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● Source: p 55, A Student's Introduction to English Grammar (2005), by Huddleston and Pullum

Please do NOT rephrase or rewrite the disputed sentences.

Epistemic and deontic meanings are not in general associated with different expressions. Many examples are ambiguous, allowing either kind of interpretation for the modal:

[53] You must be very tactful.            [epistemic or deontic]

There is an epistemic interpretation of this [= sentence [53] above]
UNDER which it means I have evidence that ... you're very tactful.

1. What's the antecedent of it ?    2. What's the antecedent of which ?

3. How can an interpretation be UNDER a sentence? I (not the book) capitalised.

4. What would differ, if I rewrote [53] without UNDER and it? (Heed the strikethroughs.)

5. There is an epistemic interpretation of this UNDER whichit   means ...
= There is an epistemic interpretation of this      which    means ...

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    If you will allow me to get to the point without discussing grammar, There is an epistemic interpretation of this under which it means I have evidence that leads me to believe you're very tactful == There is an epistemic interpretation of this (sentence), and [U]nder it ((the interpretation of) the sentence), it means I have evidence that leads me to believe you're very tactful. The second part talks about the underlying meaning of the usage. May 6, 2015 at 22:13
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    There's an epistemic interpretation of this sentence. Under this interpretation, the sentence means...
    – TimR
    May 6, 2015 at 22:14
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    @TRomano +1 and in case Law is wondering how a sentence can be under an interpretation, well, the interpretation covers the sentence (like a blanket); it glosses it (like varnish over wood); it governs it (and typically authority is seen, metaphorically, to be imposed from above).
    – Dan Bron
    May 7, 2015 at 0:53
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    @Dan Bron: +1 for the glosses pun :) though the humdrum governed is apter. When the sentence is subject to this interpretation...
    – TimR
    May 7, 2015 at 11:42
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    I would ask the OP to quote sources INTACT at least once before applying highlights and inserting asides etc etc.
    – TimR
    May 7, 2015 at 11:55

2 Answers 2

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Let me add indices to indicate referents, and repoint to clarify what is said to be meant:

There is an epistemic interpretation1 of this [sentence]2 UNDER which1 it2 means I have evidence that ... you're very tactful.

That is, there are two intepretations of the sentence You must be very tactful.
While under (or “according to”) the deontic interpretation, the sentence means:

It is necessary/desirable that you be very tactful,

under the epistemic interpretation the sentence means

I have evidence that ... you're very tactful.

In other words, the deontic interpretation understands this to be a sentence about the hearer's obligation; the epistemic interpretation understands this to be a sentence about the speaker's inference.

There is an epistemic interpretation which means ...

Your rewrite is quite different. Here it is the interpretation which is said to have a meaning. That's an unusual notion, but not meaningless; it would be valid, for instance, if H&P wanted to say that employing this interpretation is a sign of the interpreter's predilection:

There is an epistemic interpretation which means that the interpreter is probably a logician.

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  • Please advise if my edit's right?
    – user8712
    May 13, 2015 at 2:57
  • +1. Thanks. Also, would you please enlarge on your last para, and explain it as if I were 10 years old? It feels abstract. How's my rewrite an unusual notion, but not meaningless? What did you mean by interpreter's predilection?
    – user8712
    May 13, 2015 at 2:59
  • @LePressentiment "The interpretation of X is Y" is equivalent to "X means Y" -- both assign the meaning X to Y. To say "The interpretation of X means Y", is exactly the opposite: it assigns the meaning Y to X. Jun 26, 2015 at 17:21
  • Thanks again. I understand your comment above, but how does it relate to your last para, which still confuses me?
    – user8712
    Jun 26, 2015 at 18:05
  • @LePressentiment What 'meaning' can an interpretation have? It has nothing to do with the 'meaning' of the entity interpreted: that is the interpretation. It has to 'mean' something else: for instance, the kind of interpretation which the interpreter favors. Jun 26, 2015 at 18:51
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There is an epistemic interpretation of this under which it means I have evidence ... that you're very tactful.

  1. The antecedent of it is the antecedent of this. Less likely, one could also interpret this as an "impersonal it" to refer to an action that doesn't have a definite subject (in the same sense as "it is raining," etc.)

  2. The antecedent of which is "epistemic interpretation".

  3. The interpretation is not under the sentence, the sentence is under the interpretation. Under is a preposition that can express the meaning controlled by, governed by, filtered through, etc.

4.

There is an epistemic interpretation of this which means I have evidence ... that you're very tactful.

With this sentence, you are saying since an epistemic interpretation is possible, you have evidence. Even if you do not choose to interpret "this" using an epistemic interpretation, it is still good as evidence.

With the previous sentence, you are saying an epistemic interpretation is possible, and that only if you chose to interpret "this" filtered through such epistemic interpretation, then you would you then be able to use that as evidence. You are implying there are other interpretations which don't mean you have evidence.

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  • I think not; the "evidence" is the speaker's evidence that the hearer is in fact tactful. May 6, 2015 at 22:50
  • Thanks, but I'm confused. Which sentence is meant by With the previous sentence? Also, does a typo exist in then you would you then be able to use that as evidence?
    – user8712
    Jun 26, 2015 at 17:03

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