LINGUIST List 27.1047

Mon Feb 29 2016

Diss: English, Morphology, Syntax: Dagmar Machová: 'Polyfunctionality and the Ongoing History of English Modals'

Editor for this issue: Ashley Parker <>

Date: 28-Feb-2016
From: Dagmar Machová <>
Subject: Polyfunctionality and the Ongoing History of English Modals
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Institution: Palacký University Olomouc
Program: English Language
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2016

Author: Dagmar Machová

Dissertation Title: Polyfunctionality and the Ongoing History of English Modals

Dissertation URL:

Linguistic Field(s): Morphology

Subject Language(s): English (eng)

Dissertation Director:
Ludmila Veselovska

Dissertation Abstract:

This dissertation aims to prove a link between the semantics of modal elements and formal properties. More precisely, it suggests the hypothesis that the polyfunctionality of a modal element, i.e. the ability of a modal to simultaneously express deontic and epistemic modalities, is in some languages reflected by morphosyntactic properties that cannot be observed with any other morphemes in the lexicon. The work focuses on English, and using a series of empirical evidence, it demonstates that polyfunctionality is linked to the absence of agreement –s and operator properties, i.e. the modal element inverts in questions, is followed by a clausal negation, etc. The work deals in detail with synchronic as well as with diachronic development of English modals, focusing both on central modals (can, should, must, etc.) as well as on marginal modal elements, such as dare, need, ought and on reduced modal expressions gotta, gonna, wanna, and better. As for German modals, the work proves that modal polyfunctionality in this language is related to the absence of agreement.

The dissertation deals with central as well as marginal modals, such as dürfen ‘may’, können ‘can’, mögen ‘may’, werden ‘be, become’, brauchen ‘need’, showing how semantics impacts the morphosyntactic properties of these elements. The last section discusses polyfunctionality with Chinese modals and demonstrates how polyfunctionality can contribute to a more systematic analysis of Chinese modals.

Page Updated: 29-Feb-2016