The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LingLunch 2/20 - Luiz Fernando Ferreira (MIT/Universidade de São Paulo)

Speaker: Luiz Fernando Ferreira (MIT/Universidade de São Paulo)
Title: What challenges do our theories on the x-marking of counterfactuals face?
Time: Thursday, February 20th, 12:30pm – 2pm
Location: 32-D461

Abstract: Counterfactual sentences are usually marked with what looks like a special tense/aspect/mood morphology. For instance, English CFs always bear past morphology and auxiliary woll as illustrated in (01).

(01) a. If Angelica is at MIT, Kai is happy. (non-CF)
b. If Angelika were at MIT, Kai would be happy. (CF)

Von Fintel & Iatridou (2019) calls the exceptional morphology used in CF environments X-marking. There are many proposals that try to explain what is the semantic contribution of X-marking (see Iatridou, 2000, Ippolito, 2002; 2003; 2013; Arregui, 2005; von Fintel & Iatridou, 2019; von Prince, 2019). I will present some crosslinguistic data and analyse how well those proposals fare.

The first challenge we will address is how the temporal orientation of a CF sentence is determined. I look at data from Karitiana (Tupi) and Daakaka (Oceanic) which do not distinguish between present/past/future readings. Based on ideas from Iatridou (2009), I argue for a mirror principle on tense according to which CFs mirrors the temporal orientation of non-CFs sentences.

(02) Karitiana
dinheiro tyyt y-aki-p, dibm/kabmat/koot yjxa-jyt-ahy-t yjxa cerveja-ty
money have 1.sg-cop-? tomorrow/now/yesterday 1.pl.inc-cf-drink-nfut 1.pl.incl beer-obl
`If I had money, we would have a beer tomorrow’
`If I had money, we would have a beer today.’
`If I had had money, we would have had a beer yesterday.’

(03) Daakaka
Nye na bwe dimyane ka ebya-ok we pwer kyun, na=t ka pini or
1sg 1sg cont want asr wing-3sg-poss pot stay just 1sg=dist fly fill place
‘I wish I had wings, I would fly arounf everywhere.’

The second challenge I will address is the semantic contribution of the tense and the modal in CFs. Proposals which assume tense is the responsible for conveying CF (Iatridou, 2000, 2009; von Prince, 2019) do not explain the role of the modal element. Proposals in which assume tense is real and that it shifts one’s perspective to the past (Ippolito, 2002, 2003, 2013, von Prince, 2019), fail to account for non-historical counterfactuals (i.e. counterfactuals in which the antecedent is always true no matter how far in the past you go). I assume that CFs always have a modal element that quantifies over possible worlds and tense is real. However, it is not a perpective shifter, but it restricts the quantification to possible worlds with a past similar to the actual world (Arregui, 2005).

In my account, past is a necessary element to convey CF. CF markers are either a modal restricted to the past or the spell-out of the modal element plus tense.