Mood in semantics and pragmatics

Paul Portner, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University

Paul Portner, Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University


  • "Verbal mood and sentence mood:  concepts and current theories"22 March 2018
  • "Comparison in compositional and discourse semantics"29 March 2018
  • "De se interpretation and challenges to the unified analysis"- 5 April 2018
  •  "Control, reality status, and egophoricity"-12 April 2018


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.

More informations

  • Thursday 22 March 2018 - 13:30
  • Thursday 29 March 2018 - 13:30
  • Thursday 05 April 2018 - 13:30
  • Thursday 12 April 2018 - 13:30
  • Institut Jean Nicod - Ecole normale supérieure - Pavillon Jardin - 29 rue d'Ulm 75005 Paris