Inference and Word Meaning: The Case of Modal Auxiliaries
Department of Phonetics and Linguistics. University College London
London WCIE 6BT. UK
In this paper I will present and defend an analysis of (a sample of) the English modal auxiliary verbs using a relevance-theoretic semantic and pragmatic framework. I will start by discussing previous analyses of modality in English with an eye to explaining how a cluster of related meanings- epistemic, root, and other- is expressed by the same set of lexical items. I will then go on to develop a unitary semantic approach to the English toodais, treating them as (mostly) incomplete propositional operators. After defending the details of my semantic account, I will show how the proposed semantics can give rise to the range of root interpretations modal verbs can receive in context. Epistemic interpretations require some further theoretical machinery, which will make crucial use of the notion of metarepresentation. Finally, I will sketch the differences between natural-language interpretations of modal operators and their alethic/logical uses.