Academic journal article Scottish Language

Exotic Multiple Modals: Semantic and Morphosyntactic Survey

Academic journal article Scottish Language

Exotic Multiple Modals: Semantic and Morphosyntactic Survey

Article excerpt


Since 1973, fifty papers have dealt with the concept of multiple modal (1) variations in the English-speaking world. Contrary to single modals in which only one modal auxiliary can be added in a standard English sentence, multiple modality is a series of two or three adjacent modals in a vernacular English syntax. Most of the papers on modal combinations were written in the United States, analyzing double modals mainly used in the spoken style by native citizens living in North and South Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas as well as those living in the Appalachians and the Ozark territories. Over a hundred multiple modal combinations were detected in non-standard American and British dialects. In the United Kingdom, multiple modals are mainly produced in regions of Southern Scotland (The Scottish Borders, Dumfries and Galloway, the Lothians), counties of Northern England (Northumberland, Cumberland) and North-Eastern Ulster (Antrim, Down, Londonderry). Their grammatical rules are different from standard modality. Before tackling this vernacular grammar, it is necessary to recall the syntactic properties of contemporary standard modals:

(a) Modals do not take do-support (*do not must)

(b) They do not have gerunds (*musting), participles (*have would), or a to-infinitive (*to can)

(c) They are not inflected (*he cans)

(d) They undergo subject-auxiliary inversion (Can you open the door?)

(e) They are followed by the negation (He should not disturb her now)

(f) They do not take normal complementation, such as direct objects (*She can it)

(g) They do not appear next to each other (*He must can fix the car)

(h) They are followed by a bare infinitive (They will join them soon)

Contrary to the standard modal rule written in (g), it is necessary in the multiple modality system that modals co-occur in the syntax. Each one plays a specific role in the semantics of the syntax whilst excluding Chomsky's properties of universal or generative grammar which clearly state that only one modal can be integrated in a clause and that it has to represent the head of the clause:

The English double modal auxiliaries such as might could pose significant problems for most formal syntactic theories, from Chomskyan generative varieties (e.g., Government-Binding theory) to phrase-structure grammars (e.g., Generalized Phrase Structure Grammar). In the Phrase Structure Grammar Approach, the English modals are heads of a V projection, [...] then, modal combinations are essentially ruled out. (Nagle 1995: 207)

The problem with Chomsky's theories resides in the non-connection of peripheral or extralinguistic factors (societies, social groups using dialects, societal contexts) with core internal linguistic factors (grammatical rules, dialectal syntax, language system). The separation of the core and the periphery should never occur since every dialectal phenomenon such as multiple modality is always generated in the first place by individuals or community groups in a society. The reverse is not possible.

His methods cannot be applied in a dialectal study that accepts sequences of modals in a vernacular English syntax.

Although the syntax of Multiple Modality is quite diversified, only a fraction of the sequences of this dialectal system has been studied over these past forty years. Most researchers (Butters 1973; Battistella 1991; Close 2004) mainly focused on double modal combinations in which might is in first position as in might could, might should, might would. The aim of this paper is to start an analysis of the other 'exotic' (Mishoe and Montgomery 1994: 7), more uncommon, multiple modal structures containing over two modals to obtain the first explanations as for the semantic and syntactic understanding of these rarely used but varied complex combinations in the Anglophone world.

The first section of this paper will give a general presentation of these exotic structures by proposing a list of Scottish and American triple (three) and quadruple (four) modals. …

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