The Grammar of Autobiography: A Developmental Account

By Jean Quigley | Go to book overview

4
Sense of Responsibility: CAN

CAN
All age groups primarily use CAN to express root possibility.
Also CAN to comment on mental ability, especially the 12-year-old group.
The 8-year-olds use the permission and imperative notions of CAN more than the other groups (a persistent pattern in this data).
Only the 12-year-olds use hypothetical and predictive CAN.

CAN'T
The root possibility meaning is the most common use of the CAN'T form for the 5-and 8-year-olds.
For the 12-year-olds, mental ability CAN'T is most frequent and it is also the second most expressed meaning for the 5- and 8-year-old groups.
Some uses of the desire function for CAN'T are found in the 12-year age group.

COULD(NT)
All age groups use COULD and its negative variant COULDN'T most in terms of root possibility.
Both 5- and 12-year-olds but not the 8-year-old group use physical and mental ability COULD(N'T) frequently.
The 5-year-old group use COULD and COULDN'T most overall, over 30% of their modal auxiliaries, whereas the 12-year-olds in this context have little use for this modal.

Overall the root possibility function is the one most associated with CAN (and we'll see with COULD, and their negatives, contracted forms and so on) for this group. There are three points to discuss in relation to this observation based in part on the diachronic literature that has a bearing on the use of these forms in

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