Modal comparatives: a cross-linguistic picture
(joint work with Monica A. Irimia)
Recent research on epistemic modals and evidentials has made headway in analyzing assertions with various provisos on speaker’s certainty (Davis, Potts and Speas 2008, Barker 2009, Fintel and Gillies 2010, Lassiter 2016). We use these advances to address a rarely discussed class of clausal modal comparatives that use temporal adverbs, such as the Romanian mai degrabă ‘sooner/rather’ (lit. ‘more early’), as in (1). In these structures, the speaker compares two propositions p = ‘John is at home’ and q = ‘John is in the office’ and asserts that she is more willing to believe p than q.
(1) Ion este mai de-grabă acasă decât la birou. Romanian John be-3.PRES.INDIC.SG more ADV-early home than at office
= ‘According to the speaker, it is more plausible that John is at home than that he is in the office.’
The contribution of our investigation is two-fold. Empirically, the paper extends the scope of inquiry into modal comparatives. We make novel observations about their cross-linguistic distribution and account for it using general principles of UG and independently existing phenomena. Theoretically, the paper further contributes an argument in favor of treating a world argument as a syntactically visible entity that can come in (at least) bound and indexical varieties, assimilating it to pronouns and times (e.g. Speas 2004).