Proceedings of the 31st West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics
edited by Robert E. Santana-LaBarge
Table of contents
Printed edition: $375.00