Towards a non-unitary analysis of modality

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationContrastes: mélanges offerts à Jacqueline Guillemin-Flescher
EditorsL Gournay, J-M Merle
Place of PublicationParis, France
Number of pages14
ISBN (Print)2708010824
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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