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The Acquisition of Modality: Implications for Theories of Semantic Representation

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Abstract:

The set of English modal verbs is widely recognized to communicate two broad clusters of meanings: epistemic and root modal meanings. A number of researchers have claimed that root meanings are acquired earlier than epistemic ones;

this claim has subsequently been employed in the linguistics literature as an argument for the position that English modal verbs are polysemous (Sweetser, 1990). In this paper I offer an alternative explanation for the later emergence of epistemic interpretations by linking them to the development of the child’s theory of mind (Wellman, 1990); if correct, this hypothesis might have important implications for the shape of the semantics of modal verbs.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-0017.00082

Affiliations: Department of Linguistics, University of California at Berkeley

Publication date: 1998-09-01

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