Control, temporal orientation, and the cross-linguistic grammar of trying

The verb try plays a starring role in many example sentences in the control literature. But one of its most basic properties has eluded satisfying explanation: for many speakers of English, try rejects non-control infinitival complements, as in %I tried for John to notice me or %John tried for there to be food on the table. A number of scholars have hypothesized that this fact about try has a semantic basis, but this hypothesis has yet to be fully reconciled with the problem of cross-dialectal and cross-linguistic variation and with existing formal semantic approaches to try-sentences. In this paper, based in part on a novel observation from Spanish and Hebrew about how try’s complement type interacts with its temporal orientation, I aim to further substantiate the semantic approach to try’s behavior. The proposal is couched in an explicit compositional treatment of the formal semantics of try-sentences, whereby non-control try-sentences induce a presupposition failure which can be repaired in some languages via a coercion mechanism that is independently detectable in that in some languages it enables a future orientation for the complement. The implication is that cross-linguistic variation in the inventory of coercion mechanisms obscures an underlyingly principled semantic basis for try’s behavior.

Publication Date:
Oct 25 2017
Date Submitted:
Jul 13 2018
Glossa: a journal of general linguistics
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 Record created 2018-07-13, last modified 2019-04-03

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