Ambiguities with the Norwegian modal "vil"

tetsugakusha43

Member
Spanish
I was reading a book on Norwegian syntax and it said that in (1a) modal vil has an epistemic reading: 'a messenger will fall down from the tree'. However, it is ambiguous in (1b) because it also has a nonepistemic reading: 'a messenger wants (or is planning to) fall down from the tree'.

(1a) Det vil falle ein utsending ned frå treet
(1b) Ein utsending vil falle ned frå treet


If you share these judgments, would you say the questions (2a-b) preserve the readings of (1a-b)? In particular, are both readings of (1b) preserved in (2b) or is one more awkward than the other?

(2a) Vil det falle ein utsending ned frå treet?
(2b) Vil ein utsending falle ned frå treet?
 
  • Svenke

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    The b-sentences are both strange in two ways. First, because of the indefinite subject. Second, because falling is usually nonintentional. The latter can be remedied if one replaces falle with hoppe 'jump'.

    That said, I think
    Ein utsending vil hoppe ned frå treet
    is slightly less awkward than
    Vil ein utsending hoppe ned frå treet?
    (both with 'want' readings of vil).
    I'm not sure why.

    At any rate, I think most speakers would prefer to use clefting in such cases:
    Det er ein utsending som vil hoppe ned frå treet
    Er det ein utsending som vil hoppe ned frå treet?

    But that might not be relevant to your question.
     

    raumar

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    I agree with Svenke - your example sentences are a bit strange. But if your main question is whether "vil" in some cases is ambiguous, and whether this ambiguity is preserved in questions, the answer is yes.

    Let us take a more realistic example: Donald Trump vil gå av som president.
    This is ambiguous - it can mean both that he is going to resign and that he wants to resign. This ambiguity is preserved in the question Vil Donald Trump gå av som president?

    Note that the structure in your sentences 1a and 2a only can be used with an indefinite subject (and as Svenke pointed out, it sounds strange to say anything about the wishes and preferences of an indefinite subject).
     

    serbianfan

    Senior Member
    British English
    Why do books on learning languages give such useless examples? When are you likely to talk about messengers falling out of trees? Let's replace it with a more realistic sentence - about a kitten up a tree. If the branches are slippery and I think the kitten will fall, I wouldn't use "vil" anyway in spoken language: "Jeg tror den kattungen faller/detter/kommer til å falle/dette ned fra treet snart". If it looks as if the kitten wants to jump, I could use "vil": "jeg tror kattungen vil hoppe ned fra treet". In theory, that "vil" could also mean "is going to", but I think people would understand from the context that it means "wants to" and they would be more likely to use "skal" or "kommer til å" for "is going to". Ambiguity is more likely in written language, as in Raumar's example about Trump.
     

    myšlenka

    Senior Member
    Norwegian
    Why do books on learning languages give such useless examples? When are you likely to talk about messengers falling out of trees?
    Well, it was not a book on learning Norwegian, but rather a book on Norwegian syntax meant for language theorists. And for that purpose, it is useful :)
     
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