Modals and typology: English and German in contrast

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One approach to contrastive linguistics is to set up typological categories and then to compare languages in relation to these categories. After a critical analysis of prototype theory we introduce the notion ‘typological cluster’, and apply this notion to modality. We propose a set of criteria which identify the category of modality. Some English modal verbs meet all the criteria and are said to be central members of the cluster. Others frequently fail to meet the criteria and are called secondary members. Using data from a translation corpus, this analysis can explain some contrasts between modals in English and German, notably <i>can</i> and <i>können</i>, and <i>should</i> and <i>sollen.</i>


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