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can and be able to in nineteenth-century Irish English

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Abstract

This paper discusses the status of can and be able to in nineteenth-century Irish English in comparison to English English through means of a corpus study of personal letters. Analysis of the data reveals that the use of be able TO is conditioned by the combination of time reference and polarity in the English English data but not in the Irish English data. Thus, the data suggest that some writers of nineteenth-century Irish English failed to acquire the subtle differences between can and be able to present in English English. I propose that the increased use of be able to in nineteenth-century Irish English is the result of imperfect learning through perceived similarity (cf. Thomason 2001 and De Smet 2012).

References

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