The Weekly Newsletter of MIT Linguistics

LFRG 11/17 — Dóra Kata Takács (MIT)

Title: Anchor displacement readings of X-marked epistemic modals.

Abstract: X-marking is well-known from the literature as counterfactual morphology or fake past. However, von Fintel and Iatridou (2007, 2020) have shown that this morphological marking is often used beyond counterfactual or subjunctive conditionals. They have shown that X-marking has two different functions: (i) domain widening in the case of X-marked desire predicates and (ii) ordering source addition in the case of X-marked necessity modals. In this talk I go beyond the scope of von Fintel and Iatridou (2007, 2020) by investigating X-marked epistemic modals. I show that similarly to X-marked necessity modals X-marked epistemic modals have two possible readings: (i) a reading that is about possibilities in the actual world (wild guess reading) and (ii) a reading that is about possibilities in a world that is not the actual world (counterfactual reading). Furthermore, I present evidence from Hungarian that X-marked epistemic modals can have a third reading in some contexts. These special contexts are what we find in the so-called judge examples (cf.\ Egan et al. (2005), Stephenson (2007)) like in (1).

(1) Context: Chris and Burt are sitting by the window in a cafe.  When a bus goes by they see their friend Ann, who is angry with Burt, jumping behind a bush. Chris asks Burt why Ann did that. Burt responds:
I might be on that bus.

The Hungarian equivalent of these examples can contain either O-marking or X-marking. I claim that X-marking in these examples signals that the anchor of the modal is someone other than the speaker, while O-marking is neutral with respect to who the judge is. I hypothesize that there is a competition between the O-marked and X-marked forms of epistemic modals that leads to a strong preference for the X-marked forms when it is clear that the modal cannot be interpreted from the speaker’s perspective.

Hopefully by the end of the talk I have shown that by looking at the judge examples in morphologically rich languages we not only find evidence for a third reading of X-marked epistemic modals, but also for a third function of X-marking: anchor displacement.