Cross-linguistic variation in modality systems: The role of mood

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Lisa Matthewson


The St'át'imcets (Lillooet Salish) subjunctive mood appears in nine distinct environments, with a range of semantic effects, including weakening an imperative to a polite request, turning a question into an uncertainty statement, and creating an ignorance free relative. The St'át'imcets subjunctive also differs from Indo-European subjunctives in that it is not selected by attitude verbs. In this paper I account for the St'át'imcets subjunctive using Portner's (1997) proposal that moods restrict the conversational background of a governing modal. I argue that the St'át'imcets subjunctive restricts the conversational background of a governing modal, but in a way which obligatorily weakens the modal’s force. This obligatory modal weakening -- not found with Indo-European non-indicative moods -- correlates with the fact that St'át'imcets modals differ from Indo-European modals along the same dimension. While Indo-European modals typically lexically encode quantificational force, but leave conversational background to context, St'át'imcets modals encode conversational background, but leave quantificational force to context (Matthewson, Rullmann & Davis 2007, Rullmann, Matthewson & Davis 2008).


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Lisa Matthewson, UBC

UBC Department of Linguistics Totem Field Studios 2613 West Mall Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada