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The interplay of modal verbs and adverbs

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Abstract

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 <i>m&#230;g</i> <i>ea&#254;e</i> &#8216;may easily&#8217;, 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 <i>ea&#254;e</i> &#8216;easily&#8217; helps to reinforce possibility-based meanings of <i>m&#230;g</i> &#8216;may&#8217;, including epistemic possibility. The Middle English range of contexts in which <i>m&#230;g ea&#254;e</i> &#8216;may easily&#8217; 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.

References

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