The Syntax of Modality in Bangla


The following is an abstract of the paper presented in the XVII meeting of the South Asian Linguistics Association, JNU, Delhi, Jan 6-7, 1997, published as Bhattacharya (1998)

One guiding rationale behind this study is that modal systems, which include a system of Mood and/or a system of modal verbs, are associated with the verbal system of a language, although modality does not restrict itself semantically to the verb alone but rather applies to the sentence as a whole. Modality then is either a feature of the verb or a separate nonsubstantive category like Mood. In this paper, I settle for the latter option and investigate the mechanism of how it is introduced in a numeration. Drawing on Pollock's (1994) analysis, I suggest a Mood Phrase in the Bangla clause structure. For exposition, I take up a detailed discussion of the familiar (as in Dasgupta 1995) subjunctive mood diagnostics in Bangla to suggest that the Subjunctive is a realisation of the spell-out of T in an (Op....T) dependency, as in Manzini (1994) and analyse the weak T in Bangla subjunctives as an indefinite. Specifically, I claim that the operator in the (Op...T) dependency is generated at a modal head. To substantiate the claim, I further discuss two particles naki and jEno which behave like the modal particles in Balkan and head an M node since they display similar properties of (i) invariancy, (ii) future marking (as in Bulgarian and Modern Greek) and (iii) acting as the locus for subjunctive marking (as in Albanian and Rumanian). Language specificity is expressed in terms of the formal-morphological features of the lexicon which is the locus of CHL's variability (Chomsky 1995:222). The Bangla clausal structure proposed for the analysis is the following: [[[[VVP] TTP] (Neg) MoodMP]CCP]. I consider the modal feature of the Mood head as a strong -Interpretable feature. Accordingly, the feature Mood will be invisible to CHL at LF. The modality Op responsible for Mood marking is part of M. In accordance with the modifications made to the minimalist programme in Chomsky (1995), the modality feature checking of mood markers as well as the modal head, I propose, are driven by interpretive needs and, therefore, are covert operations involving feature adjunction. However, the category which is marked for mood is pied-piped to the checking domain of M only if it is required by the output conditions.

The proposed clause structure further solves an unresolved problem in the syntax of Bangla negation. The analysis presented for negation in nonfinites is crucially based on the relative strength of M and T in such cases. I claim that whenever a weak T is selected by an M with a strong modality feature, verb movement to Mood takes place. I suggest that nonfinites in general contain a strong feature in M requiring a VM movement in overt syntax. In tomar na jaWa 'your not going', therefore, for the derivation to converge, verb movement to M takes place, initially to check a strong but covert modal feature but later, due to PF requirements, the category as a whole. This analysis now explains, apart from the non-canonical Neg V order in non-finites, the prohibition against particles with modality features (jEno and naki, for example) to appear in subordinate clauses of verbs selecting as complement a subjunctive, imperative or a conditional. However, it remains to be seen how this modality feature gets erased for cases where a VM cannot be justified in terms of PF convergence reasons. Since M indicates the modal force of the clause, it is present at the C-I interface and the modality feature enters the checking domain via raising. For non-finite cases in general, since the strong modality feature of M involves LF interpretation of the clause as a whole, I suggest that it is introduced via covert insertion at the root. I depart from Chomsky (1995) in suggesting that such an asymmetry in covert insertion of a strong feature is a language specific option. For obvious reasons, this insertion at root takes place via Merge.


Chomsky, N. 1995. The Minimalist Program. MIT Press, Mass.

Dasgupta, P. 1995. Remarks on Subjunctivity. In S.K. Verma and D. Singh (eds.), R. N. Srivastav Commemoration Volume

Manzini, M.R. 1994. The Subjunctive. Cahiers de Recherche du Department des Sciences du Langage, 1, Paris VIII

Pollock, J.-Y. 1994. Topics in Functional Structure, Checking Theory and Economy. International Summer Workshop in Syntax, CIEFL, Hyderabad


Also see:

  • Mood in Bangla
  • Bergamo Conference on Mood/ Tense
  • Forthcoming paper on Bangla Subjunctive