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Grammaticalization of Modality in Language Acquisition

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The present study aims to provide empirical evidence for a number of claims concerning the grammaticalization of deontic and epistemic modality. It is based on results from a research project on the acquisition of Italian as a second language conventionally called the "Pavia Project". The organization is as follows: first, the relevance of Second Language Acquisition for linguistic theory and — conversely — the relevance of linguistic theory for interpreting results of empirical studies are advocated. Then a theoretical framework is established and the polysemy of modal verbs is presented as an essential issue to the present study. In Section 5 information on research design and subjects is provided and results are discussed. The focus is on the order of emergence of modal distinctions in learner varieties and the types of encoding of modal notions preferred by learners. It will be shown that deontic modality is straightforwardly expressed through modal verbs, while epistemic modality is expressed through a number of different means.
Conclusions are drawn, and implications for the study of modality and for principles governing learner languages are assessed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 1999

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