27.5092, Review: Psycholing; Semantics: Hegarty (2016)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-27-5092. Tue Dec 13 2016. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 27.5092, Review: Psycholing; Semantics: Hegarty (2016)

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Date: Tue, 13 Dec 2016 13:46:38
From: Eugenio Goria [eugenio.goria at gmail.com]
Subject: Modality and Propositional Attitudes

Discuss this message:

Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/27/27-634.html

AUTHOR: Michael  Hegarty
TITLE: Modality and Propositional Attitudes
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
YEAR: 2016

REVIEWER: Eugenio Goria, Università degli Studi di Pavia

Reviews Editor: Helen Aristar-Dry


Michael Hegarty’s book, “Modality and Propositional Attitudes,” provides an
up-to-date and fully detailed account of the semantics of modality, providing
new demonstration in support of the view argued for by Kratzer (1981, 1991)
that modal statements involve quantification over possible worlds, as well as
considering recent developments and answers to criticism illustrated in
Kratzer (2012). The book formulates a theory about the semantics of different
types of statements, exploring the advantages provided by possible worlds
semantics. Hegarty’s analysis is firmly grounded on Angelika Kratzer’s theory
of quantification, according to which the interpretation of modal statements
is achieved through quantification over possible worlds and through ranking of
different possibilities.

The entire work is divided in two parts of nearly the same length. Part I
deals with the interpretation of intensional statements, i.e. modal statements
and reports of propositional attitudes that describe “ways in the world could
be” (p. 5). Chapter 1 deals with epistemic modality: first, it describes in
detail Kratzer’s approach to epistemic modality, and then it illustrates the
alternative view expressed by Lassiter (2011). An important part of the
discussion is dedicated to the interplay between the modal base and what in
Kratzer’s theory is called the ordering source, which can be regarded as the
semantic component that allows ruling out the less relevant possibilities.
Chapter 2 adopts the same perspective in the semantic analysis of root
modality, i.e. “statements about what must, may, should or cannot be the case
according to some set of circumstances in the world” (p. 62). This domain is
then further divided into different types of modality, namely: deontic,
teleological, bouletic, ability and circumstantial modals. Hegarty comes to
the conclusion that in the case of the first two “possible worlds semantics
[…] employs modal bases of more or less realistic worlds ordered by the extent
to which a relevant actor […] acts in accord to relevant laws, obligations or
conventions, or follows best practices towards a desired teleological end”.
Conversely, bouletic modals “more readily tolerate a counterfactual idealistic
base”, whereas “ability and circumstantial modals […] employ a more realistic
base” (p. 90). In Chapters 3 and 4 Kratzer’s notion of modal quantification is
extended to ascriptions of beliefs and bouletic ascriptions. 

Part II represents the author’s attempt to apply the same categories outlined
in the first part to new domains. Chapter 5 is dedicated to a bibliographical
review of the notion of events and states as originally accounted for in
Davidson (1980), as well as to evaluating criticism from Katz (2003, 2008).
This notion of events is then used in Chapter 6, where Hegarty deals with
events and attitude ascriptions. The author identifies here two types of
attitude ascriptions, that he calls ‘minimal and full attitude ascriptions’.
Chapter 7 is focussed on a more specific phenomenon, namely ‘lower
interpretation of negation’, corresponding to what in generative
transformational linguistics is normally referred to as ‘negation raising’. In
this chapter Hegarty’s discussion of attitude ascriptions proves useful in
avoiding the common treatment of such phenomenon in purely syntactic terms, as
occurs in part of the generative literature. Chapter 8 deals more in detail
with Hacquard’s (2006, 2010) theory of modal interpretation. Finally, Chapter
9 seeks evidence for the distinction between two types of attitude ascription
in child language learning and in speakers affected by Wernicke’s aphasia.


Hegarty’s account of modality is complete and well-grounded in a specific part
of the literature on the topic, which the author proves to know in detail, and
which is often treated with productive criticisms. The author always
emphasizes positive and negative aspects of particular approaches to a given
topic. Also, the book is particularly well structured, in that it features a
general introduction to the whole book and two more specific introductions to
each of the two parts into which it is divided. This roadmap is particularly
useful in that it provides a general context for both theoretical chapters,
which are more focussed on literature review and case studies.

Hegarty’s book is also extremely specific for what concerns the literature the
author refers to, and the reader must necessarily have a strong basis in
formal semantics in order to fully appreciate the argumentation provided. It
could have been useful to provide a short outline of the basics of modal logic
and possible worlds semantics in order to make the book’s contents available
to scholars from different backgrounds. The terminology used by the author is
in fact specific to a particular field of linguistics, and a reader who is not
well acquainted with this literature is often confused by a whole lot of terms
and concepts that are always taken for granted. For this reason, the book is
particularly good for formal semanticists who already work on modal logic, but
it communicates with more difficulty to linguists with other backgrounds. For
example, it is not clear how this notion of modality can improve the findings
of other linguists operating within the functionalist paradigm such as Bybee
et al. (1994) and Bybee and Fleischmann (1995): however different the
theoretical framework and the research objectives might be, still it would
have been interesting to compare the findings of these works on modality.
Similarly, it could have been fruitful to apply Hegarty’s formal approach also
to different types of construction that carry a modal value, for example the
ones containing modal particles.


Bybee, Joan and Suzanne Fleischmann. 1995. Modality in Grammar and Discourse.
Amsterdam: Benjamins.

Bybee, Joan, Revere Perkins and William Pagliuca. 1994. The Evolution of
Grammar. Tense, Aspect, and Modality in the Languages of the World. Chicago:
University Press.

Davidson, Donald. 1980. The logical form of actions in sentences. In: N.
Rescher (ed.) The Logic of Decision and Action, pp. 81-95. Pittsburgh:
University Press.

Katz, Graham. 2003. Event arguments, adverb selection, and the Stative Adverb
Gap. In E. Lang, C. Maienborn and C. Fabricius-Hansen (eds.) Modifying
Adjuncts (Interface explorations 4), pp. 455-474. Dordrecht: Mouton de

Katz, Graham. 2008. Manner modification of state verbs. In L. Mc Nally and C.
Kennedy (eds.) Adjective and Adverbs: Syntax, Semantics and Discourse, pp.
220-248. Oxford: University Press.

Kratzer, Angelika. 1981. The notional category of modality. In H. J. Eikmeyer
and H. Rieser (eds.), Words, Worlds and Contexts: New approaches in Words
Semantics, pp. 38-74. Berlin, De Gruyter.

Kratzer, Angelika. 1991. Modality. In A. von Stechow and D. Wunderlich (eds.),
Semantik: ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössichen Forschung, pp.
639-650. Berlin, De Gruyter.

Kratzer, Angelika. 2012. Modals and Conditionals. Oxford: Oxford University


Eugenio Goria is currently a post-doc at Bologna University, Italy. <br />His
main research topic is the analysis of spoken language from different
perspectives: at present he is working on Italian, and on the emergence of
constructions that create ad-hoc categories. In the past he worked on Latin,
on Italian dialects and on English-Spanish bilingual speech in Gibraltar.


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