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Accueil > Séminaires/Colloques > Archives > Cycle de Conférences > 2017-2018 > Paul PORTNER > Présentation



Mood in semantics and pragmatics

Paul Portner

Department of Linguistics
Georgetown University

Paul Portner is Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University in Washington DC. He studied philosophy and linguistics at Princeton and completed his Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University
of Massachusetts at Amherst, under the direction of Barbara Hall Partee. At Georgetown, he has served as Head of both the Theoretical Linguistics and Computational Linguistics Concentrations, and as Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Cognitive Science. He has published three sole-authored books, most recently Mood (Oxford, 2018). He teaches at all levels, from beginning undergraduate to doctoral seminars.
Professor Portner’s research has spanned a wide range of topics in semantics, pragmatics, and the syntax-semantics interface. His overarching research agenda can be described as the attempt to better understand how semantic meaning interacts with the principles of syntax, on the one hand, and structure and dynamics of information in discourse, on the other. One line of research has focused on modality, leading to publications on deontic and epistemic modals, gradability in modal expressions, modal adjectives, the relation between imperatives and modals, and the modal analysis of aspect. Going back to his dissertation work, he has been interested in the syntax and semantics of verbal mood, that is subjunctives and indicatives, as well as related topics such as gerunds and infinitives. He is well-known for his publications (many of them co-authored) on clause types, in particular imperatives and exclamatives. In addition, he has worked on several other topics, such as tense, politeness marking, and information structure.

Les 22 et 29 mars et les 5 et 12 avril

de 13h30 à 16h30

22 mars 2018

Verbal mood and sentence mood : concepts and current theories
Salle Langevin, 29 rue d’Ulm.

29 mars 2018

Comparison in compositional and discourse semantics
Salle 235 A, 29 rue d’Ulm.

5 avril 2018

De se interpretation and challenges to the unified analysis
Salle 235 A, 29 rue d’Ulm.

12 avril 2018

Control, reality status, and egophoricity
Salle 235 A, 29 rue d’Ulm.



Within linguistics and philosophy, the concept of mood is used to talk about two main topics : Verbal mood refers to the category which includes indicatives and subjunctives, while sentence mood encompasses the declarative, interrogative, and imperative types which are associated with characteristic conventions of use. Many topics in linguistics are linked to the theory of one or the other type of mood, such as infinitives, speech acts, modal concord, and verb movement. Verbal mood and sentence mood are themselves closely related, in ways which have not been given an adequate analysis ; for example, subjunctive and infinitive forms are used as imperatives in many languages, while indicative verbal mood is part of what marks a root clause as appropriate for making an assertion (declarative sentence mood) or asking a question (interrogative).
In this seminar we will review work in semantics and philosophy on both kinds of mood and explore the prospects for a unified theory within which we can explain both the semantic contribution of verbal moods and the discourse functions of sentence moods. I will sketch a unified system based on the comparison-based theory of verbal mood and the dynamic approach to sentence mood. We will then challenge the unification as vigorously as possible both on an empirical, linguistic basis and from the perspective of more general, philosophical considerations, with the goal of either refining it into a convincing system or determining the route to a better alternative. In these sessions, we will use the overview by Portner (2018) and significant articles from the literature (participants’ input will be solicited ; options include Farkas 1992, Giorgi & Pianesi 1997, Villalta 2008, Giannakidou 2011, 2016, Portner & Rubinstein 2014, Mari 2016 ; Hamblin 1971, Stalnaker 1974, 1978, Gazdar 1979, Groenendijk, Stokhof, and Veltman 1997, Aloni & van Rooij 2002, Portner 2004, Groenendijk & Roelofsen 2009, Roberts 2012, Condoravdi & Lauer 2012, Murray & Starr 2016). 

An important worry about theoretical work on mood is that it might be based too closely on historically shared patterns in the major Romance and Germanic languages with well-studied verbal mood systems. To address this concern, we must test our unified analysis and other approaches with data from other domains. In the seminar, we will consider the categories of reality status and ego-marking (e.g. Roberts 1991, Elliott 2000, Hargreaves 2005, Wechsler 2016, Coppock & Wechsler to appear, Zu to appear). These systems, as described in such languages as Amele and Newari, are quite different from mood as we normally understand it, but many of the same fundamental components, such as de se interpretation, anaphoric tense, agency, and intensionality, are involved. Our theory of mood should be built in such a way that it can contribute to the analysis of them as well, and we will work to understand what type of theory would be able to do so.

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