"Look what I found in this book!"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Sep 12 18:34:06 UTC 2011

This example is an impressive triple-header.  First, there's the personal dative.  (Robin, can you and yours in the U.K. say "They've got them…", where the "them" co-refers to "they"?)  Then, there's the subject relative without a relative pronoun (standard is "They have something that/which could heal Daddy" or, for object relatives, "They have something Daddy could use", but not "They have something could heal Daddy", although this construction has long been discussed in the variationist literature and is frequently attested in colloquial speech).  Finally, there's the double modal, which is found in Scotland, in Texas and elsewhere in the south, but not in the "standard language".  A number of treatments have examined the range of constraints on modal sequences (e.g. the fact that many speakers who can say "might could" can't say "could might"), the semantic values of the two modals involved, the possibility for inversion and negation in these constructions, and so on.  I don't think "intensifier" really captures it.  For a brief discussion with bibliography, see http://microsyntax.sites.yale.edu/multiple-modals


On Sep 12, 2011, at 7:21 AM, Robin Hamilton wrote:

> My turn to say I don't quite get this, Wilson.  Seems to my (admittedly
> non-American) ear a quite acceptable colloquial phrasing, with the ~"might
> could" operating as an intensifier (as in the BritEnglish, "no nay never no
> more").
> Robin
> --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      "Look what I found in this book!"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> "_They've got them_ a treatment might could heal Daddy!"
> --
> -Wilson
> -----
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint
> to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> -Mark Twain
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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