The pragmatics of modal verbs in English and German
In: Rasulic, Katarina and Trbojevic Milosevic, Ivana, eds.
Structures across cultures.
English Language and Literature Studies
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Modals have several distinct uses, and the relationship between these uses is a controversial issue in linguistics. We argue here that the relationship is different for different modals, and that the semantics and pragmatics of modal verbs in English and German is less systematic than has traditionally been assumed. Focusing on 'can' and 'may' and their German counterparts 'konnen' and 'mogen', we propose a new theoretical approach to analysing modals cross-linguistically and use the work of Recanati (2004) to capture the idea of "more pragmatics". We propose that the central issue in analysing modal meanings is the balance of semantics and pragmatics in the interpretation of modals. Our analysis will then investigate how this distinction can be accounted for in the evaluation of German modals and what impact its value has cross-linguistically.
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