Epistemic modals in the past

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The aim of this paper is to provide additional arguments against the view that on the epistemic reading of modal verbs, the time of the modal is always the utterance time. The hypothesis defended, also adopted by Eide (2002, 2003) and von Fintel and Gillies (2008) is that epistemic modals can be in the scope of Tense/Aspect. Three possible translations of <i>might have been </i>in French (with a <i>pass&#233; compos&#233; </i>or an <i>imparfait </i>on the modal and a simple infinitival, or with a present on the modal and a perfect infinitival) are semantically differentiated. The analysis describes the distribution of past tenses on epistemic modality and explains the differences in their interpretation. <i>Possibilities are the sort of thing that comes into and goes out of existence, that can be &#8216;dated&#8217;</i> (Mondadori 1978, p. 246) <i>It is obvious that we don&#8217;t have a good understanding of what happens when a modal is combined with temporal operators.</i> (Portner 2009, p. 230)


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