The Noncanonical Modality of Russian Imperatives

Edit Jakab, Universite du Quebec a Montreal

In this paper I investigate imperatives and the ways in which they express modality by examining Russian constructions in which the imperative, rather than exhibiting its typical illocutionary forces (such as command, instruction, request, warning, etc.), conveys a broader range of meanings. The noncanonical uses of the imperative can be divided into two types: one type is a subordinate counterfactual conditional construction, as in (1), while the other is a coordinated construction, which will be referred to as contrastive imperative construction, illustrated in (2). What they have in common is that they both express a modal meaning of some sort that has nothing to do with the imperative's canonical illocutionary forces.

(1) Bud' to sam prezident, ja ne postupil by inache.
beIMP2SG itself presidentNOM I NEG acted COND differently
'Even if it were the president himself, I would not have acted differently'. (Townsend 1970: 257)

(2) On vsĪ vremja igrajet v karty s druz'jami, a a rabotaj na kuxne. (R)
he all time plays in cards with friends but NOM workIMP2SG on kitchen
'He plays cards all the time with his friends, and I have to work in the kitchen'. (Townsend 1970: 257)

(3) Vse veselo guljali i peli, a on -- voz'mi da vernis' domoj.
all gaily walked and sang but heNOM takeIMP2SG PRT returnIMP2SG home
'Everybody was strolling along gaily and singing, and he, all of a sudden takes it into his head to go home'. (Townsend 1970: 257)

In (1), the imperative has a counterfactual conditional meaning. On the other hand, sentences (2-3) have different interpretations. They can be divided into two subtypes: one subtype expresses obligation, as in (2), and the other a sudden, unexpected action with respect to the state described in its conjoined clause, as in (3).

The main goal of this paper is to give a semantic and syntactic account for the ability of the Russian imperative to express this range of modal meanings. Although the meaning of the imperative in their various functions is described in the traditional Russian literature (Shvedova et al. (1980); Xrakovskij & Volodin (1986); Barnetov· et al. (1979)), no explanation is provided about how they operate. The examples in (1-3) morphosyntactically differ from the regular uses of imperatives in the following three ways. (i) The imperative verb form contains no distinctions of grammatical person or number, i.e., it is always the second person singular. (ii) This unchangeable imperative verb form may be applied to a subject in any of the three persons in both numbers. Consequently, there is no agreement between the imperative verb and the subject of the clause. (iii) The subject of the imperative must be overt. It will be argued that both constructions ((1) and (2-3)) lack TP and therefore the subject of these imperatives has no case (cf. Platzak & Rosenberg (1997)). They do not contain AgrSP either since the subject does not agree with the imperative verb. Furthermore, the imperative raises to C in both sentence types; however, the feature specification ascribed to C is different. C in conditional-type imperatives, such as (1), bears a [cond] feature, which attracts the imperative verb which has the properties of the conditional complementizer. On the other hand, I shall argue that C in (2-3) has the feature [imp] that is canonically attributed to imperative verbs. The feature [imp] entails the semantics expressed by contrastive imperatives, e.g., obligation, given that the imperative contains a deontic modal force. Therefore there is no need to ascribe a different feature specification to the imperative operator in C.

Notice, however, that there is a difference in the position of the subject in (1) and in (2-3). In (2-3), the subject of the clause introduced by the conjunction a but; on the other hand, always precedes the imperative verb, in contrast with (1), in which the subject necessarily follows the imperative. It will be argued that the subject in (1) remains in situ while the subject in (2-3) moves from its base-generated position (i.e., Spec-vP) to a topic position in Spec-CP, thus accounting for the word order of these sentences.

I extend the analysis, proposed for contrastive imperatives, to another type of construction in Russian, i.e., root infinitive constructions such as (4), which exhibit similar properties. Both root infinitives and contrastive imperatives show lack of agreement between the obligatorily clause-initial nominative subject and the main predicate. In my paper it will be shown how my analysis compares and differs from Greenberg's (1991), which proposes an adjoined topic position for the nominative NP in Russian root infinitives (or "actor-infinitives" in his terminology).

(4) Muzh zevat', a zhena spat'. (R)
husbandNOM yawnINF but wifeNOM sleepINF
'The husband yawns and the wife sleeps'. (Greenberg 1991:352)

The theoretical advantage of my proposal is that it makes it possible to account for two syntactically related constructions, i.e., contrastive imperatives and root infinitives, in a similar way.