Breaking down temporality to its building blocks: Tense, Aspect and Modality
The main research question
In recent studies related to semantic universals and semantic variation, Zimmerman (2006) and von Fintel and Matthewson (2008) entertain a hypothesis that all languages should have the same expressive power. Independently, Hacquard (2006:11) claims that “temporal displacement is expressed through three linguistic categories Tense, Aspect and Modality, which affect one another in non-trivial ways.” Generally speaking, Tense places an event on the time continuum, Aspect characterises the internal temporal organisation of an event, Modality allows us to talk about hypothetical, future, counterfactual, possible or necessary events. Building on these two hypotheses, this project will investigate how three linguistic categories Tense, Aspect and Modality interact compositionally in the expression of the same range of temporal meanings within the family of Slavic languages. By doing this, we will be able to achieve a more complete understanding of what temporality is.
The initial hypothesis is that in spite of a considerable surface variation found in the expression of Tense, Aspect and Modality across languages, these three building units conspire together to compose syntactically and semantically the same range of temporal meanings, available in natural languages in a more abstract sense. More specifically, the project will address the following issues:
Topic 1: Interaction between Modality and Aspect in the expression of actuality entailment
More specific research questions
Q1: Macrovariation → What is the semantics of modals and aspect such that actuality entailments or counterfactual reading arise in certain contexts but not others (e.g., the contrast between French and Polish)?
Q2: Microvariation → How do modal verbs, Tense and Aspect interact compositionally in different Slavic languages? Can we identify microparameters (more subtle differences between individual Slavic languages)?
More specific research question
Q3: Is it correct that Tense, Aspect and Modality can interact compositionally with each other to give the same range of meanings cross-linguistically?
More specifically, are the meanings expressed in such a way really the same across different languages? Or should we rather expect to find semantic variation (e.g., in the sense that apparently equivalent modal operators across languages might turn out to have different (even very subtle) semantic and pragmatic properties).
In order to have a more complete picture of how Tense, Aspect and Modality interact, we will create a typological database of future constructions and of constructions with different modal verbs interacting with different aspect and tense forms in South, East and West Slavic languages. We will also rely on the existing corpora of Slavic languages.
To test possible interpretations, we will construct (when motivated) scenario-based online questionnaires. Our ultimate goal will be to find regularities (possibly micro-parameters) underlying the observed aspects of variation in the expression of temporal displacement by means of Tense, Aspect and Modality in Slavic.
Innovative character of SP-1
In formal semantics much attention has been paid so far to expressions of modality on the one hand and tense/aspect systems on the other hand. These two research themes have been usually addressed independently of each other. As Kaufmann (2005:231) put it “recent work on the ways in which modality and temporality interact and constrain each other has brought back into focus the importance of keeping each in view when analyzing the other” (see also Condoravdi 2002; Fernando 2003, Ippolito 2003, Kaufmann 2005, Hacquard 2006, among others). All the existing studies related to the interaction of tense/aspect systems and modality have focused mainly on facts from English, French or Italian. Very little is known about how these three systems interact in Slavic languages.
Although the main focus of this project will be on Slavic languages (as opposed to Germanic and Romance languages), the comparison base will not be restricted to them. Languages from non-Indo-European families will be included in an analysis of interactions of Tense, Aspect and Modality in order to find universal patterns or interesting patterns of cross-linguistic variation. Looking at languages not behaving in the “expected” standard European ways (which is often the case for “more exotic” or contact languages (such as pidgin and creole languages)) makes us see investigated phenomena in a different perspective, which in turn allows us to arrive at interesting, innovative, sometimes even surprising conclusions.