An anti-intellectualist treatment of German wissen (‘know’)


  • Viola Schmitt
  • Frank Sode


German wissen (‘know’) can embed both finite clauses (‘wissen-FIN’) as well as infinitives (‘wissen-INF’). Based on novel empirical observations, we argue that wissen-INF cannot be reduced to the standard analysis of wissen-FIN, i.e. that wissen with infinitival complements does not involve a propositional attitude. As cross-linguistic evidence suggests that German wissen is not ambiguous, it follows that wissen-FIN cannot denote a propositional attitude, either. Accordingly, we require a new, uniform meaning for wissen. We derive this meaning by first considering wissen-INF, arguing that it combines semantic properties of ability modals with semantic properties of implicative verbs and enough to-constructions. We then show that these properties can also be used to characterize wissen-FIN, as long as certain nonstandard assumptions are made about the denotation of the complement. This gives us a new, unified analysis of wissen and also helps to explain some properties of this verb (with both kinds of complements) that traditional analyses cannot account for.


How to Cite

Schmitt, V., & Sode, F. (2019). An anti-intellectualist treatment of German wissen (‘know’). Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 21(2), 1091–1108. Retrieved from