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  • Modality and its interaction with the verbal system ed. by Sjef Barbiers, Frits Beukema, and Wim van der Wurff
  • Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach
Modality and its interaction with the verbal system. Ed. by Sjef Barbiers, Frits Beukema, and Wim van der Wurff. (Linguistik aktuell/Linguistics today 47.) Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 2002. Pp. x, 288. ISBN 1588111679. $98 (Hb).

Research on the syntax of modal constructions in the last forty years has uncovered a large number of properties related to aspects such as argument structure, the position of modal verbs, and the relation between syntactic properties and semantic interpretation. Nevertheless, as pointed out by Sjef Barbiers in his introduction to the volume, no proposal on the structure of modals can be considered completely satisfactory, including those that correlate the root-epistemic distinction with the transitive-intransitive alternation or with the distinction between raising and control verbs. Recent proposals in the last decade have taken an alternative route to the syntax of modals by positing that different interpretations correspond to different structural positions and possibly instantiate different functional heads (as in Carme Picallo’s or Guglielmo Cinque’s proposals). Contributions from diachronic syntax, language acquisition, [End Page 828] or comparative syntax have made a sweeping generalization even more difficult to obtain. This compilation can be properly seen as the result of an awareness of the challenging but stimulating landscape of the grammar of modality. The papers contained in the volume, mostly a selection of those presented at the Workshop on Modality in Generative Grammar (University of St. Andrews, 1998), confront several structural, semantic, diachronic, and developmental issues.

Annabel Cormack and Neil Smith present an exhaustive analysis of modality and negation in English from a minimalist point of view. They argue that three different negations are available in English (metalinguistic, sentential, and predicate negation). Modals are systematically lower than metalinguistic negation but higher than predicate negation. Nevertheless, variation with respect to sentential negation is allowed. Sjef Barbiers argues that the interpretive variation of a modal verb depends mostly on the properties of its complement. Dutch data show that modals always require a complement that denotes a bounded scale, whose nature conditions whether the modal is interpreted as deontic or epistemic.

It is a well-known fact that modals in German have a wider distribution than their Modern English counterparts, something that is normally attributed to verb movement. Werner Abraham observes that the trend towards auxiliarization in English is due to the loss of aspectual or Aktionsart properties in early Middle English. Frits Beukema and Wim van der Wurff investigate the nature of modal verbs occurring in an exceptional object-verb order in Middle English as well as their interaction with negation. Gertjan Postma studies the interplay of negative polarity and modality in Middle Dutch, more concretely the ghe- particle construction.

Root infinitives in Dutch are primarily used to express wishes, desires, and needs. Strikingly, Elma Bloom observes that this association between modality and infinitives does not appear from early on. She postulates that reanalysis of the infinitive accounts for the modal meaning. Anna Papafragou explains the fact that epistemic readings appear later in language acquisition than root readings in terms of the child developing ‘theory of mind’ or the ability to attribute to oneself and others mental representations and to reason about them.

Zygmunt Frajzyngier studies the coding of modality in Lele, an East-Chadic language, and how word order, inflection, and auxiliaries participate in it. Milena Milojević Sheppard and Marija Golden show that in Slovene, imperatives expressing deontic modality may occur in finite embedded clauses. Finally, Olga Mišeska Tomić focuses on the syntactic behavior of Macedonian modals and the interaction with mood and negation.

Javier Gutiérrez-Rexach
Ohio State University


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