a quasi double modal

RonButters at AOL.COM RonButters at AOL.COM
Fri Jun 20 12:31:38 UTC 2008

Very interesting. I've published a few things on mutiplle modals, but this 
one has always been below my radar. Maybe Michael Montgomery has noticed it?

The classic multiple modals are reported as being common only in the US South 
(and parts of Scotland). This one, however, sounds perfectly normal to my 
eastern Iowa ears. The only other multiple modal recorded outside the South (as I 
recall) is "might oughta," which I remember on some mid-20th-century dialect 
map as extending up into Pennsylvania (as in, "Young man, you might oughta 
drive more carefully on these curves"; it sounds OK to my Iowa ears, too). 

Mostly, multiple modals are reported in forms that are consistent for tense: 
"might could," "may can," but not "*may could."

To my knowledge, no dialectologist has ever noticed/commented on this "may 
well could" construction.   Larry might should turn this into a note for 
AMERICAN SPEECH if it hasn't been recognized in print before. (Or is that no longer 
necessary now that we have the ADS-L archive?)

In a message dated 6/20/08 12:27:53 AM, laurence.horn at YALE.EDU writes:

> Now that the N. Y. Mets and Seattle Mariners have just fired their
> managers, the question was posed on ESPN's Baseball Tonight as to
> whether the floundering Toronto Blue Jays might be the third team to,
> as they say, opt to go in a different direction, one of the talking
> heads-- a man definitely not from the Texas/Arkansas/Louisiana
> area--agreed,
> "They may well could be".
> Presumably, "They may could be" itself would not have been possible,
> but the intervention of the adverb seems to help somehow.  Hard to
> test with my usual methods--there are 4880 reputed g-hits for "may
> well could be", most apparently relevant, but "may could be" is
> hopeless ("May could be among the least violent months of the Iraq
> war", "'shall' and 'may' could be replaced by indicatives", etc.
> etc.).
> LH

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