Open Journal Systems

The Formal and the Relevant: modal underspecification and pragmatic disambiguation

Monica Monawar, Claudia Strey


The aim of this work is to propose and illustrate a semantic-pragmatic approach to symbouletic modality. To do so, Kratzer’s (1981, 1991, 2012) framework of analysis for natural language modality is adopted, in which a modal is doubly relative to contextual information via a modal base and an ordering source. Yanovich’s (2013a, 2013b) symbouletic modality is the object of analysis, due to its inherently performative nature and, considering it is quite new, still widely uncharted territory. Unlike Russian, Brazilian Portuguese does not seem to have a modal auxiliary that is exclusively symbouletic, thus the underspecification of ‘dever’ (roughly, ‘must’ or sometimes ‘should’) must be dealt with in order to obtain a successful final symbouletic reading, ranking weaker than directives yet stronger than assertions in terms of its performative force. The same modal verb ‘dever’ seems to be able to be standardly symbouletic when uttered with unmarked prosody, but when uttered with marked prosody, it appears to collapse with directives, changing the performative force and yielding ORDER instead of ADVICE. In order to explain how context determine the final modal reading, we assume Sperber and Wilson's (1986/1995, 2003) relevance theory, which aims to explain how the hearer process an utterance in order to understand the speaker's meaning. The conceptual-procedural distinction, the relevant-theoretic comprehension procedure and the constructions of ad hoc concepts are explored in order to explain why prosodic inputs change the performative force. In this account, prosody encodes a procedural meaning which will constrain the proposition expressed, narrowing the performative force and rendering an ad hoc concept.


Keywords: Modality; Semantics; Pragmatics.


Modalidade; Semântica; Pragmática

Texto completo:

PDF (English)