Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2015

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In


First Advisor

Paula Kempchinsky


The goal of this dissertation is to formulate a novel characterization of subjunctive complements in Spanish, based on semantico-pragmatic and syntactic evidence. The analysis is informed by, and has consequences for, theories that the pragmatic and semantic components of the grammar interface with the syntax. Thus, the proposal carries implications for the interpretive components of the grammar at the C-I interface.

I argue that the indicative mood, in Romance, corresponds to propositions which carry assertive force. Data from Greek and Bulgarian provide evidence for a syntactic representation of this feature. I provide evidence for a novel tripartite classification of subjunctive clauses: (i) those that are lexically-selected by volitional verbs and carry strongly intensional semantics, (ii) those licensed by a non-veridical operator (i.e. negation) and carry anti-veridical semantics and (iii) those which lack illocutionary force, with the subjunctive mood surfacing as the default (uninformative) mood in complements to emotives and negated epistemics.

Complements to emotive and negated epistemic predicates are the only subjunctive complements which may be extensionally anchored (to the real world), yet are incompatible with ‘point of view’ phenomena, which is unexpected in extensional contexts. The data indicate that the subjunctive surfaces in uninformative contexts, in the absence of (intensional or assertive) illocutionary force. The observations lead to a novel syntactic analysis, relying on Speas and Tenny’s (2003) representation of pragmatic arguments, which captures the fact that subjunctive clauses are anchored to a particular individual (either the matrix subject or the speaker).

I propose that subject obviation occurs only in deontic and causative contexts, a novel hypothesis supported by data which illustrate that the addition of an evaluative component (an epistemic ordering source) renders subject obviation violable. I argue that a feature-checking relationship between the subordinate Seat of Knowledge position and matrix deontic or causative v anchors the complement proposition to the matrix subject’s model of evaluation. Co-reference is then banned due to a semantico-pragmatic parameter setting in Romance which disallows a de se (self-ascribing) reading in finite contexts, which facilitates the processing of pronominal reference.

I argue that the semantico-pragmatic status of subjunctive complements to negated epistemic predicates overlaps with those to both emotives, which are evaluative, and those to other negated predicates (i.e. perception verbs, verbs of reported speech), which are evidential. Their dual status accounts for the (previously unobserved) overlapping syntactic and semantic properties exhibited in their subjunctive complements. Partee’s (1991, 1995) proposal for a tripartite structure of negation elegantly captures the interpretive facts. Subjunctive complements to negated evidential predicates are interpreted in the scope of negation, while those to evaluative (emotive) predicates are interpreted in the restrictor, with those to negated epistemics allowing both options.

Two different types of negation are identified, following Horn’s (1989) analysis. The pragmatic classification of the predicate as either evidential or evaluative determines the type of negation with which it may surface. Metalinguistic negation surfaces with evaluative predicates, and does not scope into the complement clause. True negation-triggered subjunctive (i.e. evidential contexts) results from the scope of descriptive negation into the complement clause, which carries a negative clause-type feature. I show that negation-triggered subjunctive clauses constitute unbounded events, which is attributed to their anti-veridical status.

In conclusion, the analysis characterizes subjunctive clauses in Spanish, and carries implications for cross-linguistic analysis. More research is needed to verify the claims cross-linguistically, and the analysis lacks a precise characterization of indicative complement clauses which, like subjunctive clauses, require a more fine-grained characterization.

Public Abstract

Investigations in generative linguistics focus on understanding the nature of human language. Among those who study Romance languages, there has recently been considerable debate regarding how syntactic structure affects and interacts with the formal properties of semantic interpretation. Many languages, including Spanish, distinguish clauses in the indicative mood from clauses in the subjunctive mood, and the mood determines the interpretation of theexpression. In a mood distinguishing language, verbs such as ‘want’ and ‘order’ (“volitional” verbs), invariably display the subjunctive mood in the clause expressing the desire. Because desires do not necessarily hold in the actual world, the subjunctive was traditionally thought to represent the “irrealis” mood, while the indicative mood represents the “realis” mood.

However, several problems have been raised against this division, which have motivated more fine-grained semantic and syntactic proposals. Nonetheless, many analyses have encountered problems, particularly in explaining the subjunctive mood in emotional contexts, under verbs like ‘regret’ and ‘like’, which denote true situations. The current proposal reconciles these empirical issues by claiming that the subjunctive mood is the ‘default’ mood in evaluative contexts, due to their unassertive status.

The results of this dissertation can have a significant impact for teaching Spanish as a second language, since the ways in which the subjunctive mood is taught to learners is often misleading and/or erroneous, with little connection to actual usage. My analysis thereby facilitates pedagogical goals, as well as contributing to a deeper understanding of the human cognitive system.


publicabstract, Indicative, Linguistics, Mood, Spanish, Subjunctive


xvi, 335




Copyright 2015 Elizabeth Ann Gielau