If you have ever browsed my About Us page, you will know that I earned a BA in English studies with a minor in creative writing in May 2007 from Illinois State University, an MS in library and information science in May 2009 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and an MS in English studies with an emphasis in linguistics in December 2011 from Illinois State University. I wrote my English studies thesis on multiple modals in American English. I am now excited to share that my thesis is now available in book form: Structure and Meaning of Periphrastic Modal Verbs in Modern American English: Multiple Modals as Single-Unit Constructions.
Characterized by the use of two or more modal verbs not joined by a conjunction within one verb phrase, multiple modals are not sequences of modal verbs governed by a syntactic or lexical rule but rather multiple-word single-unit constructions. Strictly ordered, multiple modals consist of an epistemic modal verb followed by a root modal verb. Although a combination of the fifteen English modal verbs should result in a minimum of 210 possible multiple modal combinations, research indicates a limited set attested by the restricted inventories of possible multiple modals in multiple modal Englishes and for individual speakers.
Native English speakers of England, Scotland, and Ireland; the southeastern United States; and the Caribbean regularly use at least one multiple modal on occasion, particularly in facesaving contexts, regardless of vertical and horizontal axes of variation. First appearing in written English approximately eight hundred years ago, multiple modals most likely developed from changes in the modal verb system from Old English to Modern English; however, historical multiple modals differed significantly in grammar and meaning from contemporary multiple modals. The most significant change—from epistemic-epistemic combinations to epistemic-root combinations—established the required grammatical and pragmatic conditions governing the use of multiple modals.
Previous scholarship disagrees on the analysis of multiple modals, specifically about the status of the individual modal verbs and the structure of the entire multiple modal. The syntactic behavior of multiple modals supports the argument for the verbal status of the individual modal verbs. However, traditional linguistic analyses that allow for multiple modals through modified rules fail to take into consideration semantic and pragmatic limitations on multiple modals; lexical approaches do not fully account for the grammar of multiple modals. Instead, multiple modals are multiple-word single-unit constructions, an argument supported by the idiosyncrasies and regularities of multiple modals including the limited number of naturally occurring combinations.
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