Chapter in:Particles in German, English, and Beyond
Edited by Remus Gergel, Ingo Reich and Augustin Speyer
[Studies in Language Companion Series 224] 2022
► pp. 243–268
Chapter 9Scalarity as a meaning atom in wohl-type particles
German wohl ‘well’, Norwegian vel ‘well’ and French bien ‘well’ are all known to have a modal particle reading that roughly amounts to ‘surely, probably, I guess’ (see Zimmermann 2008; Fretheim 1991; Detges & Waltereit 2009). This paper addresses the question of how such a reading could have arisen from the source meaning of these elements (i.e. ‘well’). I propose an analysis of wohl-type (i.e. ‘well’-type) modal particles as scalar operators, which is based on the observation that each of them appears to have diachronically gone through an intermediate stage in which it was clearly a scalar modifier (namely wohl ‘approximately’, vel ‘approximately, more than’, and bien ‘very’). The core idea of my contribution is that the modal particle variant is still a scalar operator in nature, but has emerged through a shift in the type of scale that the particle operates on (in line with Beltrama’s 2015 approach to English totally). Scalarity thus emerges as a common meaning atom (or meaning molecule), in the spirit of von Fintel & Matthewson (2008: 154,172), which serves as a building block in the semantic makeup of wohl-type particles.
Keywords: modal particle, discourse particle, German, Norwegian, French, scalarity, approximately, meaning atom, universal inventory of functional meanings, grammaticalization
- 2.A modal particle puzzle
- 3.The core proposal
- 4.Evidence for a scalar source lexeme
- 5.Evidence from overlap
- 6.Support from dialectal variation
- 7.Future directions / micro-parameters
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