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Processes of change in modal collocation.

To express 'modality' (roughly the expression of necessity and possibility), English has lexical – e.g. 'modal adverbs' (probably, possibly, well, ...) –, and grammatical strategies – a paradigm of 'modal verbs' (can, will, should, may, must etc.). The combination of these strategies – 'modal collocation' (e.g. may well, could possibly) – has been under-researched and lacks a solid framework. The following facts are the background of my research question:(1) A decline in frequency of the modal verbs;(2) 'Emerging' constructions taking over traditional modal functions (e.g. havta, gonna);(3) A seeming resistance of decline for those modal verbs which co-occur more often with modal adverbs. The proposed research takes a cognitive-functional approach with reference to Construction Grammar. It investigates whether modal collocation should be understood as an emerging construction with strong internal dependencies and a level of schematicity. If this is found, a point can be made that we are dealing with constructional emergence at increasingly more schematic levels – 'constructionalisation'. This, in turn, could explain why the modal verbs that often collocate with modal adverbs have resisted a decline in use. I will additionally investigate whether there is competition between the modal verbs and modal collocation. I hypothesise that several processes of change are at work in modal collocation (e.g. lexicalisation and grammaticalisation), resulting in a continuum of utterances displaying degrees of constructionalisation and different functional uses. I also assume that modal collocation has played a role in the current-day frequencies of modal verbs in English. I will conduct corpus studies on data from Old English until Present Day English, looking into co-occurrence patterns of modal verbs and modal adverbs within the same sentence as well as the individual development of modal (ad)verbs. I will use three parameters for the analysis of constructionalisation (generality, schematicity and productivity) next to parameters traditionally found in grammaticalisation literature. I will also conduct statistical tests, such as collostructional analysis, to back up and elaborate on the findings. Confirming the hypothesis will not only offer insights into the workings of English modality, but it will strengthen the plausibility of constructional approaches to language change, which are still in need of empirical evidence.
Date:1 Oct 2013  →  30 Jun 2014
Disciplines:Language studies, Linguistics, Literary studies