Volume 28, Issue 1
  • ISSN 0172-8865
  • E-ISSN: 1569-9730
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The modal verbs of English have been undergoing change since the Late Old English and Early Middle English periods. Recent research suggests dramatic recent developments, particularly in American English. In this paper, we focus on the encoding of obligation/necessity, which involves the layering of must, have (got) to, got to, and need to. Building on a longitudinal research program on (spoken) English dialect corpora, the present investigation examines data from a 1.5 million word corpus of the indigenous population of Toronto, Canada, the country’s largest urban centre. Variation analysis reveals that the system of obligation/necessity in this community has undergone nearly complete specialization to have to. Moreover, a comparison of these results with earlier studies suggests that the underlying system is organized differently than elsewhere. We argue that while change is sensitive to the social evaluation of forms, internal (grammatical) constraints may differ across major varieties. Canadian English appears to be on the forefront of change.


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