"The Log", as Mr. V has taken to calling it, is abuzz with double modals this morning, first with Ben Zimmer's post on Mike Huckabee using one and then a northeastern (!) US citation. Geoff Pullum has just suggested that might has become an adverb in might could, might oughta, might should. Since the Log doesn't do comments, I'll make my first post here in many months … as a native double-modal user and someone who knows less than any linguist should about how to make sense of them. Basically, Pullum's idea is really appealing intuitively.
For some speakers, I suspect this isn't doubling of any or all modals, but only the might, ought, should forms, what I think are listed as 'past tense' forms in grammars. And it's certainly not just might in the first slot: I have those listed, and ought could, ought might, ought should. Maybe the ought has become an adverb too? Would oughta doesn't sound bad but after a half hour of thinking about this, I'm deep into judgment burnout and maybe that's off the mark.
In checking out the 1994 Mishoe & Montgomery paper from American Speech that Mr. V referred to in an earlier post, I find a much bigger set of forms than I would have thought of (this from p. 9):
Might does seem to have a pretty dominant role here in the first slot. Almost all sound familiar, but a lot are clearly ungrammatical for me (may didn't, must didn't), but I don't see ought in first position, except for a reference to Marianna DiPaolo's Texas data, with oughta + modal. What's the status of oughta vs. ought? Both sound utterly fine to me, but the oughta form doesn't sound nearly as stigmatized to me ... I probably still use those pretty often, far more than prototypical double modals in normal speech.
I'm curious to see how this topic develops.