Modality, usage and diachrony : Constructional changes in the modal domain in American English
The present work revisits changes in the modal domain in AmE. It is argued that the individual developments of the core modal verbs and selected semi-modals over the course of the 19th and 20th century have been heterogenous in such a way that a unified treatment of either category as a whole is conceptually and methodologically highly questionable at best. The lack of any clear uniformity regarding their distributional behavior across time is particularly remarkable in the case of the modal verbs, as it stands in stark contrast to their morphosyntactic coherence. Furthermore, the case studies presented here reveal that even some modal verbs and their institutionalized contracted forms are on different paths in terms of their distribution as well as function, which casts serious doubts on whether lumping them together can be justified. Therefore, the case is made that, next to formal and functional properties, distributional information (i.e. any aspects related to usage intensity) requires careful consideration and should factor in when it comes to identifying more homogenous sub-categories of modal expressions. Essentially, the goal is to identify conventionalized modal utterance types that may also correspond (more or less) to the mental representations speakers have abstracted.
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