Modals and typology: English and German in contrast
Salkie, Raphael (2007) Modals and typology: English and German in contrast In: Gómez-González, M, ed. Proceedings of the fourth international contrastive linguistics conference. John Benjamins, Amsterdam, Netherlands. (In Press)
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One approach to contrastive linguistics is to set up typological categories and then to compare languages in relation to these categories. A valuable concept here is a typological cluster, a development of prototype theory. We review prototype theory in psychology and lexical semantics, in grammar, in typology, and in previous work on modality and then propose a set of criteria which identify the category of modality. When English and German modal verbs are analysed with respect to the criteria, some of them turn out to meet all the criteria and can be said to have a high degree of modality. Others, however, frequently fail to meet the criteria and are therefore not central members of the category – in other words, they have a low degree of modality. Our analysis sheds new light on several differences between modals in English and German. Using data from a translation corpus, our analysis can explain some contrasts between CAN and KÖNNEN, and between SHOULD and SOLLEN.
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