The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 2/10 - Despina Oikonomou

Speaker: Despina Oikonomou
Time: Wednesday, February 10, 1-2pm
Place: 32-D831
Title: Imperatives are existential modals; Deriving the must-reading as an Implicature

The diverse interpretation of Imperatives has been a long-lasting puzzle in the literature (Wilson & Sperber 1988, Han 2000, Schwager 2006 / Kaufmann 2012, Portner 2007, Condoravdi & Lauer 2012, von Fintel & Iatridou 2015). For example, the sentence in (1) is interpreted as permission in a context where the Addressee wants to open the window and as command/request in an out-of-the-blue context where a Professor asks a student to open the window:

(1) Open the window.

In this talk I argue that Imperatives involve an existential modal, drawing evidence from scopal ambiguities in the presence of other quantificational elements such as only and few (cf. Haida & Repp 2011). I show that the need for a covert existential operator in Imperatives is evident in languages like Greek where overt movement resolves scopal ambiguities. The universal reading is explained on the basis of two factors; i) lack of a stronger scalar counterpart as opposed to overt modals (cf. Deal 2011) ii) strengthening via an implicature derived in the presence of certain Focus Alternatives (cf. Schwager 2005). If time permits, I will discuss some other covert modals (unembedded subjunctives in Greek and dispositional middles) which also seem to be ambiguous between an existential and a universal reading and suggest that the present analysis can be extended in these environments as well.