University of Connecticut
A semantic-pragmatic account of generalized subject obviation
Subjunctives in complement clauses of verbs of desiring or directing have been found to disallow coreference between matrix subject (attitude holder) and embedded subject in a series of languages. More recently, this paradigm has been extended to include restrictions on embedded imperatives and on directive matrix clauses.
Taking into account the full paradigm, I argue that the obviation constellations are banned because they impose conflicting discourse requirements on the actual context (main clause imperatives/directive subjunctives) or on a reported context (subjunctives in complement clauses, embedded imperatives). To derive this, directive or desiderative subjunctives and imperatives as well as the relevant matrix predicates are associated with information about the discourse situation. With this, we obtain a unified account for main clause imperatives/directives and embedded occurrences without having to stipulate syntactic interaction effects between attitude subject and embedded subject. This type of account also predicts correctly that obviation effects can be voided with some predicates (e.g., those compatible with lack of presumed control for the subject over the course of events described in the complement clause). Treating obviation as a semantic (and pragmatic) effect along these lines depends crucially on the notion of a source of obligation or desire that behaves like a perspectival center familiar from other constructions like taste predicates or epistemic modals (e.g. shift from speaker to matrix attitude holder, interrogative flip). In contrast to the obviation effect itself, this perspectival dependence may well be syntactically encoded.
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