Towards a non-unitary analysis of modality
Salkie, Raphael (2004) Towards a non-unitary analysis of modality In: Gournay, L and Merle, J-M, eds. Contrastes: mélanges offerts à Jacqueline Guillemin-Flescher. Ophrys, Paris, France, pp. 169-182. ISBN 2708010824
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Recent studies of English modals assume that each modal has its place in a systematic pattern of meanings. We argue here that this assumption is questionable, and that when we compare English modals with their French translations, different patterns emerge which show modality in a different light. Using a subset of the INTERSECT translation corpus, we examine translations of can and may into French. The results suggest, contrary to previous research, that “factuality” is not the key notion distinguishing can from may. We propose that can has a basic meaning of ability, may a kind of possibility, and French pouvoir a low degree of modality in the possibility domain. Thus the three modals are basically very different in their semantics.
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