Talk: A cross-linguistic analysis of semantic features of Italian poi; Camuno po; and German doch
The status of modal particles as a grammatical class and their properties have been investigated for a number of languages, in particular, Germanic. Abraham (2016) claims that modal particles and other discourse markers differ in their semantic and syntactic properties and that they are not found in Romance languages. In this paper I challenge this assumption by discussing new data from Italian and Camuno, a Gallo Romance variety spoken in the Northern Italy. In particular, I discuss some of the properties of Italian poi and Camuno po in comparison to the widely studied case of German doch.
Like other modal particles, Krifka (2013) observes that the German _doch_ requires a “propositional discourse referent” to be interpreted. The particle can have a variety of meanings which share a basic contrastive value: it presupposes the incompatibility of two propositions part of the common ground, i.e., it rejects a proposition considered to be true by the addressee or by the speaker at some point in the past. According to Lindner (1991), the particle indicates that a proposition in not under discussion at the utterance time. _Doch_ is used to express the speaker’s assumption that the addressee is not aware of a certain event (Karagjosova, 2003). _Doch_ is purely contrastive in that the speaker rejects a proposition on the base of the shared common ground and the truth values are not evaluated epistemically.
Similarly, Italian _poi_ requires a common background shared by speaker and addressee (3a). This common ground oftentimes consists of a conversation (as pointed out in Cardinaletti (2015)), but not necessarily. The appropriate context for the felicitous reading of _poi_ as a particle consists of a time _t_ in which an event _e_ may or may not occur, at the utterance time _t’_, _e_ either took place or not. In other word, the poi-proposition is uttered to inform the addressee about the realization of _e_ in declarative sentences; or to inquire about it in interrogative structures. The wh-structure is not biased in the set of its alternative since no evaluation nor (special) presupposition are involved. The only assumptions that the speaker makes are that: (i) _e_ either occurred or not at a point in time preceding _t’_; i.e., either _p_ or _¬p_ is true, the _e_ cannot happen after _t’_; and (ii) the addressee knows if _e_ occurred, or does not. No epistemic evaluation nor negotiation of the truth value of the proposition is active. According to Abraham (2016), this is expected by non-particle adverbial elements. Nevertheless, a scalar reading is active when poi is employed in exclamative structures where, given the appropriate distributional features (discussed below), the temporal reading is ruled out.
_poi_ provides an additional epistemic evaluation of the proposition: it is responsible for a ranking of the possible states of affair based on likelihood. In other word, the speaker not only consider the event as the most logically maximally likely, but they also consider it to be the only possible one, given the information in the background that they share with the addressee, and seek for confirmation of their evaluation.
In Camuno, an Eastern Lombard dialect spoken in the north of Italy, a proposition _p_ is evaluated against a common ground on a scale based on likelihood. Depending on the sentence type, either _p_ (declaratives) or _¬p_ (interrogative) is the most likely proposition to be true.
Exclamatives have the same reading of their Italian counterpart: the use of _poi_ implies that the speaker is not sure about the truth values of _p_ which, like its Italian counterpart, are proposed to be negotiated with the addressee.
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