Magdalena Schwager

Optimizing the Future: Imperatives between Form and Function (ESSLLI 2008)

Course description

Apart from declaratives and interrogatives, most languages mark a sentence type labelled "imperative". In constrat to what is the case for declaratives and interrogatives, there exist no established ways of representing imperatives in any of the formal systems currently employed to study meaning or usage of natural language.

Given the lack of a straightforward link to truth/information growth, imperatives are particularly interesting for the study of linguistic meaning at the form-function interface. Thus, the course aims at (i) an understanding of clause types in principle, and (ii) a detailed account of imperatives.

We will first establish a criterion for cross-linguistically individuating imperatives. We will then discuss various theories for the semantics of imperatives (introduction of speech act theoretic notions into semantics/speech act independent semantic objects of particular types/my own treatment in terms of modalized declaratives). Points of comparison include (i) the variety of functions found with imperatives, (ii) interaction with temporal modifcation, coordination, and conditionals.


see official reader

Course Material

official reader

full course (revised handouts + bibliography):
complete manuscript

Handouts (revised):
unit 1: clause types, imperatives, arguments in favor of a semantic encoding
unit 2: comparing semantic approaches to imperatives
unit 3: introduction to graded modality, application to imperatives
unit 4: imperatives between necessity and possibility

pdf file
bib file: my current bibfile, which contains entries for all the material cited

If you should encounter problems in obtaining any of the literature mentioned, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Suggested preparatory readings

I will presuppose familiarity with some basics of formal semantics, such as: I will give an introduction to Kratzer's semantics of graded modality. If you want to take a look at it beforehand, you might consult: Kratzer (1981) 'The notional category of modality'. In: Eikmeyer and Rieser (eds.) Words, Worlds, and Contexts de Gruyter; or:
Kratzer (1991) `Modality'. In v. Stechow and Wunderlich (eds.) Semantik. Ein internationales Handbuch der zeitgenössischen Forschung pp.639-650. de Gruyter.

I will also talk in detail about what clause-types are. If you want to look at a brief typological overview beforehand, consult Sadock and Zwicky (1985) `Speech act distinctions in syntax'. In Shopen (ed.) Langauge Typology and Syntactic Distincitonsvol. I, pp. 155-196. Cambridge UP.

If you want to attend the class, but any of this sounds totally unfamiliar to you, don't hesitate to contact me beforehand. Also if you have trouble obtaining any of the material. For people enrolled for the course, I'm happy to help out with photocopies of articles/chapters.
© Magdalena Schwager
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