Modal meaning in Construction Grammar

Bert Cappelle, University of Lille 3 Ilse Depraetere, University of Lille 3

Thematic outline

Construction Grammar has established itself as a powerful theoretical framework in the past twenty years. Even though it has been used for the analysis of a wide variety of linguistic phenomena, both from a synchronic (cf. e.g. Fillmore et al 1988, Goldberg 1995) and a diachronic point of view (cf. e.g. Noël 2007, Hilpert 2013), there have been relatively few attempts to analyse modality from a Construction Grammar perspective.

Wärnsby (2002) shows how the meanings of modal verbs could be captured along Construction Grammar lines, but she remains fairly sceptic about the feasibility and usefulness of the approach. Stefanowitsch (2003) shows how indirect speech act meanings (e.g. Can you pass the salt?) can be felicitously accounted for in Construction Grammar, one of the hypotheses being that the strictly speaking pragmatic meaning, that is the indirect speech act meaning, is foregrounded and comes to constitute the semantics of the expression. Boogaart (2009) gives an overview of the problems involved in both a monosemous and a polysemous account of modal meaning; in his fairly programmatic article, he illustrates how Construction Grammar might offer a viable solution to at least some of them. Bybee (2010) offers an analysis of a few modal constructions with can(’t), will and shall in terms of prefabricated chunks and high-frequency exemplars (e.g. can tell, can’t remember). Traugott, having worked extensively on modal meaning, recently argues for studying (inter)subjectification in terms of both its local (lexical) and broader (cross-linguistic and changing) constructional contexts (Traugott 2010). Bergs (2010) adopts a construction grammar approach to include explicit co- and contextual information about English future expressions, many of which also express modal meanings.

The aim of the workshop is to examine to what extent Construction Grammar can shed light on, or possibly solve, some of the major questions in the field of modal meaning: the question of the semantics/pragmatics interface or where to draw the line (if any) between semantics and pragmatics when it comes to modal meaning, the monosemy/polysemy debate, the relevance and place of parameters like source, subjectivity, strength, etc., the development of modal meaning and emerging modals, etc.

We invited some of the authors of the works cited above and ask them to look back and forward: 5 to 10 years later, what is their view on the ways in which Construction Grammar can push the analysis of modal meaning further ahead?

The afternoon session will consist of presentations that are a response to a call for papers about the meaning of markers of modality, preferably but not exclusively from a Construction Grammar perspective.


Bergs, Alexander. 2010. Expression of futurity in contemporary English: a Construction Grammar perspective. English Language and Linguistics 14.2: 217­‐238.
Boogaart, Ronny. 2009. Semantics and pragmatics in construction grammar: the case of modal verbs. In Bergs, Alexander and Gabriele Diewald (eds.), Contexts and constructions. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 213‐41.
Bybee, Joan B. 2010. Language, usage and cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Fillmore, Charles, Paul Kay and Catherine O’Connor. 1988. Regularity and idiomaticity in grammatical constructions: The case of let alone. Language 64: 501–38.
Goldberg, Adèle. 1995. Constructions: a construction-­grammar approach to argument structure. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Hilpert, Martin. 2013. Constructional change in English: developments in allomorphy, word formation and syntax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Noël, Dirk. 2007. Diachronic construction grammar and grammaticalization theory. Functions of Language 14.2: 177-­202.
Stefanowitsch, Anatol. 2003. A construction‐based approach to indirect speech acts. In Panther, Klaus‐Uwe and Linda Thornburg (eds.), Metonymy and pragmatic inferencing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins. 105-‐26.
Traugott, Eizabeth Closs. 2010. Revisiting subjectification and intersubjectification. In Davidse, Kristin, Lieven Vandelanotte and Hubert Cuyckens (eds.), Subjectification, Intersubjectification and Grammaticalization. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 29­‐71.
Wärnsby, Anna 2002. Modal constructions? The Department of English in Lund: Working Papers in Linguistics 2.

List of speakers

Alexander Bergs, Universität Osnabrück - Modals in Construction Grammar: Constructing a construction

Ronny Boogaart, Universiteit Leiden – Modal versus temporal readings of auxiliaries: a constructionist view

Bert Cappelle and Ilse Depraetere, UMR 8163 STL, 
Université de Lille 3 - Implicated modal meaning in Construction Grammar

Martin Hilpert, Université de Neuchâtel -­ Recent change in modal meanings: evidence from 
collocational shifts

Elizabeth Closs Traugott, Stanford University ‐ Do semantic modal maps have a role in a constructionalization approach to modals?

Raphael Salkie, University of Brighton -­ English modals and Construction Grammar: rethinking 

Anna Wärnsby, Malmö University -­ Testing modal constructions