Double modal

Paul A Johnston, Jr. paul.johnston at WMICH.EDU
Sat Dec 30 02:42:13 UTC 2006

No, you're not, Laurence.  I'm just quoting an ex-colleague of mine, a very devout Chomskyan (who
considered dialectologists/sociolinguists as non-linguists because they "only analyze behavior"), who
refused to see that double modals were indeed systematic in a number of dialects.  Incidentally, you
just offered the way out for GBers--consider that the first modal has shifted class to an adverb so
that the second one is indeed the highest predicate.  I've heard this analysis before--but not from
this ex-colleague.


----- Original Message -----
From: Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
Date: Friday, December 29, 2006 8:03 pm
Subject: Re: Double modal

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header ------------
> -----------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at YALE.EDU>
> Subject:      Re: Double modal
> --------------------------------------------------------------------
> -----------
> At 5:37 PM -0500 12/28/06, Paul Johnston wrote:
> >An interesting thing about double modals:  they apparently violate
> >certain "inviolable constraints" in GB grammar (I don't know about
> >even more modern Chomskyan models), since you're not supposed to be
> >able to (or, to can) negate on the second modal, and whether it's
> >Tennessee, Tyrone (N Ire) or Tranent (Scotland) that's EXACTLY what
> >happens.
> >
> >I might could do that for you  >>  I might couldn't do that for you
> >
> >A might cuid dae that for ye >>  A might cuidnae dae that for ye
> >My ex-mother-in-law, from Southern  Lanarkshire, had a million of
> >these so-called "performance errors", which were, of course, totally
> >systematic.  I'm sure there are many more throughout our South as
> well.>
> >
> >Paul
> I don't understand what constraints this would violate, especially if
> the first (epistemic) modal can be analyzed as an adverb (=
> "Perhaps/Maybe I couldn't do that for you").*  The negation on the
> modal would indicate that that's the highest predicate.  I'm also
> unclear on who, exactly, would (so-)call these performance errors, if
> they're systematic.  I'm no Chomskyan, nor do I play one on TV, but
> this has always been precisely the point of drawing the
> competence/performance distinction, as I understand it:  If it's part
> of one's grammar, it's not a performance error.  Am I missing
> something?
> LH
> *At least in the dialects I'm familiar with, the first modal in the
> sequence is indeed an external, epistemic one (= it MODAL be
> that...), and when it's "may/might" it can be paraphrased as
> "perhaps" or "maybe".
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