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LINGUIST List 22.186

Tue Jan 11 2011

Review: Semantics, Typology: Hansen and de Hahn (eds. 2009)

Editor for this issue: Anja Wanner <anjalinguistlist.org>

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        1.     Stella Gevorgyan-Ninness , Modals in the Languages of Europe : A Reference Work

Message 1: Modals in the Languages of Europe : A Reference Work
Date: 01-Jan-2011
From: Stella Gevorgyan-Ninness <stgevyahoo.com>
Subject: Modals in the Languages of Europe : A Reference Work
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EDITORS: Björn Hansen and Ferdinand de Haan
TITLE: Modals in the Languages of Europe
SUBTITLE: A Reference Work
PUBLISHER: Mouton de Gruyter
YEAR: 2009
Stella Gevorgyan-Ninness, Temple University, German Department


This book is a collection of essays describing modal constructions in European
and Non-European languages by applying grammaticalisation parameters. The essays
are derived from papers given at a workshop "Modals in the languages of Europe,"
held at 38th Conference of the Societas Linguistica Europaea in 2005. The
authors describe grammaticalisation by using the following parameters:
paradigmatic variability, paradigmaticity, integrity, structural scope,
bondedness, and syntagmatic variability. The chapters are divided into three
categories: Modals in Indo-European languages (Western branch), Modals in
Indo-European languages (Eastern branch), and Modals in non-Indo-European
The section on modals in Indo-European languages (Western branch) has chapters
devoted to Germanic languages, Irish, and Greek. In "Modals in the Germanic
languages," Tanja Mortelmans, Kasper Boye, and Johan van der Auwera compare the
central modals in English, Dutch, German, Danish, and Icelandic to measure to
which extent the modals are grammaticalised. Although modals in all five
languages share distinct morphosyntactic features, like being preterito-present,
followed by a bare infinitive, they show different grammaticalisation degrees,
both cross-linguistically and within individual languages (e.g. wollen is less
grammaticalised than other modals in German). Based on Lehmann's parameters,
English modals are highly grammaticalised whereas Icelandic modals are less
grammaticalised. German and Dutch modals are between these two poles, and Danish
modals share many similarities with the English modals. The authors arrive at
the conclusion that the distinction between epistemic and non-epistemic modals
is important for Germanic languages and also that modals need to be integrated
into a larger framework with reference to the entire verbal system of a
language. "Modals in Irish" (Peter McQuillan) describes the modals of necessity
and possibility in two main dialects, Northern and Southern Irish, dividing the
modals into internal core members, external core members, and periphery. "Modals
in the Romance languages" (Bert Cornillie, Walter de Mulder, Tine van Hecke, and
Dieter Vermandere) deals with the modal verbs of four Romance languages, French,
Spanish, Italian, and Rumanian. The authors argue that the modals in Romance
languages -- with the exception of Italian -- do not tend to form
morphologically or syntactically based paradigms, which leads to the semantic
definition of modals as a verbal class. In "Modals in Greek," Anastasios
Tsangalidis examines modern Greek modal verbs, moods, and modal particles. The
author comments that modality research is a recent development for Greek
linguistics. This article also emphasizes the interaction between tense and
aspect, which affects the modal interpretation.
The section on modals in Indo-European languages (Eastern branch) deals with
Slavonic languages, Baltic, Albanian, and Romani. "Modals in the Slavonic
languages" (Juliane Besters-Dilger, Ana Drobnjakovic, and Björn Hansen) covers
modal verbs in the North and South Slavonic languages and also deals with
language contact, noting that Russian preserved its original modal structure
best of all. Modals in the Slavonic languages differ from the Germanic ones with
respect to the way in which they form different types of construction. "Modals
in Baltic" (Axel Holvoet) deals with epistemic, deontic, and dynamic modality in
Lithuanian and Latvian, not limiting the research to just modal verbs, but also
including Latvian debitive mood and modal particles. "Modals in Albanian"
(Walter Breu) analyzes modals in Standard Albanian and its dialects. After
researching expressions of necessity, possibility, and volition in Albanian
dialects, he concludes that language contact played an important role for
modals. "Modality in Romani" (Viktor Elsík and Yaron Matras) is the best example
of the impact of language contact. The authors conclude that borrowing happens
according to the following hierarchy: necessity > possibility > volition. They
also argue that impersonal modals are more grammaticalised than personal modals .
The last section of the book, on modals in non-Indo-European languages, covers
an languages ranging from Arabic to Basque. "The grammaticalisation of modal
auxiliaries in Maltese and Arabic vernaculars of the Mediterranean area"
(Martine Vanhove, Catherine Miller, and Dominique Caubert) focuses on modals in
Maltese, Moroccan Arabic, and Egyptian and Levantine Arabic with special
attention to Tense-Aspect-Modality (TAM) interaction. The authors claim that if
a language grammaticalises TAM morphemes as verbal auxiliaries, it also
grammaticalises modals as verbal auxiliaries, whereas languages with already
developed TAM morphemes grammaticalise modals towards adverbs. "Modal verbs in
Balto-Finnic" (Petar Kehayov and Reeli Torn-Leesik) presents four types of
modality: participant-internal modality, participant-external modality, deontic
modality, and epistemic modality, in the Northern branch (Finnish, Karelian, and
Velps) and in the Southern branch (Estonian, Livonian, and Votic) of the
Balto-Finnic languages. Unlike Germanic modals, the Balto-Finnic languages
identify modals based on semantic criteria as a verbal group possessing a low
degree of grammaticalisation. "Modals in Hungarian" (Erika Körtvély) describes
modality patterns in Hungarian formed by modal verbs and auxiliaries, modal
adjectives, modal particles, and also modal affixes. The author concludes that
modals in Hungarian, unlike Germanic modals, do not build recognizable
morphological paradigms. "Mood and modality in Berber" (Amina Mettouchi) deals
more with mood and modality in Berber than with modal verbs, concluding that the
grammaticalisation of modals from full verbs does not apply to Berber. Regarding
TAM markers in modality, tense is according to the author apparently not
important. Aspect as the marker of interval vs. boundaries also does not play a
central role. "Modality in Basque" (Alan R. King) treats modality patterns in
Basque, a subject which is rarely researched in linguistics. One of the
complications of such research is the fact that modals in Basque do not have
homogeneous paradigms, but modal verbs in Basque have common features like
syntactic autonomy in contrast to tense auxiliaries. "Modals in Turkic" (Lars
Johanson) deals with expressions of volition, necessity, and possibility. It
also pays close attention to modality expression renewed under language contact
and the relation between originals and copies regarding different stages of


This book provides excellent new research on modality in languages where studies
on modal constructions are rarely conducted. It also emphasizes the impact of
language contact in modality. We find a vast amount of data about borrowing of
modals, a research area in modality that is still underdeveloped.
Uncovering grammaticalisation patterns for modals, which is the driving
principle of this book, is mainly influenced by research based on Germanic
languages. Various aspects of modality have been covered in research on English
and German modal verbs in the last thirty years, for example Jennifer Coates'
(1983) and Manfred Krug's (2000) books on English modals, Werner Abraham's
diverse books and articles regarding German and English modals, and Gabriele
Diewald's research on German modal verbs (1999). These works are now "must
readings" for research on modality. The problem is that although studying the
grammaticalisation patterns of modals may play a big role in Germanic languages,
it is not a very useful approach to modal constructions in general.
Grammaticalisation patterns become clear only when epistemic modality is
compared with non-epistemic (deontic and dynamic) modality. Epistemic modals
show a higher degree of grammaticalisation than deontic and dynamic modals.
Modals in English, German, and Dutch are, however, in a unique position because
they share similar morphosyntactic features. Modals in other languages, like
Slavonic, Hungarian, and Balto-Finnic, do not share homogeneous features, which
poins to the need for research in a direction other than examining
grammaticalisation. However, the articles in this book on Slavonic languages,
Baltic languages, Greek, and Balto-Finnic languages still provide us with new
research on personal vs. impersonal constructions. The need to integrate modal
constructions into the verbal paradigms, uncovering their link to TAM, and the
correlation between the modal constructions and grammatical category of person
are areas that demand far more coverage than they received in the essays in this
volume. Despite these limitations, this book is still a valuable reference tool
for linguists interested in modals and modal constructions beyond the
well-researched constructions that are found in Germanic languages.


Werner Abraham (2002): "Modal Verbs: Epistemics in German and English." In Sjef
Barbiers, Frits Beukema, and Wim van der Wurff (eds.) Modality and Its
Interaction with the Verbal System. Amsterdam: John Benjamins, 19-50.

Werner Abraham and Elisabeth Leiss, eds. (2008): Modality-Aspect Interfaces.
Implications and Typological Solutions. Amsterdam: John Ben¬jamins.

Jennifer Coates (1983): The Semantics of the Modal Auxiliaries. London: Croom Helm.

Gabriele Diewald (1999): Die Modalverben im Deutschen. Grammatikalisierung und
Polyfunktionaliät. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer.

Manfred Krug (2000): Emerging English Modals. A Corpus-Based Study of
Grammaticalization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Stella Gevorgyan-Ninness is the author of a book on modality and aspect in
German, Russian, and Armenian, "Die Herausbildung des epistemischen Ausdrucks
im Deutschen, Russischen und Armenischen: Aspekt und Modalität" (Frankfurt am
Main: Peter Lang, 2005).
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