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Modality Across Syntactic Categories$
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Ana Arregui, María Luisa Rivero, and Andrés Salanova

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780198718208

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198718208.001.0001

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A modest proposal for the meaning of imperatives

A modest proposal for the meaning of imperatives

(p.288) 13 A modest proposal for the meaning of imperatives
Modality Across Syntactic Categories

Kai von Fintel

Sabine Iatridou

Oxford University Press

We discuss two challenges for any semantics for imperatives that has them denote (strong) modal propositions: the use of imperatives to signal acquiescence (A: ‘I’d like to open the window.’ B: ‘Go ahead, open it!’) and their use in conditional conjunctions (‘Ignore the slightest detail and the experiment is flawed’). We examine how the meaning of imperatives arises compositionally, and the division of labor between semantics and pragmatics. We demonstrate remarkable cross-linguistic uniformity in these uses of the imperative. In the course of the investigation, we also explore several puzzles in the analysis of conditional conjunction. We conclude with a recommendation in favor of analyses that give imperatives a non-modal semantics paired with a modulated pragmatics.

Keywords:   imperatives, modality, permission, acquiescence, commands, conjunction, conditionals, modal subordination, speech acts

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