DFKI-LT - Dissertation Series

Vol. XVIII

Elena Karagjosova: The Meaning and Function of German Modal Particles

ISBN: 3-933218-17-9
260 pages
price: € 16

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This thesis proposes an account of the German modal particles (MPs) doch, ja, eben, halt and auch whose aim is to capture in more precise terms the basic meaning of these MPs and the way they contribute to their carrier utterances. This goal is motivated by the current state of the art which does not offer suffciently systematic and adequate accounts of the complex nature of these MPs.

We argue that MPs are conventional utterance modifiers that indicate speaker's beliefs with respect to the propositional content of their carrier utterance or the cognitive status of the propositional content, and claim that the basic meaning of these MPs can be specified in terms of these speakerís beliefs. We suggest that the functions of MPs can be accounted for in terms of the contribution of the MP-meaning to the utterance meaning and to the role of the utterance in overall discourse. We further claim that the conditions of use of an MP in a particular context can be defined in terms of it being triggered by the interlocutor's communicative behaviour or by the beliefs and conversation-strategic goals of the speaker. We therefore suggest that an account of the MP-meaning and function calls for a formal framework that is able to model (i) beliefs and their status in the belief system of conversing agents, (ii) the impact of incoming conversational information on an agent's beliefs, (iii) the overall utterance meaning and (iv) the communicative intentions of conversing agents.

We argue that none of the formal approaches and frameworks proposed so far have been able to cope with the complexity involved in adequately accounting for the MPs' meaning and function. We therefore propose a formal framework that combines and adapts approaches designed to deal with the various modelling requirements pointed out above separately. This framework combines an epistemic logic for modelling the beliefs, knowledge and common knowledge of human agents based on (Fagin, Halpern, Moses & Vardi 1995a) and (Hintikka 1969a) with a model of the belief states of rational resourcebounded agents proposed in (Wassermann 2000), which allows one to model the precise status of an agent's belief and the impact of incoming information on the belief state of an agent. We use this logical framework to further extend the formal apparatus by formalising the overall meaning of the utterance which includes the properties of the speech act that the utterance realises. We model the communicative intentions of a speaker in terms of the speech act and the higher-level discourse act (HLDA) realised by his utterance.

By means of the framework proposed, we specify the basic meaning of each of the MPs under investigation and the contribution of the MP-meaning to the utterance. In particular, we claim that (i) doch indicates the belief of the speaker that the propositional content of the MP-utterance is explicit but not active common knowledge of speaker and hearer, (ii) ja indicates the belief of the speaker that the propositional content of the MP-utterance is active common knowledge of speaker and hearer, (iii) eben and halt indicate the belief of the speaker that the propositional content of the MP-utterance and the inferential relation that holds between the MP-utterance and its predecessor is explicit common knowledge of speaker and hearer and (iv) auch indicates the belief of the speaker that an inferential relation holds between the MP-utterance and its predecessor. We argue that the MP-meaning contributes to utterance meaning by modifying the speech act of theMP-utterance in terms of providing it with additional properties, which in some cases may be incompatible with properties of the speech act realised by the corresponding non-MP utterance. We account for this difference by arguing that MP-utterances realise subtypes of the speech acts realised by the corresponding non-MP utterances. We account for some restrictions on the use of MPs in terms of the compatibility of the MP-meaning with the properties of the speech act realised by the utterance. We also formulate conditions on the use of an MP in a particular context, which explain further restrictions on the use of the MPs under investigation. Finally, we capture the contribution of MPs to the role of the utterance in overall discourse in terms of the higher-level discourse act (HLDA) the utterance realises. We argue that the HLDA of an MP-utterance depends on the speech act of the MP-utterance, which in turn is partly determined by the MP-meaning. This way we also account for the relation between the basic meaning of an MP and its functions in discourse.