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The temporal semantics of actions and circumstance in Blackfoot Louie, Meagan

Abstract

In this dissertation, I look at interactions between circumstantial modals and temporality in Blackfoot. I present previously undocumented data based on original fieldwork and propose an action-dependent framework for circumstantial modality to analyze the generalisations. The generalisations include variation in the range of temporal interpretations that circumstantial modals allow, and correlating effects on the licensing and temporal interpretation of ”if”-clauses. The main empirical finding is that Blackfoot’s ability modal, ohkott-, patterns distinctly from the future modal áak- and the ”might” modal aahkama’p-: while áak- and aahkama’p- behave like stative predicates in Blackfoot, allowing both past and present interpretations, ohkott- behaves like an eventive predicate, only allowing a past interpretation. I propose the temporal restrictions associated with ohkott- are derived from an agentivity requirement on its complement; the main theoretical innovation of the dissertation is the presentation of a semantic model where this is possible: Instead of the standard approach to circumstantial modality, which involves quantification over worlds (cf. Kratzer (1977), Portner (2009)) I propose a system that involves two levels of quantification: one over actions, and one over worlds (cf. Brown (1988), Emerson & Clarke (1982), Alur et al. (2002)). The intuition behind the proposed system that inferences about the way the world unfolds are based not only on an agent’s circumstances, but also on the actions that an agent takes. Given this intuition, I propose that the way we grammatically express such inferences (i.e., circumstantial modal claims), should likewise refer to both circumstances and actions. To incorporate actions into a linguistic framework, I propose that the relationship between actions and events is parallel to the relationship between kinds and individuals (cf. Carlson (1977). Chierchia (1998)) - i.e., events are Instantiations of actions. Following Belnap (1991), Horty (2001), Belnap & Perloff (1988)’s modal- temporal approach to agentivity, I further propose that agentivity be temporally modelled in terms of an action-dependency. The contrast between ohkott- vs áak- and aahkama’p-, can then be derived from temporal restrictions on the kinds of actions that satisfy ohkott-’s agentive requirement.

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