The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

Thursday Talk 11/5 - Paul Portner

Speaker: Paul Portner (Georgetown University)
Title: Imperative mood
Date: Thursday, November 5th
Time: 5:00-6:30 PM
Place: 32-D461

We usually think about imperatives as one of the major sentence moods, in a paradigm which also includes declaratives and interrogatives. But it is often sometimes described as a verbal mood, in opposition to indicatives and subjunctives. There are clear similarities between imperatives, on the one hand, and subjunctives and infinitives, on the other. For example:

1. Infinitives and imperatives can have controlled subjects when embedded.

2. Infinitives, imperatives and (to a lesser extent) subjunctives lack independent tense.

3. Infinitives, subjunctives, and imperatives are used in similar semantic contexts.

I will begin by presenting a framework in which point 3 can be made precise. This framework, a version of dynamic logic with preferences (Veltman 1986, van der Torre and Tan 1998), allows us to represent the central ideas of one of the major approaches to verbal mood (the Comparison-Based Approach; Giorgi and Pianesi 1997, Villalta 2008, Anand and Hacquard 2013, among others) and one of the major approaches to sentence mood (Dynamic Pragmatics; e.g. Hamblin 1971, Gazdar 1981, Roberts 2012, Portner 2004). This framework allows us to express part of what imperatives have in common with infinitives/subjunctives. Imperatives, infinitives, and subjunctives are used to report or affect which worlds are best-ranked according to a selected ordering relation.

Then we will see that the analysis presented does not seem to cover the relations among imperatives, infinitives, and subjunctives fully. Returning to points 1-2, both of these properties are tied to the semantics of de se attitudes. Specifically, 1 leads to a subject-oriented de se meaning, while 2 leads to temporal de se. It seems that clauses which normally give rise to de se interpretations are selected in contexts of modal comparison. What is the connection between de se meaning and comparison-based modality? Are clauses to which a de se operator has applied especially well-suited for computing comparison-based modal meanings? I leave this as an open puzzle.