Grammaticalization and the semantic landscape of English and German modal verbs
Whitt, Richard Jason
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Modal verbs in English and German have two main uses. One of these uses, commonly known as deontic, concerns conditions of the subject. The other use, epistemic, focuses on the speaker’s attitude towards the proposition. These disparate uses have not always existed in English and German; they are the result of an ages-long grammaticalization process, a process in which lexical items lose their semantic features and/or formal markings to serve grammatical functions. The beginnings of this process are found in Proto-Germanic, where fully lexical, stative verbs become partially grammaticalized (yet still lexical) deontic modals in Old English and Old High German. The more grammaticalized, epistemic modals generally do not appear until later in the Middle English and Middle High German periods. And finally, Modern English and New High German attest a rich semantic landscape that features a broad range of deontic and epistemic meanings. I argue that metaphor has been the driving cognitive motivation behind these changes.
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