From clause to adverb

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This chapter is concerned with the origin and development of the English epistemic adverb maybe. Using various historical corpora, including the Helsinki Corpus and ARCHER as a baseline, we analyse a range of structures featuring the sequence (it) may be, paying special attention to those which may have contributed, in varying degrees, to the emergence of the adverb maybe. We argue that the development of maybe can be regarded as an instance of grammaticalization, whereby a matrix clause in a complementation structure (it may be (that)) is downgraded to a parenthetical, thus losing its original clausal morpho-syntactic features, and eventually becoming an adverb. Therefore, the adverbialization of maybe seems to have followed a similar path of development to that of (quasi-)adverbs such as methinks and looks like. We also argue, however, that even though complement-taking-predicate clauses are the ultimate main source of the adverb, via an intermediate parenthetical stage, other constructions (e.g. it may be + phrasal constituent) may have played a role in its development.


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