The English modals and semi-modals: Regional and stylistic variation

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This paper reports a study of the uses of modal auxiliaries (<i>can</i>, <i>may</i>, <i>will</i>, <i>shall</i>,<i>must</i>, <i>ought </i>and <i>need</i>), plus a set of related semi-modals (<i>need (to)</i>, <i>have got (to)</i>,<i>have (to)</i>, <i>be going (to) </i>and <i>want (to)</i>), in three parallel corpora of contemporary American, British, and Australian English. Quantitative findings relating to regional and stylistic variation are presented, and consideration is given to the possible influence upon the relative popularity of modal uses of ‘Americanization’, ‘colloquialization’ and ‘democratization’. It is suggested that these external processes provide possible explanations for, inter alia, the differing fortunes of the moribund <i>shall </i>on the one hand and on the other those of the popular semimodals<i>be going to </i>and <i>want to</i>, the relative popularity of deontic <i>have to </i>and<i>should </i>over <i>must</i>, and the differing fortunes of <i>must </i>and <i>have got to</i>.


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