Julie Goncharov (Jerusalem / Göttingen)

The imperfect puzzle

In this talk, we investigate modal uses of the imperfect in Romance languages, focusing on Romanian. We argue that some uses of the modal imperfect behave like Negative Polarity Items (NPIs). That some modal auxiliaries are Polarity Sensitive Items (PSIs) has already been argued for, e.g. Homer (2010), Iatridou and Zeijlstra (2013). We examine whether this type of analyses can be extended to the covert modal component in the Romance imperfect. We show that both semantic/pragmatic (e.g. Chierchia 2013) and syntactic (e.g. Collins and Postal 2014) approaches to PSIs face serious problems. In the analysis we propose the modal imperfect is a covert modifier of the Judge Phrase (Krifka 2018) that ‘embeds’ a possible complete answer to a polar question created from the prejacent. The NPI-properties of Romance modal imperfect are derived as parallel to ‘John is ??(not) certain whether Mary smokes’ (Mayr 2017, 2018). We also discuss theoretical questions raised by the claim that a covert modal component in the Romance imperfect is an NPI.