Learning modals: A grammatical perspective

Ailís Cournane

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    In this study, we address the mapping problem for modal words: how do children learn the form-to- meaning mappings for words like could or have to in their input languages? Learning modal words poses considerable challenges as their meanings are conceptually complex and the way these meanings are mapped to grammatical forms and structures is likewise complex and cross-linguistically variable. Against a backdrop of how cross-linguistic modal systems can vary, we focus on new work highlighting the developmental roles of the following: (a) syntactic categories of modal words, (b) interrelationships between modal ‘force’ (possibility and necessity) and ‘flavour’ (root and epistemic), (c) semantic representations for modal forms and (d) children's own emerging modal systems, as a whole, which show that the way they map forms to the ‘modal meaning space’ (considering both force and flavour dimensions) diverges from how adults do, even if the same forms are present. Modality provides a rich natural laboratory for exploring the interrelationships between our conceptual world of possibilities, how concepts get packaged by the syntax–semantics of grammatical systems, and how child learners surmount these form-meaning mapping challenges.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)1-22
    Number of pages22
    JournalLanguage and Linguistics Compass
    Issue number10
    StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Linguistics and Language


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