LINGUIST List 32.1885

Tue Jun 01 2021

Calls: Gen Ling, Hist Ling, Semantics, Syntax, Typology/France

Editor for this issue: Lauren Perkins <>

Date: 01-Jun-2021
From: Rea Peltola <>
Subject: Postmodality and the life cycles of modal expressions
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Full Title: Postmodality and the life cycles of modal expressions

Date: 02-Jun-2022 - 03-Jun-2022
Location: Caen, France
Contact Person: Rea Peltola
Meeting Email: < click here to access email >
Web Site:

Linguistic Field(s): General Linguistics; Historical Linguistics; Semantics; Syntax; Typology

Call Deadline: 30-Nov-2021

Meeting Description:

The cross-linguistic evolution of modal expressions is described as chain-like grammaticalization structures where items of different degrees of semanticity follow one another in a predetermined order. Lexical or otherwise semantically more concrete elements develop into different types of expressions of possibility and necessity until they eventually bleach into semantically less and less specific, abstract markers (e. g. Lehmann 2015). Bybee, Perkins & Pagliuca (1994) identified paths of development across a set of unrelated languages for different types of modalities. According to the authors, all these tracks present an evolution from agent-oriented source meanings through speaker-oriented and epistemic modalities to subordinate uses.

In van der Auwera & Plungian (1998), these paths were put together and elaborated into maps consisting of three domains. Premodal domain brings together lexical source expressions that enter the modal domain, sometimes through auxiliarization or other changes in grammatical shape. At the other end, postmodal sphere involves a rather heterogeneous set of desemanticized elements that no longer carry modal meaning. A famous example are the Romance future tenses stemming from the latin modal periphrasis ''habere + INF'' (''cantare habeo'' ‘I can/must sing’) which ceased to convey possibility and necessity when grammaticalizing into a verbal tense (''chanterai'' ‘I will sing’). Another case in point is the English modal auxiliary ''should'' when used for marking that the state of affairs deviates from the speaker’s expectations: ''– Can I get you some coffee? – Strange that you should ask'' (see Celle 2018: 39). At the interface between modal and postmodal domains, the grammaticalization paths cross, as both possibility and necessity tracks may lead to certain postmodal meanings. This was one of van der Auwera & Plungian’s (1998) main arguments for unifying the different paths into a map. The evolutions described by the map result from semantic processes of different types: specialization, generalization and extension (metaphor and metonymy).

These models have ever since inspired further studies, both in typological perspective and in individual languages. Modality’s semantic map has been finetuned, elaborated and discussed (e. g. van der Auwera, Kehayov & Vittrant 2009; van der Auwera 2013; Traugott 2016; Georgakopoulos & Polis 2018). Attention has been drawn to the evolution of non-verbal modal categories, the areal restriction in certain grammaticalization paths and the crosslinguistic variation as to the presence and evolution of particular subcategories of modality (e. g. Traugott 2011; Narrog 2012; Becker 2014). Constructional approaches have recently undertaken to research the evolution of modal meanings in patterns where both grammaticalization and lexicalization processes come into play and as part of developments within networks of constructions, beyond individual units (e. g. Hilpert 2016; Cappelle & Depraetere 2016; Hilpert, Cappelle & Depraetere, to appear; see also Schulze & Hohaus 2020).

With this conference, we aim to shed light on the late stages in the evolution of modal items, namely the transition from modal to postmodal domain, the internal structure of the postmodal category and the possible remodalization cycles.

Keynote speakers:
- Martin Becker (Köln)
- Agnès Celle (Paris)
- Heiko Narrog (Tohoku), video conference

CRISCO EA4255 Research center
Evgeniya Gorshkova-Lamy
Adeline Patard
Rea Peltola

Call for Papers:

We call for contributions from different theoretical and methodological approaches and concerning any language. The conference focusses on, but is not restricted to, the following topics and questions:

- Various semantic-functional notions have been identified at the border separating modal and postmodal spheres, such as concession, condition, complementation, optative, future-time, quotative and consecution. How to operate with this rich array of concepts within a language and cross-linguistically?

- Which semantic mechanisms and internal and external parameters of change can be found across languages? Which are the contexts triggering the far-reaching grammaticalization process? To what extent are phrasal or discursive structures carrying postmodal meaning conventionalized as constructions (Goldberg 2010) and, thus, form linguistic units of their own?

- The limits separating the categories that form Modality’s semantic map are not sharp but rather gradual, or even fuzzy (see van der Auwera & Plungian 1998: 88). How are clines of change manifest in the modal-postmodal interval? Through which semantic processes do the modal origins determine the emerging postmodal meanings? Is it necessarily about the modal meaning becoming weaker or lower, or rather a shift or a redistribution of meaning and pragmatic reinforcement, as in the early stages of grammaticalization (Heine, Claudi & Hünnemeyer 1991, Hopper & Traugott 1993)? Or should we talk about different layers of modality and more elusive modal meaning, as suggested by Celle (2018) when investigating the English ''would'' and ''should'' in factual but affective utterances?

- The decrease in semantic integrity proceeds unevenly: certain semantic components pertain, others are lost underway (e. g. Lehmann 2015: 136–137). How can we describe the desemantization process in cognitive semantic terms? Which conceptual structures remain in the transition from modal to postmodal?

- Grammaticalization intersects with (inter)subjectification of meaning (Traugott 2010). For example, the Swedish auxiliaries ''må'' ‘may, should’ and ''måtte'' ‘may, must’ display high degrees of intersubjectification as postmodal markers (Beijering 2017). In French, Le Querler (2001) has referred to discursive functions of demodalized ''pouvoir'' ‘can’. Is the semantic potential left by the lost meaning components somehow put at the service of interaction, discourse and text? Through what mechanisms does this happen?

- Not all modal categories are verbal (see Gosselin 2010 for examples). In what ways does postmodality involve other syntactic categories (nouns, adjectives, adverbs)? Are the paths of evolution the same as those identified in the verbal domain?

- The cyclical nature of linguistic change is observed in various syntactic and semantic categories (see van Gelderen 2009). In the literature concerning the grammaticalization of modal elements, there are some examples of items displaying “full cycles” in their evolution. For example, the future tense can be the result of demodalization, on the one hand, and the remodalized source for new modal meanings, on the other (van der Auwera & Plungian 1998: 97). How to describe the relationships between “generations” of modal elements? What risks are associated with conveying analogies between evolution in biological organisms and linguistic change (Dahl 2001)?

Abstract submission:
Anonymous abstracts of no more than 500 words, excluding references, are to be submitted by November 30, 2021, via Sciencesconf platform: Each abstract will be reviewed by (at least) two members of the Scientific committee. Notifications of acceptance will be sent in February 2022. The talks will be 20 minutes long, followed by 10 minutes for discussion. The working languages are English and French.

Page Updated: 01-Jun-2021