Halm Tamás (NYTK)

If you can see it you can’t help seeing it: On the inherent modality of verbs of involuntary perception, (re)cognition and physical disposition in Hungarian


This talk is concerned with verbs of involuntary perception (such as lát ‘see’ or hall ‘hear’), involuntary (re)cognition (such as fel-ismer ‘recognize’ or ért ‘under-stand’) and physical disposition (such as el-ér ‘reach’ or bír ‘endure’) in Hungarian. These verbs pattern together across four, seemingly unrelated, phenomena: 1) they cannot felicitously combine with the ability modal auxiliary tud ‘be_able_to’, 2) they (and only they) appear in dispositional middles, 3) they (and only they) appear in so-called root infinitivals of circumstantial modality and 4) a large subset of them can function as modal auxiliaries. I argue that all these pieces of novel empirical evidence point into the same direction: in Hungarian, verbs falling into these classes have an enriched semantics: they are lexically specified as modal, with ability modality hard-wired into their semantics.