Leuven Working Papers in Linguistics vol:1 issue:1
This paper argues that the lack of unanimity on the semantic profile of the modal verbs should, ought to and be supposed to in their root necessity use is due to the fact that the parameters that have thus far been used to describe them are insufficiently or inaccurately defined: notions such as ‘source’, ‘subjectivity’ and ‘strength’, which are typically resorted to in the discussion of root necessity, are in need of clarification. At the same time, we show that detailed qualitative analysis of corpus data is needed to test the value of these parameters and move beyond existing contradictory claims. We first present a critical discussion of the ways in which the notions ‘source’ and ‘subjectivity’ have been used to characterize root necessity meanings. We suggest alternative definitions and show that, when applied to a corpus, these help capture subtleties of the root necessity meanings of should, ought to and be supposed to that had hitherto gone unnoticed. We also consider the notion of strength more closely and present an alternative definition aimed to make the notion operational in the discussion of root modality. Our analysis is based on a set of 1200 examples of root should, ought to and be supposed to from the British National Corpus. In addition to revealing the specifics of each modal verb, the corpus analysis brings to the fore the importance of integrating the discourse context in the analysis of modal auxiliaries, and it sheds light on the relative importance of each parameter for distinguishing the root necessity modals under investigation from one another.