Chapter published in:English Historical Linguistics 2008: Selected papers from the fifteenth International Conference on English Historical Linguistics (ICEHL 15), Munich, 24-30 August 2008.. Volume I: The history of English verbal and nominal constructions
Edited by Ursula Lenker, Judith Huber and Robert Mailhammer
[Current Issues in Linguistic Theory 314] 2010
► pp. 143–164
The interplay of modal verbs and adverbs
A history of mæg eaþe
As Hoye (1997) points out, harmonic combinations of modal verbs and modal adverbs are not uncommon in Present-Day English. The present paper explores semantic and syntactic aspects of one of such combinations, namely mæg eaþe ‘may easily’, from a diachronic perspective. The collocation is attested at the earlier stages of the development of the language, that is, in Old English and Middle English. I aim to show that as early as in Old English, the adverb eaþe ‘easily’ helps to reinforce possibility-based meanings of mæg ‘may’, including epistemic possibility. The Middle English range of contexts in which mæg eaþe ‘may easily’ occurs is more limited, which ultimately leads to the demise of the combination toward the end of the Middle English period. I also examine the issue of the extent to which the collocation is lexicalized in the respective periods, especially with evidence from such factors as decomposition of meaning, productivity and substitutability.
Published online: 28 October 2010
Cited by 1 other publications
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