Events

Unfortunately, this talk has to be canceled due to extenuating circumstances

Ability statements about the past, like (1), often imply that the possible event actually took place (Bhatt’s 1999 Actuality Entailments). Ability statements about the present, such as (2) or (3), may also imply that the possible event is realized; but importantly, only with verbs of perception (e.g. see, hear, smell). Thus (2), like (1), is ambiguous in a way that (3) is not, between an episodic (E) and a modal (M) interpretation.

(1) Sam was able to see/watch Saturn. 
        + episodic (E) + modal (M)
(2) Sam can see Saturn. 
        + episodic (E) + modal (M)
(3) Sam can watch Saturn. 
        - episodic (E) + modal (M)

What explains the ambiguity of (2) and why is it restricted to verbs of perception? In this talk I first give evidence for the claim that these E interpretations arise with perception verbs only for present ability statements. I then argue that the M interpretation of (2) and (3) from the intervention of a genericity operator GEN, associated with the imperfective (Bhatt 1999, Hacquard 2006, 2009). Based on the fact that perception verbs further differ from eventives in that they can be used to describe a single event that is ongoing at speech time ((4a) vs. (4b)), I propose that the E interpretation of (2) arises is in the same way that Hacquard 2006 says it arises for (1), owing to (covert) perfective aspect scoping over the modal - available in the case of perception verbs, but not for other eventives.

(4) a. Sam sees Saturn    { right now/every day}.               
    b. Sam watches Saturn {*right now/every day}.