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TYPOLING - Bulletin d’information n°233

Chers collègues,

Le projet "La causalité dans le langage et la cognition" de la Fédération "Typologie et universaux linguistiques" (CNRS FR 2559) a le plaisir d’annoncer un exposé :

Modality, Tense and Aspect

Jacqueline Guéron, Paris 3

Lundi 24 juin14:30-16:30, CNRS site Pouchet (59 rue Pouchet, Paris 75017), salle 221

Métro ligne 13 Guy Môquet ou Brochant, RER C Porte de Clichy (sortie La Jonquière), bus 66

Résumé :

Building on work by Bhatt (1999) and Pinon (2003), Hacquard (2009) shows that deontic possibility and necessity modals in French exhibit an “Actuality Entailment”, which requires that the event the verb describes was instantiated, when the modal bears perfective rather than imperfective aspect.

(1) a. Jeanne pouvait (IMP) prendre le train (mais elle ne l’a pas pris).

J. was able (IMP) to take the train (but she didn’t take it)

b. Jeanne a pu/put (PF) prendre le train (# mais elle ne l’a pas pris).

J. was able (PF) to take the train (# but she didn”t take it)

(2) a. Jeanne devait (IMP) partir de bonne heure (mais elle ne l’a pas fait).

b. Jeanne a dû partir de bonne heure (# mais elle ne l’a pas fait).

Following earlier studies, Hacquard proposes that epistemic modals are located in syntax above the projections of Tense and Aspect while deontic modals are situated below these projections. In the framework of possible worlds semantics, Hacquard proposes that Aspect is a quantifier over an event variable in V which determines a world of evaluation. When aspect scopes over a deontic modal, the Event it quantifies over is anchored to the matrix/actual world, inducing an AE. When Aspect scopes under an epistemic modal, the modal provides a world of evaluation which then need not be the actual world ; so there is no AE.

As suggested by Bhatt, Imperfective aspect suspends the AE otherwise triggered by a deontic modal by introducing an additional layer of modality or genericity.

This proposal can be criticized on various grounds. It is too strong - the data is not solid- and too weak- the AE is found in a variety of structures with modal meaning but without modal verbs. As for aspect, we argue that French and English, whose modal structures are subject to the AE, do not have an Imperfective/Perfective aspectual paradigm at all.

It is easier to criticize than to offer an alternative hypothesis. After all, epistemic modals do seem to have higher scope than deontic modals, and perfective aspect, where it exits, does create an AE in modal sentences.

I will analyse modal verbs in the same terms as lexical verbs and other auxiliaries, all of which have lexical content and take arguments appropriate to their syntactic phase. I propose that modal verbs are goal-directed stative predicates, which describe a scenario not very different from that described by eventive predicates like write or murder. I will define perfectivity independent of the grammatical morphemes which may encode it, in terms of temporal interpretation. I claim that perfectivity so defined is incompatible with modal construals.


Bhatt, R. (1999) Covert Modality in Non-Finite Contexts, Diss, U. of Pennsylvania.

V. Hacquard (2009) “On the Interaction of Aspect and Modal Auxiliaries”

Cormack, A. & N. Smith (1998) UCL Working Papers in Linguistics, UCL, 285-322.

Guéron, J. (2004) “Tense construal and the Argument Structue of Auxiliries” in

Guéron & J. Lecarme, eds., The syntax of Time, Camb., MA,MIT Press. 299-328.

Hacquard, V. (2009) “On the Interactoin of Aspect and Modal Auxiliaries”,

Iankova-Gorgatchev, B. (2011) “Le parfait bulgare et le present perfect anglais :

sélections aspectuelles” in S. Hancil,ed. Perspectives théoriques et empiriques sur

l’aspect en anglais”, Mont-Saint-Aigna, Publications des Universités de Rouen et du

Havre, 129-141.

Mari, A. & F. Martin (2007), “Tense, Abilities, and Actuality Entailment” in

Pinon, C. (2003) “Being able to” in G. Garding and M. Sujimura, eds. WCCFL 22.

Somerville, Ma, Cascadilla Press, 384-397.