Competition between the German root modal sollen and the imperative


  • Stefan Hinterwimmer
  • Lisa Matthewson
  • Hubert Truckenbrodt



In this paper we analyse the complementary distribution in German between the imperative–which is performative–and the root modal sollen ‘be supposed to’–which appears to be anti-performative (Glas, 1984; Diewald, 1999; Hinterwimmer, 2013; Bochnak and Csipak, 2018). We argue that the imperative and root sollen share a bouletic meaning (broadly “x wants at t in w for y to do P”) but carry opposite requirements on the parameters of this bouletic attitude. The imperative requires <x,y,t,w> = <cSp, cAd, cT, cW>, i.e. the parameters are identified with the utterance context (Kaplan, 1989). The imperative must express an actual-world speaker request of the addressee. The root modal sollen inversely requires <x,y,t,w> ? <cSp, cAd, cT, cW> and is thus prohibited from expressing an actual speaker request of the addressee. We argue that this account is a step ahead relative to earlier accounts of the non-performativity of root sollen (Hinterwimmer, 2013; Bochnak and Csipak, 2018). We also compare root sollen to the English modal be supposed to. We argue that be supposed to carries the stronger requirement <x,t,w> ? <cSp, cT, cW> that excludes the expression of all actual speaker preferences, whether or not they concern an action by the addressee. We argue against an account in terms of formal competition between the imperative and the modal sollen, though we cannot fully exclude such an account.




How to Cite

Hinterwimmer, S., Matthewson, L., & Truckenbrodt, H. (2019). Competition between the German root modal sollen and the imperative. Proceedings of Sinn Und Bedeutung, 23(1), 515–532.

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