Chapter published in:Re-Assessing Modalising Expressions: Categories, co-text, and context
Edited by Pascal Hohaus and Rainer Schulze
[Studies in Language Companion Series 216] 2020
► pp. 17–46
Revisiting global and intra-categorial frequency shifts in the English modals
A usage-based, constructionist view on the heterogeneity of modal development
English modal verbs are claimed to be declining in their use in English (Leech 2011, 2013; inter alia), an assertion that is essentially based on aggregate frequencies of modals across register and time (Biber 2004). Since modals may be viewed as a prime example of paradigmatic organization (e.g. Diewald 2009; Diewald & Smirnova 2012), it seems only plausible to seek a generalization regarding their overall development. This approach, however, comes with a drawback, namely that it neglects the modal system’s underlying heterogeneity. By utilizing both historical and contemporary language data from COHA (Davies 2010) and COCA (Davies 2008), I will argue that the obvious variability in the English modal system represents an important caveat against making generalizations across an entire category in terms of frequency shifts.
Keywords: modal constructions, contractions, diachronic Construction Grammar, COHA, COCA
Published online: 12 November 2020
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