Linguistics in Göttingen - A platform for empirical and theoretical linguistics

Paula Menéndez-Benito (Göttingen)

Random Choice Modality: Spanish uno cualquiera

(joint work with Luis Alonso-Ovalle, McGill)

Many languages have indefinites that trigger modal inferences in the absence of an overt modal. Some of these indefinites signal speaker's ignorance. Others indicate that an agent made a random choice. These modal indefinites raise questions for a general theory of modality. How should their modal content be characterized? To what extent does this content pattern with the modal flavours attested in the verbal domain? How do these indefinites interact with modal verbs? This talk addresses these questions by analyzing Spanish uno cualquiera, a random choice indefinite.

The sentence in (1) illustrates the random choice reading of uno cualquiera: (1) can be understood as saying that Juan took a card and that his choice was indiscriminate. This reading has a restricted distribution. Cases like (1), where uno cualquiera is in object position, are ambiguous between the random choice reading and an evaluative reading that conveys that Juan took an unremarkable card (and is compatible with him having chosen the card carefully.) In subject position (2), only the evaluative reading is available.

(1) Juan cogió una carta cualquiera.
Juan took a card CUALQUIERA

(2) Habló un estudiante cualquiera.
spoke a student CUALQUIERA

The random choice interpretation survives embedding under modal operators: (3), where uno cualquiera is under an imperative, can convey that the addressee is required to bring a book and choose it randomly. But (3) can also have a 'harmonic' free choice interpretation, under which the modal domain of uno cualquiera is the modal domain of the external modal operator. On this interpretation, (3) says that the addressee is required to bring a book and is permitted to bring any. The harmonic reading is not available in cases like (4), which can only mean that Pedro must have seen a movie and picked it randomly (an embedded random choice interpretation).

(3) Tráeme un libro cualquiera!
Bring-me a book CUALQUIERA

(4) Pedro tiene que haber visto una película cualquiera.
Pedro has to have watched a movie CUALQUIERA

Our proposal is in line with recent work on verbal modality, where modal domains are projected from parts of the world (events, situations, individuals) (e.g., Hacquard 2006; Kratzer 2009). We propose that uno cualquiera introduces a modal component that is anchored to an event. This event is required to have a (possibly improper) part associated with normative conditions, i.e., goals or obligations. In unembedded cases, the modal component projects from the event argument of volitional VPs. In these cases, uno cualquiera ends up quantifying over the worlds where the goals of the agent are satisfied. We show that this modal component blocks the random choice reading in subject position by deriving a contradiction. When embedded under a modal, uno cualquiera may project its modal domain from the anchor of the modal, deriving a harmonic free choice interpretation. This is possible as long as the modal anchor establishes normative conditions, a requirement not satisfied by examples like (4).

HACQUARD, Valentine (2006). Aspects of Modality. Ph.D. thesis, MIT.
KRATZER, Angelika (2009). Context and Content Lectures. Paris, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales.